ISLAMIC BEHEADINGS: The Hideous Return Of Execution As A Public Spectacle

Published on September 29, 2014

Dear Moderate Muslims: Please show me in the Koran where it condemns the beheading of us infidels. See below. from Joan Smith…

It is hard to think of a greater affront to reason than the decapitation of a helpless human being. Actually, it is an affront to many other things as well, including the dignity of the victim and the feelings of family members. But I grew up in what seemed a new age of reason, when scientific discoveries held out the prospect of making the world a better place; the last thing I expected was that a few years later I’d be forced to look at images of men being beheaded by sadistic killers. I can’t imagine I’m alone in feeling almost literally sick when I hear that another video of a beheading has been placed on the internet.

The murders of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines are a horrible reminder that the barbarism of earlier stages of human history has not gone away. In fact, we’ve known this for some time, at least since the beheadings (in 2002 and 2004) of two American hostages, Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg. In the most recent videos, it is not clear whether the masked British jihadist actually carried out the murders, but we’re invited to make that assumption. At any rate, the theatrical brutality of the act is a rejection of an evolution of human values, over centuries, that places such atrocities beyond the pale.

Whether individual members of the group fully understand the symbolism is unclear, but the head is the seat of reason. Murders staged in this fashion are an attack on the Cartesian proposition cogito, ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”), which has had such a profound influence on how we think about our identity. They are also an assault on the notion of human progress, challenging assumptions about empathy and compassion. That was, I think, the purpose of the gruesome murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death and almost decapitated outside his barracks in Woolwich, London, last year.

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