The abhorrent, brutish murder of Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh by callous, cowardly murderers must take some kind of hideous prize. As some commentators have mentioned already, this act is not a cruel, new invention by depraved psychopaths, it represents a move backwards towards humanity’s sad vicious past, but played out for our social video-age.
From the Guardian:
Images of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive by the militants of Islamic State (Isis) began to filter on to social media and mainstream news sites on Monday. As with beheadings and other brutal acts carried out by the group in the past, there were calls not to share the video or stills of it, out of respect for the dead pilot and his family and in order not to further publicise the terrorists’ message. But it seems the details were so gruesome that many couldn’t help but watch and share.
I refused to look (I never do: it feels too much like giving Isis the attention it craves). But that didn’t stop others trying to tell me in vivid detail what the video showed. Someone even said it was “Bond villain-like”. Isis, it seems, has created a whole new kind of murderous cinematic experience.
Some internet users clearly find the unrelenting goriness of it all captivating – stonings, decapitations, throwing people off tall buildings, sticking severed heads on spikes. Perhaps there’s a compulsion to see just how far Isis will go. But the very act of choosing to witness these things makes us, in some way, complicit.
Media organisations face a particular dilemma, as the atrociousness arguably makes the crimes even more newsworthy. But any decision to transmit these images takes us into difficult territory. When Fox News posts all of the footage with the warning “extremely graphic video” attached, one could be forgiven for thinking that a steadfast commitment to truth-telling isn’t the only factor at play. But these videos are designed to be a grotesque form of clickbait. Making them available to ever-wider audiences only helps the terrorists achieve their traffic targets.
For some, displaying the video is not only a journalistic virtue. Watching it is somehow necessary to drive the full horror of Isis home. Piers Morgan, the former editor of the Daily Mirror, wrote in the Daily Mail how he couldn’t help but give in to the impulse to click, but is “glad” he did so because he now knows “what these monsters are capable of”. I am not sure how their nature is news to him. Did the rape, enslavement and summary execution of thousands of people and the murder of hostages not give it away?
He even imagines it could help win the battle of ideas. “If any Muslim remains in any doubt as to whether this is the right time to stand up and cry ‘Not in my name or my religion!’, then I suggest they too watch the video.” Where is this Muslim world full of doubt as to whether Isis is an enemy?
Morgan suggests that the fact the latest victim is a Sunni Arab means some sort of Rubicon has been crossed. This betrays his view that there is widespread implicit support for Isis among Muslims because they oppose the west, and that this video will shake them out of their complacency. Morgan helpfully adds: “This is your war.”
Most Muslims recoil in horror at the thought of Isis, and don’t need a video to help them along. Isis is playing a game of braggadocio and provocation, dressing it up in the language of prisoner exchanges and execution, as though it really is the state it claims to be. Anyone who views and disseminates these videos is playing their assigned part in the killers’ script. The crime doesn’t end with the death of the victim: the video and the process of watching and reacting to it are extensions of the terrorist act.
Thousands have been killed, off camera, in equally brutal ways, but these films allow Isis to revel in the toe-curling revulsion they inevitably provoke. It wants to generate just the kind of reaction that Morgan felt: he claims he was seized by “such uncontrollable rage that no amount of reasonable argument will ever temper it”.
But such videos turn the internet into a grisly public square where we all gather and watch in horror, then disband, unwittingly participating in a macabre cycle of action and reaction.
Isis has certainly murdered foreign hostages, Yezidis and members of other ethnic and religious groups. But the overwhelming majority of those targeted have been Muslims. No one is in any doubt whose war this is, or that Isis is capable of the stuff of nightmares. Films of its crimes are superfluous and risk distracting us from the continual suffering of those who live under it. So why keep looking?
Read the entire article here.