Is there a connection?
Islamic State has made the beheading of victims a key element in its campaign of terror and conquest. Most conspicuous in recent weeks have been the murders of Westerners James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines, whose severed heads and decapitated bodies have been shown in threatening videos produced by the jihadists. In the years since 9/11, other Islamist terrorist groups have circulated equally ghastly beheading videos. Among the earlier victims were journalist Daniel Pearl, businessman Nicholas Berg, and construction contractors Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong – all Americans beheaded by Al Qaeda.
Last week, meanwhile, Australian police arrested 15 suspects allegedly linked to Islamic State; they are accused of plotting to publicly behead a victim abducted at random.
Why this obsession with cutting off people’s heads?
Clearly the terrorists relish the horror beheading evokes in America and other Western democracies, as well as the fear it inspires among Kurds, Shiites, or other local forces standing in the path of their juggernaut. Psychological warfare is an essential element in Islamic State’s military strategy, writes Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. Even when heavily outnumbered, Islamic State has been able to leverage its reputation for implacable brutality “to dissuade Iraqi forces from ever seeking battle.” And by killing American and British hostages with such sadistic relish, it aims to intensify the desire of many in the West to wash their hands of involvement in Iraq once and for all.
But there are other ways to terrorize, other gruesome means of mass murder – suicide bombings, poison gas, hijackings. Why the emphasis on beheading?
No doubt part of the explanation is that beheadings tend to draw more attention than suicide bombings and exploding cars. Deadly though they are, car bombs and shootings have lost much of their shock value in Western eyes. It takes an unusually high death toll for a bombing in Iraq to attract as much media attention as the decapitation of a single hostage by an English-speaking Islamist wielding a knife. Terrorists crave attention, more now in the digital age, perhaps, than ever before. Islamic State and other jihadist groups have many ways to commit mass murder. But for generating a spectacle that will be noticed – and shuddered at – the world over, sawing off the head of an American journalist or a European relief worker, then uploading the video to the Internet, is hard to beat.
Yet beheadings, too, can lose their shock value. It wasn’t all that long ago that decapitation was a familiar punishment in Western culture. As late as 1977, the guillotine was still being used for executions in France. In the colonial era, severed heads of criminals were sometimes displayed on Boston Common. Plus, modern video games and ultrarealistic computer graphics make it easier than ever to grow inured to almost any image or scene, no matter how grisly or intense or intimate.
But the beheadings aren’t just a fashion.
“When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks.”
There is more to the Islamist passion for decapitation than psychological warfare and a hunger for notoriety. There is also Muslim theology and history, and a mandate going back to the Koran. In a 2005 study published in Middle East Quarterly, historian Timothy Furnish quotes the famous passage at Sura 47:4: “When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks.” For centuries, Furnish observes, “leading Islamic scholars have interpreted this verse literally,” and examples abound throughout Islamic history.
Yet Western leaders keep insisting that the beheading of “infidels” is unrelated to the jihadists’ religious outlook.
Last week, after British aid worker David Haines became the third Western hostage to be decapitated by Islamic State, Britain’s immigration minister, James Brokenshire, made a point of going to a mosque in London to declare that the “atrocious” beheadings “have nothing to do with Islam.” At an international emergency conference in Paris the same day, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius likewise insisted that neither Islamic State nor its “throat-cutters” were “representative of Islam.”
President Obama repeatedly makes the same assertion. When he outlined new military steps against Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in a televised address this month, he avowed categorically: “ISIL is not Islamic.”
Alas, ISIL disagrees. And so do the radicalized Western Muslims flocking to the Middle East to join its brutal jihad, many of them stimulated by propaganda videos that feature the beheading of “unbelievers.” To millions of moderate and peaceable Muslims the world over, beheadings in the name of Islam may seem a terrible defilement of the religion they love. To a fanatical Islamist minority, they are just what Allah demands.
It may take a long while to destroy that enemy, but surely the first step is to call it what it is.
This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe.
A Sa’ar 4.5-class Corvette of the Israeli Navy fires its canons during a naval exercise off the coast of Israel.
Israel’s Defense Ministry on Sunday announced a series of deals for the purchase of combat systems from local defense industries in the amount of $420 million by the end of this year. This is part of a project to acquire warships whose mission would to protect natural gas platforms within Israel’s “economic waters” in the Mediterranean against military threats.
An Israeli soldier training in Krav Maga.
Several dozen members of the Indian military are currently learning how to protect themselves using the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, India Today reported this weekend.
“I brought Krav Maga to India in year 2002 after intensive training in Israel,” Vikram Kapoor — the head instructor at the International Krav Maga Federation — was quoted as saying. “This is the only self-defense technique that is being evolved every moment and that is why it is the best.”
Culminating a three-year process, delegates at the Mennonite Church USA assembly in Orlando on Thursday adopted a resolution titled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” with approximately 98 percent voting in favor. The resolution calls on members to “avoid purchase of products associated with the occupation or produced in settlements in occupied territories.” It also establishes a process for the church to review its investments “for the purpose of withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.”
Rabbi Steven Wernick says Netanyahu recruited progressive Jews to find a compromise for the holy site; now that the PM has reneged, world Jewry won’t be silent
The fight for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall is a battle already won by Jewry’s Conservative movement. For some 20 years, Conservative Jews have inhabited a spiritual home at Jerusalem’s contentious holy site, which they won through a series of Supreme Court cases — in a section allocated to the Davidson Archaeological
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Photo credit: hebron.com)
In a secret ballot held at the World Heritage Committee’s 41st annual summit in Krakow Poland, on Friday, UNESCO voted twelve to three in favor declaring the Holy City of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs “Palestinian world heritage sites”.
The resolution described a Muslim history of the city while blatantly ignoring the Biblical narrative describing 3,000 years of Jewish connection to the site. Six countries abstained from the controversial vote which, at the request of Poland, Croatia, and Jamaica, was a secret ballot; a first for such a vote.
During last month’s 2017 Chicago Dyke March, the true face of “inclusion” among “progressives” finally surfaced. According to the Chicago based newspaper Windy City Times, the march proceeded calmly with people “of all races, genders and gender identities” attending, until “the Dyke March Collective ejected three people carrying Jewish Pride flags (a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the center).”
Something is terribly broken in the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. I say this as an American Jew who has lived in Israel for almost half a century. But if anyone thinks this started with Women of the Wall or PM Netanyahu’s recent – and I believe unfortunate – backtracking on the agreement over egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, he is suffering from selective memory, if not total denial.
gentleman from times gone by. He was soft-spoken, courtly, and wore his pants hoisted high and held up by suspenders; clearly, a European who had personally endured horrors in the last century.
Indeed, he had personally survived the Holocaust in Poland. Therefore, I could not immediately understand why he now attends a very left-wing synagogue—but, totally incomprehensible, was his unexpected and rather passionate defense of Poland and of the Poles. He argued on their behalf as if his very life still depended upon it.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s decision to visit Jerusalem but not Ramallah has prompted much comment.
The expectation of equal treatment goes back to the Oslo Accords’ signing in Sep. 1993, when the prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, represented his government in the handshake with Yasir Arafat, the much-despised chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. No one found it strange or inappropriate at the time but things look differently nearly a quarter century later.
Matthew Healy at the Atlantic, one of the few remaining liberal anti-censorship magazines, offers a disingenuous counterpoint to the debate over political correctness.
The attempts to silence dissenting points of view are counter-speech, according to Healy. And counter-speech is an important form of free expression.