We are a tribal people, whether we like it or not. The brutal murder of thousands of Yazidis appropriately excites our horror and compassion, but the murder of reporter James Foley is a direct attack on us, rather than an attack on undeserving others. He is one of us: An American unless, that is, we have reached a narcissistic level of dissociation from our own roots.
Moreover, and maybe this is just me, but I believe that we as Americans react more viscerally to beheading than to other forms of execution. Beheading has never been an American way of death, something true long before our nation was created. Whether through formal due process executions or brutal, on-the-street murders, we shoot, hang, electrocute, poison, strangle, etc., but only the most insane among us behead.
There is something deeply symbolic about beheading, insofar as it separates the essence of ourselves — the head, which is the seat of our thoughts and personality — from the vessel that enables the head to function. It is the form of death that erases us, something Americans have never countenanced.
Worse, it’s clear from the video that ISIS proudly made commemorating Foley’s slaughter, that Foley’s cruel death was preceded by psychological torture and threats. It’s true that countries such as England and France once routinely beheaded their prisoners, often after or along with brutal, sustained torture. As they moved out of the Middle Ages and into the Enlightenment, however, they tried to beheading to effect it speedily and as painlessly as possible. Recall that the guillotine, rather than being viewed as a torturous instrument of death, was seen as humane because it removed the risk of an executioner’s fumble or a prisoner’s involuntary movements.
ISIS, however, still has an early medieval sensibility that revels in the psychic cruelty of beheading. Moreover, to the extent that they eschew swords, scimitars, or guillotines, opting instead to saw away at their victims’ neck with dull knives, they bring to the effort a cruelty would have been disturbing even to Europeans several hundred years ago.
So now what? What will be the aftermath of Foley’s terrible end?
When Daniel Pearl was brutally executed in exactly the same way, by a kindred entity, his execution was folded into the horrors of 9/11 and was part of the prelude to war. Under George Bush, the American mindset was “When you attack us and murder our people in the most brutal, painful, dehumanizing ways possible, you can bet your bottom dollar that we will come after you. You can run, but you can’t hide. ‘The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.’”
What can we expect from Barack Obama? Well, first, silence. As I write this, I’m under the impression that Obama has had nothing yet to say about the televised execution of an American citizen.
Second, Obama will eventually issue a bland, fairly affect-free statement, either through a spokesman or through a brief appearance on the White House lawn (no questions from the press, please). In an anodyne tone, he’ll say how sad he and the American people are at the news. He’ll promise to issue strongly worded condemnations of the killers. He’ll assure us that the killers are aberrant and have nothing to do with the good Muslims around the world. (God forbid he castigates the bad Muslims who rejoice under such names as ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hamas, etc.). Lastly, Obama will promise an investigation along with the rote words that “we’ll bring these killers to justice.” And then it will be over. That will be it.
Oh, one more thing! Michelle Obama may well chime in with a sad-faced Twitter photo, complete with hashtag. Maybe #RIPJamesFoley or #Don’tBeheadOurJournalists or something equally profound.
Obama’s passivity will do two things. It will reaffirm ISIS’s belief that it’s not even dealing with a paper tiger but, instead, is dealing with a paper crawling worm. It will also tell reporters around the world that their best protection isn’t to tell the truth about radical Islam, knowing that the western nations — especially America — will protect them. Instead, reporters will understand that their only safety comes with parroting whatever lies these radical Islamists feed them, just as they did when they relayed Hamas’s propaganda from Gaza. Every reporter, from every Western outlet, will find himself (or herself) acting the part of Baghdad Bob, fervently repeating whatever words the Islamic executioner demands.
Things could be very different. As a friend of mine told me, when his wife first heard the report of Foley’s ritualistic slaughter, she turned to him, and deadpanned “Wow, it’s too bad there isn’t a military solution for the ISIS problem.” Exactly.
Max Boot, as astute a commentator of events in the Middle East as you’ll find, also thinks there can be a military solution. In his view, while the execution is meant to be a projection of strength, it’s also a sign of weakness. You don’t execute one man to make a point if you can take out towns or dams.
Our government should recognize ISIS’s weakness and act accordingly — and this action, with a brutal killing machine, cannot mean achieving “peace” through negotiations across the table. (As John Hinderaker noticed in an interview with Hamas, peace means a breather during which Islamists re-arm in order to continue their never-ending jihad.) Instead, achieving peace Western-style (raising our families, going to work, celebrating life) means obliterating ISIS:
What is needed now is not strongly worded condemnation of Foley’cs murder, much less a hashtag campaign. What is needed is a politico-military strategy to annihilate ISIS rather than simply chip around the edges of its burgeoning empire. In the Spectator of London I recently outlined what such a strategy should look like. In brief, it will require a commitment of some 10,000 U.S. advisors and Special Operators, along with enhanced air power, to work with moderate elements in both Iraq and Syria–meaning not only the peshmerga but also the Sunni tribes, elements of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Free Syrian Army–to stage a major offensive to rout ISIS out of its newly conquered strongholds. The fact that Nouri al-Maliki is leaving power in Baghdad clears away a major obstacle to such a campaign.
Unfortunately, this aggressive attack against people who have united to become a feral roving slaughterhouse is the one thing Obama will not be able to bring himself to do. As we’ve known from the beginning, and more people are noticing daily, Obama rouses himself to respond only when he perceives an attack to be leveled against him personally, rather than against him as leader of the American people. That’s why he reserves his fiercest, nastiest, most demeaning rhetoric, not for those who slaughter Americans, annihilate Christians, and are engaged in an ongoing effort to effect the complete genocide of the Jewish people, but instead for Republicans. Republicans are mean to him, to Obama. The Islamists are just cutting down to size those people Obama dislikes anyway: Jews, Christians, and Americans.
As this year plays out, I continue to revise my long-standing believe that Obama’s only religion is Leftism, with himself as the godhead. I’m becoming more convinced that Obama is indeed a Muslim. I do not know whether he has always hewed to the religion of his childhood, hiding it for professional advantage, or if he has recently returned to it. I do think, though, that one of the few truths Obama uttered was this one: “The sweetest sound I know is the Muslim call to prayer.”
UPDATE: Even worse, it appears that (a) the executioner was a former Gitmo resident; and (b) the White House knew in advance that Foley would die, but had no power to stop it.
UPDATE II: Since I wrote this post, I’ve learned that Obama has spoken and it was even less than I thought it would be. He said the world’s conscience is “shocked,” and that America will continue to “do what we must to protect our people.”
Funnily enough, when I hear Obama say he’s “shocked,” the only thing that comes to mind is this: