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.

Did you watch it?

This – as you almost certainly know by now – is American journalist James Foley, moments before he was murdered by the masked ISIS animal on the right. ISIS made a video of Foley’s murder, and circulated it on the Internet.

It has been seen potentially millions of times this week.

Were you one of those who watched it? Why, if so? Why not? I’m writing a column about this, and am interested in your views.

(And, no, I didn’t watch it and won’t.)



In Tuesday’s Sun: the new police states(s)

NEW YORK – Drive across the border.

That’s all you need to do, really, to figure out why so many Americans are so enraged about the killing of Michael Brown.

The fact that an unarmed teenage boy was shot six times – twice in the head – is part of it, of course. So, too, the fact that eyewitnesses say he had his hands in the air when a Ferguson, Missouri police officer gunned him down. Like he was, you know, a rabid dog.

All of that – the killing of a boy who had nothing between his fingers except the August air above his head – is part of the reason why this country has awoken from its late-Summer torpor, and is in a state of apoplexy.

But there’s another reason for the ferocity of the reaction by Middle America to Michael Brown’s killing. And that is the police themselves.

Like I say: drive across the border. I did, with my kids, and it felt like I was back in Bosnia in 1996, approaching a Serbian paramilitary checkpoint.

It wasn’t just the cameras, which we counted to be about eight, per car. It wasn’t just the general appearance of the border crossing, which closely resembled what the Berlin Wall might have looked like, back in the day.

It was the uniformed folks at the border, themselves.

They looked like they were fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, still, instead asking suburbanites if they had an extra bottle of wine to declare. Military-style uniforms, military-style weapons, and attitudes to match. Pompous, rude, vaguely threatening.

It would be a cliché to state that the mass murder that was 9-11 changed the world. Most reasonable people would also agree that the world needed changing: we’d been living like we were Switzerland, and we needed to start living like we were Israel.

That is, in a dangerous world, one where men in caves possessed weapons – if not of mass-destruction, then at least destructive to the masses, on a World Trade Centre scale – and an unkillable desire to kill us. For our faiths, for our way of life, for our modernity.

So we changed, and understandably so. Homeland Security, checkpoints on Parliament Hill, shoes off at the airport. Oh, and massive – truly massive – amounts of cash, uncritically shoveled in the direction of the cops and the soldiers.

Post-wars, some of the latter drifted into jobs as the former. Training manuals changed. Politicians signed blank cheques and looked the other way, daring not to question the wisdom of rendering ourselves a police state. For fear of being seen as “soft on crime” or “soft on terrorism.” (Ask Justin Trudeau: the Cons do it to him on a near-weekly basis.)

Thus, Ferguson. The killing of a boy without justification – anywhere, anytime – is a crime. That is why so many down here, black and white, are so upset. With a black president in his second term, some of Americans had thought all that was behind them. Apparently not.

But they are in a state of rage, in the United States, for another reason: the terrible crimes of 9-11 were used as an excuse – dishonestly, unethically, diabolically – to justify pumping untold billions into the creation of paramilitary forces where none were needed. To create, as noted, a police state.

The boy named Michael Brown has awoken a nation from its sleep, as it had been drifting into becoming something less than what it was. They mourn him, of course.

But they mourn the loss of their freedom, too.

They should.

In Friday’s Sun: TV is pictures. Warren is unpredictable.

Ezra Levant. Peter Mansbridge. Rick Mercer. Don Cherry. Tracy Moore. Lisa Laflamme. Steve Paikin. Amanda Lang. Ben Mulroney. Dawna Friesen. And so on, and so on.

To some, it is their fantasy dinner party guest list. To others, a convincing argument for reading more books. For the Globe and Mail, it’s “the biggest names in broadcasting.”

Thus, the self-styled national newspaper put together a fun little interactive thing, where people got to vote for the broadcaster who was most trusted, most respected, most entertaining.

My pick will shock you. Shock you!

To figure out who is best at TV, you need to first define what is TV.

To ascertain which messenger dominates the medium, you also have to understand the medium. Because I hardly ever watch TV – even when Sun News puts me on TV – I am the best person to define television.

First of all, TV IS LOUD. What works best on TV – ie., what attracts the greatest number of eyeballs and ears – is the thing, or the person, who is LOUDEST.

There are many, channels to choose from. There are an even greater number of things to watch. To break through the smog of data – which used to be like caviar, but is now doled out like potatoes – you have to be LOUD. Volume works. Subtlety doesn’t.

Secondly, TV is pictures. It is not just a visual medium – it is THE visual medium.

In a contest between words and pictures, the latter will always beat out the former. That may be sad, that may be regrettable – that may be conclusive proof that we are doomed as a species – but it is a fact. TV better understands the way in which our brains are wired.

TV is the dominant medium on the planet, still, because it uses pictures to tell stories, not words. Symbols move nations; syntax, not so much.

Third: TV is all about emotion, not information.

A few years back, as a reporter in Calgary, I was asked to go on TV to talk about a story I’d written. I was nervous, so I studied and I studied. Afterwards, the producer told me I was awful. “You tried to cram in too much information,” she said. “It was boring.”

TV, in its essence, has nothing to do with information, or conveying facts or statistics. It is most powerful – and memorable – when it strikes an emotional chord.

No other medium is more adept at making you cry or laugh or smile or angry – and sometimes all within the context of a single commercial – than television. Newspapers may profess to be preoccupied with minds, but TV is all about capturing hearts. It’s really good at it.

Fourth: TV is irreverent. When it comes to covering a funeral or a notable person, or the tragic death of lots of people, of course, we of course turn to TV first. Those are serious, sad happenings.

But, most of the time, the television personalities who have the greatest audience are the ones who do not take themselves seriously, at all.

How else to explain the Gong Show, or reality TV? How else to understand that the most popular TV shows on the planet are about flesh-eating zombies, or mythical medieval figures who lop off each other’s heads?

There you go: TV defined, in four easy pieces, by someone who rarely watches it.

So, if TV is LOUD, who is best being the LOUDEST? If it is about pictures, who uses them to their maximum advantage?

If TV is about emotion, who is the best at emoting? And if it’s irreverent, then who is best at not taking themselves too seriously?

The guy I voted for, that’s who. We’ve hated each other’s guts, deeply, at different points. We have despised each other in ways that most folks couldn’t begin to fathom.

But if TV is what I say it is – and it is – then only one TV personality is “the biggest name.”

And that name is this: Ezra Levant.