When a photograph was published of Jeremy Corbyn sitting on the floor of a train carriage, the railway company quickly posted images from its closed-circuit television system showing that the British Labour Party leader had passed empty seats on his way toward his “sit-in.” In Rio, a few days after four members of the US swimming team declared that they had been robbed at gunpoint, the police countered with CCTV footage showing that they had lied.
In both cases, those crying foul did not consider that in our time it is very easy to be accosted by images showing what we have done or not done. This is what some municipal officials on the French Riviera must have realized earlier this week when they (like the rest of the planet) saw photographs of armed police imposing the recent ban on burkinis, forcing a bewildered woman to take off extraneous clothing on a beach in Nice as women in bikinis and men in swimming trunks looked on.
The Nice pictures uncovered a truth – the brutal result of authorities imposing behavior on people when this concerns their body and goes against their sense of shame and sense of identity. There is, however, another truth: The sense of shame may be the product of social and religious pressures which force people to adopt behavior that they would avoid if they were free to choose. Ostensibly, the burkini ban protects this freedom. But it raises a serious dilemma: Can secularism be imposed without violating the equally fundamental principles of freedom and equality? These are difficult questions and the truth is complicated – it cannot be captured in a few images.
In the cases of Corbyn and the US swimmers, it is true that many train routes in Britain are uncomfortably crowded, just as Brazil is undoubtedly a dangerous place (the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime ranked it 15th out of 218 countries in 2014, in terms of murder). The efforts to “enhance” the truth indicate that those who attempt this believe that their constructs are plausible because they are building on something that is already known. And yet most of us are also unaware that what we do or do not do is frequently tracked by cameras – hidden or visible. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have disappeared without a trace – in war zones, in criminal acts, and so on. The fact that we do not learn their fate does not mean that they did not exist, that we need not investigate, that we do not need to find the truth and administer justice. On the other hand, photos are no protection, as in the case of the Greek Cypriots captured by Turkish troops in 1974 and who then disappeared…
Images and social media can contribute to uncovering what happened but can also confuse the issues. It is the responsibility of each of us to fight the fog of “enhanced reality” to seek the truth.