Two things struck me right away. First, the sense of division, that hand help up in clear indication of ‘enough,’ ‘stop now,’ and ‘do not come closer.’ The sense that there is something out there from which those back here want protection. A clear we-them sense of fear and danger so present as to be terminal.
Second, I noticed that the person doing the ‘stop now’ gesture is curiously androgynous. At first I thought female, because of the veiled face and covered head. On closer look, however, what I truly see is one human pair of eyes holding depths of unspeakable anguish. They are neither male nor female. They are not clearly any nationality or denomination. They are, simply, human. And, more than all of that . . . the ambiguity of the veil causes the greatest pause. Just who is threatened?
In the end, of course, it is all of us. It is our fear of difference, our knee-jerk response to fear itself, that divides us. Each ‘side’ has more and more vocal and visceral things to express against the other. More hands raised in ‘stop’ but also in ‘attack,’ in ‘divide-and-conquer.’ But this same raised hand could be the hand of peace, of hands-across-the-divide.
Within small communities, when disaster strikes, it is apparent that it strikes everyone equally. Why must this be so wildly different on a larger scale? We are all residents of one single planet, this poor Earth we have abused, in some places and ways to the point of non-recognition. Must we destroy one another, too, out of fear and greed and distrust? Why can we not see that we all want to be heard, to be seen, to be respected? That we all have the same needs for connection and understanding? Behind the veil or in front of it, we are all first and foremost human beings. We human people have been given the unique ability to feel (and act on) compassion, empathy, understanding. Why do we persist in refusing to do so? No one said it would be easy. But the longer we allow violence and aggression, fear- and hate-mongering to guide us, the further we move from our shared humanity.
What most draws me to this image is that the figure seeking peace and protection might just be the Muslim woman asking the rest of us to stop, think and feel. On behalf of us all.