As a human being I feel I have to add my voice to the civilized world’s wailing, and to its screams of horror and anger against the beheadings by the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”* (ISIS) in its pogrom in Iraq and Syria.
The reports on ISIS atrocities don’t seem to be propaganda by the US Central Intelligence Agency nor by some Israeli or Western psy-war expert groups.
In fact, what is sickening is that the ISIS fighters themselves have been using civilization’s advanced information technology – the cell phone, the Internet and the social media network – to boast of their deed, to strike terror in their enemies’ hearts, they claim, by posting their gruesome beheadings on the web. The group’s use of social media — especially Twitter — to disseminate its atrocities has been described as being on the same level as that by US companies.
Who would have imagined that modern technology, one of the fruits of humanity’s intelligence, would be used as a tool for broadcasting one of the basest human acts against another?
As a human being is being beheaded and decapitated, heads being stuck on a pike, other ISIS soldiers and even civilians are taking video clips with their cell phones.
In one such clip, a Christian Syrian is asked to convert to Islam and to recite its central creed (“There is no God but Allah and I testify that Mohamed is the messenger of Allah.”). I think there was a glint of relief in the victim’s face, thinking he would live.
But the leader of the ISIS fighters then says in Arabic, translated as follows: “No one will shoot him. He will not be killed by shooting, because that would be too merciful for him. He will be beheaded because he is Kaffir, a non-Muslim who sided with the government and was not praying.” (The translations are in subtitles.)
A hooded man behind then grabs his hair to pull his head back to expose his neck, and proceeds to decapitate him with a bayonet knife, not in one swift blow that we see done by samurais in movies, but as one would cut a log using the knife as a saw. It took half a minute for the head to be cut off from the body
The audio capability of cell phones makes it even gruesome, as you can hear the shouts around cheering on the killer, and — so terrifying it made my hair stand on end — the chanting of the Islamist equivalent of the Christian “God be Praised,” “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is the Greatest!”).
That must represent the depths of mankind’s dark side: that a Deity is invoked, and the beheading performed to prove His greatness. Did the ISIS really think they were doing it to please a Deity, or were they merely justifying man’s basest instinct unleashed in any war, to totally crush and dehumanize an enemy?
Even worse, and this is the first time I’ve heard this done in war or even by the most crazed murderer: ISIS warriors are beheading children, just because they are Christians. What kind of human being would do that?
The first time I saw such videos of beheadings was when I was in government, shown many years ago by our military intelligence of Abu Sayaff beheading two captured marines, and the images kept popping up in my head for days. As in that video by ISIS, it was the same sawing action that made it so gruesome.
Why would an Abu Sayaff fighter, probably even an illiterate one in the jungles of Basilan, behead a human being, with the same cold-bloodedness as an Arab mujahideen in the deserts of Iraq?
Japanese officers in World War II were known to behead prisoners of war with their katanas, and nearly legendary in our country are stories of infants hurled in the air and caught on their way down with their bayonets. There are also cultures in which the norm was to behead vanquished enemies, as in the case of our Ilongot headhunters and other tribes in Africa and Southeast Asia whose societies are frozen in some prehistoric time. Beheading in Western Europe had been mostly used as the method of capital punishment for criminals, especially traitors, undertaken with surgical precision, as in the case of the French guillotine, whose use ended only in 1977.
All these practices, however, have either long vanished or been outlawed as inhuman acts, considered by society as atrocities, crimes against humanity itself.
Saudi Arabia remains as the only country that officially undertakes decapitation as a means of capital punishment. It has been jihadist terrorists – from Basilan, Chechnya, Iraq, Syria, and several other countries – who use beheadings as an instrument of terror.
We cannot be “politically correct” and deny the obvious. As Timothy Furnish, an American professor of Islamic studies, concluded in an article in the Middle East Quarterly: “Islamic civilization is not a historical anomaly in its sanction of decapitation… Nevertheless, Islam is the only major world religion today that is cited by both state and non-state actors to legitimize beheadings.”
Furnish cites several texts from the Quran prescribing beheadings, among them Surya (Chapter) 47: “When you encounter the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads until you have crushed them completely; then bind the prisoners tightly.” Also, Surya 8:12 reads: “I will cast dread into the hearts of the unbelievers. Strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
Most Islamic scholars claim, though, that these are passages that applied only during the Prophet’s time. But the problem is that succeeding Islamic states like the Ottoman Empire, a modern state as Saudi Arabia, and jihadists all around the globe past and present, have taken these verses literally, and that God “has ordained them to obliterate their enemies in this manner.”
Religion of the sword
“(I)n contradiction to the assertions of apologists, both Muslim and non-Muslim, these beheadings are not simply a brutal method of drawing attention to the Islamist political agenda and weakening opponents’ will to fight.… Islam is, for this determined minority of Muslims, anything but a “religion of peace.” It is, rather, a religion of the sword with the blade forever at the throat of the unbeliever.”
To be sure, verses from the holy scriptures from the two other Abrahamic religions – Christianity and Judaism – also prescribe brutality against one’s enemies as horrific as beheadings.
For instance, according to the “Holy Book’s” 1 Samuel 15:3, “This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”
Those verses probably guided the Crusaders of the medieval ages who rampaged through the Middle East, even roasting the “infidels’” children and eaten. Furthermore, the horrors committed by thousands of jihadists clearly pale with the genocide of 11 million Jews and European minorities by a Christian, Adolf Hitler.
Some would even argue that 300,000 souls were snuffed in an instant by nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ordered by a Christian president of a Christian nation. However, those two modern genocides were certainly not undertaken in the name of the Christian Deity.
Christianity was transformed to become humane, not by any of its tenets, but by the Age of Enlightenment – the rise of reason and its axiom that the human being is central to our world, not some spirit out there – whose epicenter, for purely accidental reasons, was also the bastion of Christianity, Europe.
The biggest tragedy of humanity is that Islam, the world’s second biggest religion, had not undergone a similar transformation, despite the fact that its golden age of science was centuries ahead of the Enlightenment.
What we are seeing in the atrocities of the ISIS and jihadist terror groups are a vestige of humanity’s dark past, when religion was so powerful it could even overrule a human being’s sense of decency and value for life.
And it will be the biggest religion in the world as it is the fastest growing today: “Clash of Civilizations” author Samuel Huntington estimated that by 2025, Islam will have 5 percent more adherents than will Christianity.
*History in several ways repeats itself in the case of the ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which aims to set up a Caliphate first over the Middle East and then over all Muslim countries in the world.
Osama bin-Laden and his Al-Qaeda grew as a result of the US support of rebel groups fighting the Soviet puppet regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The ISIS was one of al-Qaeda’s biggest allies in Iraq, which, after the US invasion that toppled Saddam, a Sunni, became a rallying force among the Sunnis against the mostly Shiite Iraqi rulers the US installed.
ISIS grew because of the support by the US and its allies of the rebel forces at war to topple Syrian ruler Assad. ISIS was one of the most successful rebel groups allegedly funded so much by Saudi Arabia that at one time, it reportedly had a war chest of $2 billion.