The Mask: (Part I).
Yesterday was the “anniversary” of the London bombings. The press were keen to remember is as 7/7 and silently align it with 9/11, as if this numerical form might be a code that identifies the threat of Islamic terrorism. Previous to this unquestionably tragic day--when Tanweer killed 7, injured 171, Khan killed 6,injured 163, Lindsay killed 26, injured 340 and Hussain killed 13, injured 110--the press had been rightly concerned with the loss of secret anti-terrorist information. Apparently, top-secret counter-terrorism plans were left behind in a Manchester hotel and an MoD anti- terrorism dossier was discovered by an English roadside. Behind the numbers, the mask of figures, a dangerous face was appearing: ineptitude. There was a definite sense in which secrecy was no longer security, a country’s hermetically coated face was flaking dangerously. People were doubly unsafe, from those who threatened the mask as well as those who kept the mask in place.
Many images have stayed in people’s minds over the past year. But interestingly, the image that is referred to as “iconic” is this one:
It was this image that made the front page of Time and transmitted the pain of so many human lives to Europe. And the same image found its way onto BBC pages when it sought to justify its “sensitive live coverage” of events. A number of calming messages exist within this photograph. There is the hero, the heroine, the survivor, the helper, triumph over adversity, but most of all the protective mask. The photograph has been significantly cropped, masking all background devastation at Edgware Road, so as the whole scene is envisaged through the open face and the concealed face. The water-gel burn-mask speaks resonantly of the healing screen placed by the community. It is a defence against intrusion.
The mask is often seen in this way. The mask that the individual wears and the mask of secrecy that the state wears are designed as barriers between the inside and the outside. The mask is a hidden layer that represents privacy. (Away from London, the removal of the mask was what worried people in Leeds. The old, prejudicial south-north divide began to show and when the press came to expose the origins of UK terrorism innocent northerners found their faces in national newspapers, even though they had insisted that they would give words but not photographs to the newspapers). The mask, in a simple sense, is a construct worn by the vulnerable (and we all are vulnerable!) It is a sign of the guarded person: the individual who stands like a guard on duty (unflinching as the guards outside Buckingham Palace who protect the Icon of the democratic State). And when it is spoken of, it is spoken of apologetically—like MI5 or the CIA—as a suspect though necessary state-of-affairs. The mask is consciously worn as a screen that allows the individual to live amongst others because it prevents others from getting too close to the individual. It distances the "I" from "them" and the uncertainty which "they" like terrorists might bring to me.