08.21.2014 06:11 PM

In Friday’s Sun: don’t watch it

Man is the cruelest animal, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, and he might know: his works arguably served as an inspiration for later German militarism and National Socialism.

But the truth of his observation about the cruelty of men – the evil that men do – remains difficult to deny. Take this week’s example, available on your laptop, courtesy of YouTube and Facebook: the video of the murder of American journalist Jim Foley.

You’ve likely seen the video, which is the point. And you do not need to possess a doctorate in propaganda techniques to know how effective the ISIS video truly is. It is expertly done, with slick production values.

In it, Foley – a respected, quiet professional with considerable experience in war zones, where he documented the plight of civilians – is gaunt, with a shaved head. He is wearing an orange robe, and his hands are bound. He is kneeling in a desert somewhere, against a flat blue sky.

The objective of Foley’s captors is clear: the want the world to see him in precisely the way their allies at Guantanamo Bay were seen. They want to be seen as a nation, just as the United States is a nation.

Foley speaks, and it is unspeakably sad. Then, his executioner – wearing black robes and a mask, and holding a long knife – speaks, as well. His message is nothing new. It is the usual maniacal threats and invocations against a host of enemies.

What is most noteworthy is not what the killer says. What matters is how he says it: in a British accent, sounding educated. Here, too, ISIS’ objective is clear: they want to communicate that they have murderous supporters everywhere. Perhaps even in your neighbourhood.

And then the man in black decapitates Jim Foley.

After the video surfaced this week, it went viral – which is an appropriate use of the word, in this case. It spread like a virus, a cancer, throughout the civilized world. And potentially millions of people have now seen it.

For ISIS, the barbaric, animalistic video of the last moments of Jim Foley’s life was an undeniable success. It was a hit.

One, they got to depict themselves as a nation with prisoners of war. Two, they got to deliver the message that their soldiers are everywhere. And, three, they got us to watch their propaganda.

Or did they? Some didn’t, at all. I surveyed readers on the very social media that ISIS used, and here is some of the (edited) response, which was overwhelming:

• Marc Andre Anderson: “Suffering is not something to be consumed like a funny cat video.”

• Kim Hicks: “If his parents and family have seen it, it would certainly torture their souls forever.”

• Derek Pearce: “Didn’t watch it. Cowards like that crave the false sense of power it gives.”

• Massimo Savino: “I haven’t watched it, nor the execution videos of a decade ago, for the simple reason that it isn’t possible for me to ‘unsee’ that kind of thing.”

• Greg Greaves: “No. [Watching] is exactly what the coward in black wants. Don’t give him the satisfaction.”

• Mike Tevlin: “Haven’t, won’t. It’s bad for the soul.”

• Patrick Boucher: “I did watch it. I regret it.”

• Deborah Taylor: “[Watching is] participating.”

• R.J. Carter: “No. Everyone is talking about it – which is part of the goal of the vicious act. Abstaining from watching is exercising some personal control over what a terrorist wants.”

• Nicolas Ruszkowski: “The perpetrators of these bestial acts don’t deserve an ounce of influence over our general mindset.”

• Michael Clifton: “Utter depravity…I do not need those images in my mind.”

• Jack Siegel: “Images like that never leave you. No thanks.”

• Rondi Adamson: “No way. Could not bear it myself.”

• Attila Szalay: “The horror.”

• Leah McLaren: “To watch it is to be a participant in an act of terrorism.”

• Mariam Hamou: “I knew [Foley], Warren. I’m so at a loss. ISIS is a cancer to the world.”

And so on, and so on. Some watched, but the vast majority did not. To me, McLaren and Hamou reflect my own view – I could not watch it. I could not imagine the impact it is having on Jim Foley’s friends and family.

Mostly, however, it was an expert piece of propaganda – and it only works if I expose myself to it. It only works if it reaches me, and then I cannot ever ‘unsee’ it.

Evil is done, someone once said, by those who cannot be heard. I disagree: profound evil was done, in this case, because ISIS believed their propaganda would be seen and heard.

Deny them that; make that your own contribution to the war against terror. ISIS is indeed a cancer, a Satanic virus, in the world.

Don’t let the virus infect you.

26 Comments

  1. As a professional journalist writing a column about something, you probably should have watched it.

    I haven’t watched it, but I’m not commenting on it. I don’t see why his death is so much more important then the thousands of others this group has executed.

  2. David says:

    Would it be appropriate to watch a rape of someone? How could anyone justify watching such degradation, the involuntary last seconds of a human being? The closest to a rational argument is witnessing the brutality of ISIS but I don’t think I need to participate by watching to figure that out.

  3. TrueNorthist says:

    If only. Get back to me when media decides to do the right thing and not play such horrors wall to wall. But I doubt that will ever happen. Stuff like this gathers eye-balls and sells dishwashers. Not mine, but enough I suppose.

  4. Warren, I don’t get why you say this is considered “effective propaganda.” It rallies decent people against them. The majority of people in the US and Britain don’t want to go back into Iraq, but when you see things like this, you can’t help but start to think maybe they have to.

    There’s a famous picture, from WWII, of a Japanese soldier swinging a sword to chop off a blindfolded Australian soldier’s head. This only acted to enrage the Allies, and increase resolve against Japan.

    • doconnor says:

      They want the US and Britain back in Iraq. They want them to spend billions or trillions of dollar trying to attack a few thousands people.

      Killing the right person in the right way seems to get your a lot of leverage. Maybe more then taking over 1/3 of a country or two.

      Yes, it has been been very effective propaganda.

      • davie says:

        doconner…it has also crossed my mind that The West, especially USA, has recently spent a lot of money on its bombing runs against ISIS. I don’t know what the cost is of transferring people and equipment from North America (where they are on stand by, a constant cost in itself), or the cost of the ‘assets dropped on the people on the ground, the fuel costs, extra base costs, and even the costs of pr for the campaign. But, this Sunni group’s propaganda likely cost a heck of a lot less, and seems to have had a heck of big effect.

  5. Lavar says:

    It doesn’t matter whether anyone watched all, some or none of it – as long as it is a topic of discussion it has served its purpose.

  6. Gilles says:

    I’d venture to guess that more US/UK/”Western” bombs and drones unleashed against ISIS will give them munitions to argue that “the West” is waging a war against Sunnis/their way of life/their values and thus help them in their recruitment efforts and fundraising.
    Same would apply to more inflamed rhetoric from “Western” sources.
    Also, it makes them appear more powerful. When the headlines are ISIS instead of Russia/Ukraine or Israel/Hamas or Ferguson… ISIS gets more attention from the public, media and leaders. They can point to that to rally their troops, recruit, fundraise…

    • davie says:

      In addition, I figure our media, our opinion makers, our politicians and military leaders will be using this for their own ends.

  7. JH says:

    The media sluts will play this video or post pictures of it, every time their audience starts to decline or it’s ratings time and they need to show the advertisers good numbers . That’s what the press has become these days – whores for the bottom line.

  8. Danny says:

    Ten years ago I watched the Daniel Pearl video. I so wish I had not. I am still ill when I think about it.
    I think it takes away a bit of your soul, your humanity.

  9. davie says:

    I am going to risk pulling something out of my paranoia here about our amazing media capabilities and uses.
    When I first heard of this video of the ritual murder of a western reporter by a beheading on camera, I thought of a scene from an early 1950’s Kurasawa film in which a samurai warrior slices another fellow from his shoulders to his loins, and the dead slowly fell to either side. Those effect, early 1950’s, made the scene look real.
    News media has said that USA intelligence has analyzed this beheading tape and said it is authentic. That says to me that USA intelligence had reason to check it out.

    Tarantino, in Inglorious Basterds (I can’t even misspell properly) shows that a film maker can create any kind of history s/he wants. I grow increasingly uncomfortable with videos and film being used as evidence for what has happened.

  10. Steve T says:

    I have never watched a beheading video, and have no intentions of ever starting. There are a myriad number of reasons, many of which you have listed, WK. I hate ISIS and everything they stand for, and I don’t need to watch an innocent person suffer to own that hate.

  11. Michael says:

    I’ve watched an obscene crackhead lie incessantly to his city. I’ve watched endless puerile attack ads by a PM (a PM! In power!) who is pathologically obsessed with his own greatness. I’ve watched pop culture glorify foul-mouthed rude brats. I’ve watched massive swaths of the population become addicted to sugar, salt, fat, pornography, violent screen entertainment, processed foods, texting, Facebooking, ‘truthiness’ and grossly slanted, braindead so-called journalism. I’ve watched advertising relentlessly appear everywhere on everything. I’ve watched newspapers become filled with hateful, racist, juvenile anonymous comments which would warrant a punch in the nose if made in real life. I’ve watched children become sexualized by pop music moguls. I’ve watched missiles destroy schools in third-generation refugee camps. I’ve watched even the CBC News become a non-stop litany for every perverse and violent activity known to exist.

    I’ve watched all of this appear over the past 30 years not by choice, but because it has become normalized and ubiquitous. At least the beheading video came with a warning allowing me to turn away and wretch at the mere thought of it.

  12. Ridiculosity says:

    I would have appreciated it had you issued a Spoiler Alert at the start of your column.

    “Reading” about the content of the video was way too close to “watching” it, in my opinion.

  13. Alfred Palmer says:

    How, Who, Why

    While the decapitation of James Foley achieved the shock value and wide dissemination the Islamic State was seeking, it is actually one of the Islamists’ mellower tactics. Women are routinely stoned to death for “adultery” (often after not “resisting” rape enough.) This type of execution can last minutes, even hours. Christians and other religious minorities are literally being crucified in Iraq and Syria; again, an agonizing process. Others starved on mountain tops. Women tortured with hot oil, boiling water, ignited gasoline, have languished for days or weeks until their burns killed them. During the crisis in Darfur/Sudan, the Janjaweed castrated victims and let them bleed out. Rape-unto-death is popular. Foley was lucky, relatively, to have a quick death.

    But the who and the why of this incident is much more important than the how. This was a British man killing an American – not “just an Arab thing.” Adventure travel has metastasized into Jihad travel. Nor, should any person of the United Kingdom be surprised. The last beheading to seriously trend on twitter was the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby – on British soil. Michael Adebolajo (born Lambeth) and Michael Adebowale were both British. As Great Britain remains a floundering state (e.g. Tony Blair is being sued by IRA victims over Libya “conniving” – Gaddafi supplied all the IRA’s Symtex – the tactics of Arab supremacism have been long with us), it is only a matter of time until a blend of the London Riots, tactics of the Islamic State, and the Rwandan genocide unleash a wave of terror on British soil a la the Islamic State. If America was really serious about fighting Islamist cadres, they would consider drone-striking the Sharia patrols in Whitechapel or Tower Hamlets as much as anywhere in Arabia.

    Internationally, reactions range between fatalistic indifference to triumphant welcoming. Kenwal Sibal, Ex-Foreign Secretary of India, and featured guest on Russia Today summed up this mindset: “In their (the West’s) obsession with human rights and minority rights and democracy and the crusades that they have launched to impose these and progress these ideas globally they have caused a great deal of instability.” That is, the rule of law, human rights, due process, freedom of the press, habeas corpus, the rules of war, the Geneva Convention, these are bothersome hindrances on the road to multicultural, multi-polar utopia. Pesky journalist have it coming. For the Internationalist, the BRICS-Axis, the tactics of the Islamic State are acceptable. Even in Europe, long poisoned with Euro-Marxism and anti-Americanism, easily one tenth the population cheers the death of any American as a blow against “American hegemony” or other thought-terminating cliché. It is why, more so after the anti-Israel protests/riots of late, Jews are quietly leaving Europe. What National Socialism couldn’t finish, radical Islam may. There is always the dark longing for the gas chamber, Gulag, and guillotine in certain Continental cliques – we return, full circle, to beheading.

    As the Islamic State is erasing borders, the southern border of the United States is wide open. The Islamic State might have ten thousand cadres in Iraq and Syria and controls a large area. The same number could quietly and easily slip in among the hundreds of thousands moving North There are already reports of IS trying to partner with the drug cartels – which suggests the why. Because they can. Because, like sharks, these are creatures that sense weakness, blood in the water. Like wild dogs, travel in packs, hunt those weaker. If one wants to get philosophical, Occam’s Razor suffices: the Islamic State murders, rapes, plunders, tortures, controls by Draconian means, simply because they enjoy it. It is their lifestyle, their culture. It’s what they do, who they are. The how is incidental. The Janjaweed was extensively utilized as a proxy to subdue Christian and traditionalists in the south by the Sudanese regime at the pleasure of Chinese and Canadian petroleum companies. The tactics of the Islamic State, the Janjaweed, are the tactics of the laissez-faireist and Communist. It is entirely possible a cabal of Western-based internationalists and some organ of the Chinese Communist Party could utilize Islamist proxies to liquidate native populations deemed recalcitrant right here at home. As it goes in Sudan or Syria, so it will go in London, Houston, Toronto.

  14. Hedley says:

    No, actually, I didn’t watch it, and I don’t plan to. I’m sure ISIS is grateful to you for describing it so clearly though. Way to spread the message!

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