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.