The Power of a Picture

I came across a picture of two men holding hands; they look to be in their early to mid-twenties and there’s a contrast of emotion between the two in this shot. One of the men looks distracted. His head looks to be on a swivel, as if anticipating trouble around the corner.

The other man appears to be more at ease. He’s not posing for this picture. He’s merely caught up in the moment, smiling with the same sort of excitement a mischievous kid gets when he sneaks into his first movie.

Buzz Feed listed the picture, taken by Nevine Zaki and posted on Twitter, as one of its most powerful images of 2011. The two men, taking part in protests in Cairo earlier this year that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic rule, were among many Christians holding hands and forming a human barrier so that their fellow Muslim protesters could pray.

With the flash of a handheld device, Zaki’s photo went viral and destroyed the notion that Christians and Muslims could never truly get along. In the chaos that was (and still is) the unrest in Egypt, Muslim and Christian youth didn’t rehash the past nor did they pay any attention to how their elders felt about each other. This photo was an act of solidarity that not only helped evoke change in Egypt, it gave the world a glimmer of what could become.

That’s why I choose this powerful image as my Photo of the Year.

As a Cold War kid I remember Star Wars – not the sci-fi movie, mind you – the arms race, how the song “Russians” by Sting scared the crap out of me and the famous Reagan sound bite: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” There was a time when it seemed inevitable that the U.S and the former Soviet Union would collide in a nuclear war that would destroy the world, making books like Alas Babylon and movies like The Day After all the more compelling.

Fast forward to today’s generation of young Americans, where our country’s conflicts have been centered in the Middle East, specifically with Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s a maverick leader in Iran who’s moving forward with uranium enrichment.

The difference, for me, at least, is that when I was a kid, we were led to believe that all Russians were Communists – and Communists threatened the American way of life. I’ll assume that Russian kids my age were probably told the same thing about Americans and our allies, so they hated me, too. It took a revolution and the fall of communism for many westerners to realize that the people living under communist rule in former Soviet states were thirsting for change.

The topic alone is as intricate and complex as a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, but in its most basic explanation, Christianity = The West and Islam = The Middle East. From either a Western or Middle Eastern point of view, one is good and the other is bad. Zaki’s photo provides us with a glimpse that goes beyond typical headlines and news stories that play to the differences between these two groups; it blows the good-bad point of view out of the water.

Point. Click. Think.

Can a photo start a new revolution? If so then Zaki’s photo is a pretty good start.

Monkey C Blog is written by Phillip D. Cortez, author of the children’s book Night Rhythms,  on sale through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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