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This Is NOT September 11th

The “Treachery of Images” (1929) is a painting by the Belgian artist René Magritte. The painting shows a pipe. Below it, in fine cursive script, the famous caption reads: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" -- or, "This is not a pipe". Magritte tells us the painting is NOT a pipe, but rather an image of a pipe -- the painted pipe is merely a representation. Magritte adds that had he captioned the picture with, "This is a pipe," he would have been dishonest. Many of Magritte's paintings illustrate this disarticulation between reality and illusion -- reflecting his obsession with the theme of “representation”. “Representation” to Magritte was the shifting between what you “know”, to what you “wish”. Magritte's painting would never emotionally satisfy a pipe-smoker. When asked about this, Magritte replied, "Of course, it is not a pipe, just try filling it with tobacco."

The 10th anniversary of 9-11 will undoubtedly inundate newspapers and television channels with horrific images from the events of September 11. From the hemorrhaging smoke spilling out from the Twin Towers before imminent collapse; to the Falling Man serenely plummeting to his death having leapt from a burning North Tower -- these photographs are a cruel reminder of the events that unfolded on that tragic day. What do these photographs mean 10-years later?

As a tragedy, the events of 9-11 must be acknowledged – even if, for a majority of us, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were only seen through a camera lens. These photographs are a representation of events that happened 10-years ago. The photographs (like Magritte's pipe for a smoker) will emotionally never satisfy the suffering of the families affected on that day. The months following September 11, the United States focused on efforts to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice, and to prevent any future terrorist attacks from happening. The meretricious "Global-War-on-Terror" resulted in countless civilian deaths in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East. Many legitimate governments and despots took this as a green-light to crackdown on activists, political opponents, separatists and minority groups -- even suggesting it was within their political mandate to violate the most basic and inviolable of human rights. The aftermath of 9-11 was exploited to instigate unnecessarily punitive actions against any critic.


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The photographs taken on September 11 are a reflection of a tragic reality but ultimately have become a perversion of that very same reality. These pictures have become a pretense -- manipulated in a way that bears no relation to any reality whatsoever. These pictures have been used to justify American wrath; its double standards -- justifying its dealings with allies known to support terrorist groups such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. They have fueled support for the Patriot Act -- giving the US government free rein to breach basic constitutional rights. The 9-11 photographs have been used, ironically, like religious text welded by a fanatic. This is not unlike the inculcation that many Muslims go through – millions of rote-toting children who can recite the Koran but have no understanding of the actual tenants of faith. A small percentage of these Muslims are indeed brainwashed, using text to warrant heinous crimes -- just as the 9-11 photographs are used to justify a global body count of civilians and civil liberties in the hunt for Al-Qaeda.

Karl Rove, senior advisor to former President George W. Bush, once said "We are an Empire now – we create our own reality". What type of reality is this? Instead of encouraging citizens to regain their confidence and leading by example, governments have allowed Al-Qaeda to keep us living in a state of fear. Instead of being allowed to question we have been ordered to conform. These 9-11 photographs should have served as a metaphor for philosophical discussions and positive action not a distortion of truth that appears accurate unless viewed only from the proper angle. It is time to lay these photographs aside and start dealing with our reality. This is NOT September 11th.

Shahid Mahmood

Shahid Mahmood grew up in Pakistan. He was the editorial cartoonist for the national newspaper in Pakistan, Dawn. His work has appeared in numerous International publications including the Guardian, Huffington Post and Courrier International. Shahid’s work was viewed by world leaders at the 1997 APEC Conference, enjoyed by John F. Kennedy Jr., and managed to continuously enrage Benazir Bhutto. Shahid is internationally syndicated with the New York Times Press Syndicate; has work archived at the Museum of Contemporary History in Paris; and has been “Designated High-Profile” on the US Government's No-fly List. His web page is:

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