It seems like barely a week goes by that we don’t see a photograph somewhere in the mainstream press of individual Palestinian youth twirling a sling or hurling a stone at an Israeli military patrol, usually somewhere in or around Gaza. The images have become so regular and ordinary that the biblical irony seems to have lost all resonance. What was once a potentially poignant comment on a tragic situation has become something of a pitiable commonplace. And yet the visual trope of the stone thrower persists as a common representation of political unrest throughout the nonwestern world.
The most recent examples come from anti-government protests in Thailand and, as above, in Kyrgzystan. The particular issues at stake don’t usually matter—or at least they are typically not featured or explained—as the point of such photographs seems to be to dramatize the difference between a more or less disorganized group of grassroots protestors—“the people”—and a rationally organized and heavily armed and armored military or riot police. The odds against the success of the protestors under such circumstances is enormous, almost incalculable. But of course in the West we “know” that when “the people” arise as if with one voice and a common will to challenge the military might of the state with little more than stones and brickbats that a serious challenge to political legitimacy has been tendered.
And therein lies an important moral.
No matter how rationally organized or far better equipped the military arm of the state might be, and no matter from where it derives its political authority, it cannot succeed without huge costs—or maybe succeed at all—when the will of the people it would fetter and control is enraged.
Photo Credits: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty Images; Ivan Sekretarev/AP