This is war. Not only is Islamic State waging war on the free and not-so-free world, it is engaging in psychological warfare.
There are many disturbing aspects to the movie of the murder of Jordanian pilot Mouath al-Kasaesbeh, whose F-16 crashed when he was participating in a mission as part of a US-led coalition air strike. Just a few months ago the terrorist organization was ridiculed for being a few thousand men traveling the desert in beaten-up Toyotas, but apart from its gains on the ground it has unarguably achieved victory in the area in which it excels – spreading fear and terror.
It is a chilling thought that somewhere in the group’s upper cadre there is a PR strategist, perhaps educated at a Western university, who looked at the young lieutenant and thought: “Beheading is so 2014. Let’s put him in a cage and burn him alive.”
The barbarity is so unspeakable that it doesn’t yet have a name. But it has a face, that of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph, and it has a flag: black and ominous.
Islamic State has been waving its flag and message at the West for a while. The West for too long was content to wag a scolding finger in return.
The brutal execution of Kasaesbeh – recorded in a video some 22 minutes long – apparently took place on January 3, while discussions over a ransom and prisoner exchange were taking place with Jordan, which insisted on receiving a sign he was alive, and Japan, whose two hostages were murdered by Islamic State last month. The ransom itself was more than symbolic: the group was demanding that Japan pay $200 million, the same sum the Japanese had pledged to the fight on terrorism. It also demanded the release of two Iraqi-born al-Qaida terrorists held in Jordan.
Perhaps one of the most shocking effects of the Islamic State film industry is that after you’ve seen a man being burned alive in a cage, clearly aware of his fate and suffering, the beheadings (carried out by a deliberately blunt knife to prolong the pain) seem like a merciful execution.
As Israel Radio Middle East editor Eran Singer noted, the execution, staged down to the last detail, was meant to send a message: The fire is spreading and there’s no escaping it and the pain it brings. It will consume the enemies of Islamic State.
The video was as slick as it was sick. After a “confession,” in which he was predictably forced to accuse the Hashemite Kingdom of collaborating with the Zionist entity among other things, a clearly beaten and battered Kasaesbeh walked with a dazed look to his doom. It reeked of symbolism: Set among ruins, to suggest the air strikes, the cage in which Kasaesbeh was devoured by flames was then buried by rubble and crushed by a bulldozer in a final insult. The grieving family doesn’t even have the hope of one day giving the body of their brave son a decent burial.
Islamic State has turned snuff movies into a religion.
These are horror movies that are carefully created to have a haunting effect: to strike fear into the hearts of the “infidels” and entice more “soldiers” to join the jihadi cause.
But the death by fire crossed a red-hot line. The savagery was as inescapable as the fire that took Kasaesbeh’s life. The response to his death was telling.
As Singer noted, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, Egypt’s top Muslim authority whose rulings are revered by Sunnis everywhere, said the killers themselves deserved to be “killed, crucified or to have their limbs amputated.”
Such strong condemnations indicate the depths of the shock felt in the Sunni world, although they don’t exactly calm fears that the Islamists have strayed from a “religion of peace.”
The immediate response of the Jordanian regime was calmly appropriate: King Abdullah cut short a visit to Washington and described the killing of Kasaesbeh as a “cowardly” act of terror by a group that had nothing to do with Islam. He also ordered the execution of the two prisoners that Islamic State sought: Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli, neither of them a loss to humanity.
Typical of a more confused response was an op-ed by Jennifer Loewenstein titled “Burnt Offering: Holding Ourselves Hostage to History,” published online on February 4 in the proudly radical CounterPunch.
After condemning Kasaesbeh’s killing as “the latest act of unspeakable barbarism carried out by ISIS against its hostage...” Loewenstein writes: “In the United States today, dissidents have a two-fold task. The first is to denounce in the most forceful terms the Frankenstein’s monsters their country has helped to create and are fueling by bombing organizations such as ISIS. The second is to convince their fellow citizens that the policies their leaders have chosen are not in the interest of the general public; that they do not heighten their security, increase their global popularity, or encourage peaceful, diplomatic solutions without recourse to violence. On the contrary, contemporary US foreign policy has dramatically increased the likelihood of both home grown and foreign-sponsored terrorist acts on American soil.”
It is a knee-jerk reaction which not only blames the West for everything, it denies it a chance to defend itself, and excuses the real mass murderers. It is frightening that the associate director of Middle East studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison can still preach that the free world is responsible for the crimes of Islamic State and global jihad.
A bleeding heart can be fatal.
The terrorist organization continues to appeal to young Westerners looking for adventure, and the promise of sex both on earth and in a martyrs’ heaven, all ostensibly with divine blessing.
This isn’t about poverty and unemployment of immigrant communities. In many cases, the fighters are the product of second- and third-generation families: idealizing a way of life that never existed except in their fantasies.
And this is not the result of Western attacks on Muslim countries. The European powers caused tremendous damage when they arbitrarily drew up borders in this region, but Islamic State is no mere attempt to rectify boundaries.
President Barack Obama might still be unable to openly say the words “Islamic terror” – much to the detriment of the fight on terrorism – but that is what it is.
A few years ago when reviewing a book I noted the fact that the title included the words “Middle East” but the book itself included places as far away as Afghanistan and India. That was then. It is time to abandon the idea of a Middle East altogether. Shimon Peres’s famed “New Middle East” was killed while still in the womb. The old Middle East – in its most negative sense – has spread so far that its influence is felt in France and Yemen, Sudan and Thailand.
Al-Qaida blurred borders with attacks in places ranging from New York to Bali, Madrid and London. Islamic State, al-Qaida’s even uglier younger sister, hasn’t just erased the border between Syria and Iraq, wiping out the old Sykes-Picot line of 1916 with a psychotic frenzy, it has redrawn the world map. Global Jihad is just that.
No one in their right mind would call Islamic State’s cult a religion. Nobody in their right mind would support it.
Nonetheless, the fight against it must take place with care.
Islamic State is likely to eventually be consumed by its own hatred: Those levels of depravity ultimately cannot be sustained. The question is what will replace it, and that will be partly determined by the world’s response to Islamist terror now.
Will the terror tactics work – scaring coalition partners from the fight; or has Islamic State signed its own slow death warrant with its proud boasting of the depths of its savagery? One thing’s for sure: The video carried more than an implied threat to Jordan, which borders both Syria and Iraq (or what’s left of them), but it won’t stop there.
Not coincidentally, Jordan this week returned its ambassador to Israel after a period in which he had been recalled to Amman. The Hashemite Kingdom and Israel rely on each other, and the rest of the world, in stopping the spread of evil which surrounds us.
Now is the time to truly unite: This is not an amateur homemade movie. This is what Islamic State has in mind for a theater of terror somewhere near you.