s she draws attention to these unfamiliar images of terrorists Rockwell also questions familiar ones. A picture of Osama bin Laden has become iconic over the past decade and it seems significant, given the cultural power that his face still holds, that there was so much secrecy attached to his body after his death. Another chapter examines a picture of Saddam Hussein undergoing dental care in custody.
At no point are we asked to confront the idea that people who do smile and who do have lives and interests are also capable of killing people, or of blowing up buildings. And so, conveniently, at no point are we forced to ask why.
This is a startling piece of propaganda, Rockwell contends. On the one hand, the picture shows a detainee receiving top class medical treatment (the chapter, titled "The Best of All Possible Care", begins with a smiling picture of the Abu Ghraib torturers Charles Granier and Lynndie England). On the other, a trip to the dentist has more immediate associations with excruciating pain for most Americans than anything the word "torture" can conjure up.
A chapter titled "Little Green Men" seems at first oddly out of place. Yet so much of this book is about facing our alien others. "They all look the same" is the caption of one picture. Rockwell is democratic about who her aliens are: her Indian neighbours in Allahabad at one moment, and dog-walkers in Chicago (viewed by a visiting Indian family) at the next.
Abu Ghraib torturers — Charles Granier & Lynndie England
The title of this chapter also seems appropriate for the style of Rockwell's art, in which the realism of the photograph is combined with a riot of improbable colours. This too is a making strange of the familiar and making the familiar strange – some of her men are literally green.
"The state [...] is a makeup artist", declares Amitava Kumar in his introduction, and it's true that the narratives served by these pictures tend to further the state's ends. But what are we to do with the story of Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to set off a bomb in Times Square? Shahzad read out a prepared statement, explaining his reasons. Yet no one seems to have listened, the media more intent on creating its own narratives of how he was "radicalised". "Radicalisation" comes from outside; it is not how we describe people who have arrived at their own motives. The first picture in Rockwell's book is captioned "Self Radicalized Woman With Small Stuffed Bear". Rockwell is willing to be a makeup artist too, and a far more colourful one.
"I don't believe Rockwell is interested in convincing a viewer that even terrorists can be forgiven", says Kumar. "There is too much irony in her paintings, and often, also glitter". The book begins with the question "Why Do They Hate Us?". I think Rockwell's contention is that anyone who wants to begin to even ask that question honestly (and this is in some ways a deeply moral book) must be willing to see these aliens as fundamentally human.