The caption below the photo accompanying the Dec. 4 article “In unexpected twist, Assad ally may become Lebanon’s next president,” reads, “A Syrian refugee stands behind a door at a makeshift settlement. . . .”

Looking closely at the picture I got the sudden impression that those words seemed to paint a pretty picture over a photo that seemed to tell a whole other, perhaps more sinister, story.

If you look at the photo you can make out what appears to be the thumb of another person wrapped around the subject’s right wrist along with a shadow to the left that would suggest she is being pushed up against the door.

If that were the case it would be a pretty apt metaphor to describe the plight of these poor people who have been pushed out of their homes and worse but a completely different scenario than what the caption explains.

Even if the girl in the photograph was being forced up against the wall as I suspected, the caption would still be technically correct. After all she is standing behind a door. But if my hunch was right, it would be in the kind of way that someone who is lost at sea is on an extended cruise.

There was something else about the photo that haunted me and I couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. Perhaps it was just that. It was an unseen, almost ghostly quality that continued to nag me.

It’s almost as if the head and shoulders attached to that mysterious hand clutching this girl’s wrist had been “disappeared” from our view.

We see only what maybe looks like the face of fear. It’s the same fear that has driven countless Syrians to flee for Europe and beyond where another face of fear in the form of intolerance often awaits them.

We do often see what we’ve been told to see and today we are being told by a chorus of hateful voices to expect the worst from these unfortunate souls fleeing for their lives.

For the life of me, I still couldn’t figure out what face might be hidden in this particular picture so I passed it along to a couple of photojournalism experts.

One, Michael Shaw from Reading the Pictures, was curious enough about the photo to take it up with Reuters who told him: “There were indeed two girls behind the door, holding it to support the building while the father was on the roof trying to clear water from it. The second girl is hidden behind the wooden door frame.”

So it turns out there was nothing sinister going on in this picture at all. The hidden face was that of a child, the face of innocence, the face of a refugee in need of help. We can see what we want to see, or we can see what others tell us to see, but pictures don’t lie.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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