The Politics of Beheading
The videotaped beheading of a second American journalist Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State is titled Second Message to America. Scripted and filmed in the same manner as the videotaped beheading of James Foley both videos are primarily about disrespecting President Obama. The language, gestures and violence signified disrespect in the same manner as a gangbanger calling out a rival gang leader. The executioner in this latest video, who appears to be Jihad John from the first video, implements the philosophy of honor / shame cultures where ‘word is bond’.
Hence the Islamic State followed through on their threat and demonstrated that when they set a red line they mean it. If there were prizes for jihadist propaganda videos both of these would win academy awards in the category of recruitment. In the Sotloff video the executioner ratcheted up his in your face rhetoric stating,
“I’m back Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic state, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings ……, despite our serious warnings. You Obama, have but to gain from your actions but another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike out people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Referring to the President of the United States without title but simply as Obama symbolically strips him of the honor of that title and the position it represents. Pointing the knife at the camera while calling President Obama out is the kind of gesture that appeals to young men who respect strength and action, particularly if that action involves what is perceived as badass violence such as cutting off the head of your rival with a small knife as revenge for crossing your turf. This type of rebellious message attracts failed rappers and disaffected misfits who last year were wannabe gang bangers and this year are joining the Islamic State to become Mujahideen fighters.
The response to the James Foley video demonstrates how out of touch the main stream media is with global jihadist violence. The James Foley video prompted the ‘don’t share’ campaign to censor Islamic State propaganda on social media. This campaign was slightly effective in making it more difficult to view the Sotloff video. There should be no doubt that the campaign to remove the Foley beheading video was more about protecting President Obama, the primary subject of the film, than protecting the privacy of the family or reducing Islamic State propaganda. The call to remove these videos from the internet is political not ethical. Strategically it doesn’t work. There is an entire dark side of the internet that will always post murders on one of the many popular shock sites.
After the Foley murder several news headlines announced that beheadings are back. Beheadings never went away. There are hundreds of both cartel and jihadist beheading videos easily accessible on the internet that are far worse than the Foley video. Many display torture, crucifixion, castration, flaying and dismemberment. Most of them involve threats to commit further violence if their requests are not met. One depicts jihadists playing soccer with human heads. Several display multiple beheadings with as many as 17 victims at a time.
One of the significant differences in the Foley and Sotloff beheading videos are that they openly and blatantly denigrate President Obama. The first portion of the Foley video displays news clips of the President authorizing military operations against the Islamic State. Jihad John, the executioner, directly calls out President Obama. “..any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic Caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.” “The life of this American citizen, [hostage Steven Joel Sotloff ] Obama, depends on your next decision.”
The 4 minute 40 second Foley beheading video only shows ten seconds of violent imagery at the end, 04:20 – 04:30, that depicts a knife to the neck, fades to black and then the decapitated body as proof of kill. Similarly, there is only a few seconds of violent imagery at the end of the Sotloff video. The few seconds of violence could easily be edited out of both films, however the message that clearly disrespects President Obama is the real reason the media has collectively decided to censor the video.
There was no call for the removal of beheading videos in June 2006 when two American soldiers Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker were tortured, mutilated and beheaded in Iraq. Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker had their eyes gouged out, had their heart cut out, were castrated and their bodies were dragged through the streets beaten, kicked and left on the roadside booby trapped with IED’s. That video which is much more violent than Foley’s is still available on the internet, including Liveleak, a site that inexplicably decided to remove the Foley video after it aired for several days and did not post the Sotloff video. The 2006 video (http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=550_1174212040) shows members of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS, desecrating and playing with the American soldiers dead bodies and holding up Tuckers head for the camera. The liberal media did not get enraged over their deaths because the Mujahideen Shura Council who put out the horrific video as propaganda, falsely claimed that the soldier’s deaths were in retaliation for the Mahmudiyah killings, an incident that defines the Iraq war for liberals.
Beheading videos are an effective information warfare tactic. But part of their success is dependent upon instilling fear and influencing American policies such as restricting freedoms by censoring information. As horrible as the Foley and Sotloff videos are, a more effective reaction than censorship is to not demonstrate fear but to reply with conviction and strength. For example, a public response from Nick Powers, a Marine Corps veteran who sent an unambiguous message of strength and power, the message that President Obama should have sent. “Remember we are armed to the teeth in the US and I can promise you this… the Geneva Conventions will not apply to you. You attack us and there will be no mercy. We will bring the righteous hand of God down upon you and crush you.” Thank God for the United States Marines. They understand honor and know what kind of message to send to the enemy.
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