From Auschwitz to Islamic State

The defeat of Nazism was the last time the West united with the clarity of vision needed to defeat evil.

Captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh (photo credit: REUTERS)
Captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Why Auschwitz wasn’t bombed is the subject of any tour of a major Holocaust museum. “The failure to bomb has become a symbol of indifference,” writes Michael Berenbaum, who is an expert on the subject. For many years we were told that the world did not know about the Holocaust and that is why very little was done to prevent it.
However, many disagree. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, even wrote a book called A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide arguing the US has historically put national interests first and not done enough to prevent genocide. But as Islamic State (IS, ISIS or ISIL) continues its campaign of mass murder, begging the world to take notice through broadcasting its crimes, we are left with a clear conclusion: Even if IS opened a death camp and showed people being massacred live on the Internet, no one would do anything.
The latest IS video made waves around the world. Depicting the brutal murder of Jordanian pilot Muath Kasaesbeh, it came on top of the executions of two Japanese men and several other Western humanitarian workers and journalists. The world confronts each IS video with a profound rejectionism. A commentator on France24 said, “I’m shocked at how IS is reacting online [to the video of the burning of Kasaesbeh], it is so brutal and they are celebrating.”
He was shocked? Had he seen the videos IS distributed throughout 2014 showing their men laughing as they gunned down Shi’ites? Had he missed the stories of IS selling Yezidi women and mass raping them? On another France24 debate the commentators expressed outrage that Fox News had put the IS execution tape on its website.
“It contravenes the convention of good taste,” the host claimed as his co-host nodded.
He apparently didn’t think burning someone alive, taping it and publicizing it contravened “good taste.”
The BBC was also outraged not at IS but at Fox News, calling the decision to put the video online “barbarity on show: Fox News responds to IS video outrage.” The name of the game in the West is to be “outraged” about the video of the murder of the Jordanian pilot. No one is going to go out and protest against IS. What “shocks” people is the video. There is a pervasive sense of purposeful ignorance in the face of repeated IS atrocities. “Good taste” is merely the excuse employed to keep IS at arm’s length.
The same BBC that uses the word “barbarity” to describe the video calls IS “militants.” There is apparently a belief in the Western media that burning people alive, cutting off their heads, selling women and raping them, stoning women, all these are “military” acts, not war crimes, not murder. You will never hear a European media announcer describe IS as war criminals or as having committed crimes against humanity. Those who felt comfortable being outspoken about transgressions in the Balkan wars are afraid even to say “ethnic cleansing” with regard to IS.
The irony of this is that IS wants coverage. Since June of 2014 IS has distributed videos of its atrocities, sometimes set to music. In one from July 2014 they marked Id al-Fitr by the massacre of Shi’ites in northern Iraq. A simple Google search for “ISIS video Shi’ite beheadings river” brings up the brutal video. But we weren’t supposed to know about that video last year. The media outlets all had it. Everyone was watching it in the Arab world. People at shops in east Jerusalem huddled around counters and gossiped about “Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for IS. But not viewers in the West. There was a conscious effort by the media and politicians in the West to cover up for IS.
It’s a stark reminder that “never again” is a charade. If the Nazis existed today, and had put up a live feed from Auschwitz, the West would still have done nothing. At St. James Palace, in June of 1941, Churchill said, “We cannot see how deliverance will come or when it will come, but nothing is more certain that every trace of Hitler’s footsteps, every stain of his infected, corroding fingers will be sponged and purged and, if need be, blasted from the surface of the earth.” IS? Blasted from the face of the earth? Infection? Surely not – they are “militants,” even “activists,” engaged in an “armed struggle." If Hitler had lived today he, too, would have been an “activist” and his SS camp guards “militants.”
The so-called war against IS by the international coalition is an ongoing joke. In January a US intelligence source admitted to CNN that the group’s “core capabilities remain unchanged,” and US Rear Admiral John Kirby told a press briefing on January 23 that “we’re only six, seven months into this thing, too. And [IS] had a big head start on us, coming into the summer. A pretty aggressive first quarter for those guys.” Sometimes it seems the Pentagon is talking more about the recent Super Bowl then about fighting a brutal, evil terrorist organization.
Kirby told another briefing in December that the US had established a “Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. It’s a headquarters of more than a 40-nation coalition that is designated to integrate our collective military capabilities.” At cloud-Pentagon-land the news briefings lapse into discussions of whether to call ISIS “ISIL” or “Daesh” and talk about “core capabilities” and “command and control.” They could have a 200-nation coalition and still be bumbling along.
Back in Washington US President Barack Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and told people to get off their high horse: “Remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
Yes, they did; just like IS is committing crimes in the name of Mohammed. But that’s the thing: if the Crusaders and Inquisition existed today and they filmed their actions, the media wouldn’t broadcast the footage. The Crusaders would be called “militants” and world leaders would line up to argue that “Crusaders are not Christians.”
We only acknowledge that Crusaders and Inquisition committed crimes because we have the moral courage to do so. With IS, on the other hand, the excuses are endless. So while Obama isn’t afraid to accuse Crusaders of doing evil in the name of religion, he won’t admit IS commits crimes in the name of religion. We’re not on our high horse, we are just asking for the same outrage expressed over the Crusades or Salem Witch Trials to be expressed with regard to IS’s crimes.
A lot of people are enamored of the King of Jordan, who donned a uniform, said “this is a third world war by other means” and then quoted Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. A lot of people watching the king vow revenge wished leaders in Europe and the US had such clear vision.
But that’s the irony with the West. The defeat of Nazism was the last time the West united with the clarity of vision needed to defeat evil.
The world didn’t wake up to genocide in 1945 – that’s when it closed its eyes. It is the KKK lynching and burning of Jesse Washington and the Omaha Race Riot of 1919 along with the visual horror of the murder of Will Brown, that are still used to educate about the evils of racism. IS videos will never be shown to people to encourage the idea of “never again.” Why? Because we are living through “again,” again and again... Darfur, Boko Haram. Rwanda. It doesn’t matter. The West is impotent. It falls on the pilots of 20 Jordanian F-16s to exact vengeance.
Don’t worry, the West won’t be doing much besides talking.
Follow the author @Sfrantzman