When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks.
October 9, 2014 4:15 PM   Subscribe

Why beheading? First some History and and also from The War Nerd: The long, twisted history of beheadings as propaganda.
Decapitation was highly popular in Biblical times.
Where does the Islamic State's fetish with beheading people come from?
The Mentality of Brutality”: Islamic State Beheadings and “Civilized Barbarity”
Why ISIL beheads its victims. Article from 2005 Beheading in the name of Islam.
posted by adamvasco (59 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
No doubt part of the explanation is that beheadings tend to draw more attention than suicide bombings and exploding cars. Deadly though they are, car bombs and shootings have lost much of their shock value in Western eyes.

I dread the day when beheadings lose their shock value.
posted by Splunge at 4:30 PM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


One would think that the reason why these... people are into beheading is because of the pure, bloody, grotesque viral shock value.

Is it even worth dignifying these... people engaging in some sort of abstract discussion to situate them properly in a historical context of some kind?

My answer of course is "no."

As an aside, whenever I encounter anything even faintly smelling of ISIL brutality porn on the Internet, I just want to hit the back button.
posted by Nevin at 4:30 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks.

I know this is a serious and terrible topic, but this fits perfectly into "if you're happy and you know it."
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:38 PM on October 9, 2014 [88 favorites]


Way back in the prehistory of ancient internet times (1996?) I came across a presented-as-true-life-story from some guy who worked as a contractor in Saudi Arabia whose friend and coworker was executed by decapitation for drunkenness and adultery. True or not, it was one of the most harrowing things I've ever read.

Beheading makes the impression it's supposed to make, I guess.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:39 PM on October 9, 2014


I am reminded of one of my favorite novels, The Light at the End, the freshman effort from the sadly-defunct splatterpunk duo Skipp & Spector, in which an ancient vampire converts a New York punk just for giggles, before largely departing from the story's narrative. In one section, it looks back over history:
Vlad is a fool, it mused. Earlier that day the prince had personally decapitated the mayor and the city regents, their heads coming away like ripe melons plucked from the vine, and placed the heads on spikes outside the front gate. And when the creature had refused to acknowledge this bid for approval, Vlad had very nearly soiled his tunic. He later executed the men who witnessed his terrible secret ...

... It looked back over centuries of blood and growth, over wars and revolutions and breakthroughs in brutality that transcended its wildest, darkest expectations. And it realized that it had never been happier.

Oh, things are just dandy, it mused with glee. There aren’t any heads on spikes any more ... sometimes, I really miss those heads on the spikes ... but all in all, things are going just marvelously. The new dark days are here, and I love them so much, it thought, sipping again at its brandy and smiling.
I wonder if the heads on spikes wouldn't be slightly more effective than the wrist-slaps we've had running since I first proposed a detached cranial solution in 2008.
posted by adipocere at 4:42 PM on October 9, 2014


Is it even worth dignifying these... people engaging in some sort of abstract discussion to situate them properly in a historical context of some kind?
Maybe metafilter isn't for you. We can and will discuss just about anything whether you like it or not. It's why metafilter is such special place.
posted by adamvasco at 4:54 PM on October 9, 2014


The problem with turning them into animals or THOSE PEOPLE is by othering them you take away from the horror. People aren't as afraid of Nazis because they've been bumbling buffoon movie villains for 50 years. The real horror of Nazism or radical Islam or whatever is that any one of us could fall under its sway. It doesn't take a monstrous person, at least initially. It could be any one of us.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:58 PM on October 9, 2014 [12 favorites]


Maybe metafilter isn't for you. We can and will discuss just about anything whether you like it or not. It's why metafilter is such special place.

Eh, I can see how you might think your comment was aimed at your post, but it wasn't. It is funny that you seem to be more offended by my comment than I by your post.

I've been on MetaFilter for a long, long time (under a different user handle), and it's important to remember that people like me are going to post opinions about your post whether you like it or not. As a rule, I typically wait for an hour after posting before checking back.

So I don't lose my head over something trivial.
posted by Nevin at 5:03 PM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


It doesn't take a monstrous person, at least initially. It could be any one of us.


No. It absolutely DOES take a monstrous person to behead someone. People who behead others ARE monsters and should be treated as such.
posted by holybagel at 5:03 PM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


Anyway, I still don't understand why we would want to dignify what is a terrorist campaign with some abstract discussion about historical context.
posted by Nevin at 5:04 PM on October 9, 2014


So I don't lose my head over something trivial.

LOL
posted by dhammond at 5:05 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hey, remember when you were a kid and Star Wars came out and you were living the life in that beacon of enlightenment called Western Civilization?

Yeah, the government of France guillotined someone that year.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:06 PM on October 9, 2014 [12 favorites]


No. It absolutely DOES take a monstrous person to behead someone. People who behead others ARE monsters and should be treated as such.

I don't buy the "there, by the grace of god, go I" argument, that's for sure. That's ridiculous. I suppose in certain situations people may feel compelled to behave in a certain way, but it's no easy thing to hack off someone's head.

While I certainly do not wish to use the victims of the Shoah as a prop to support my argument, one of the reasons gas chambers were invented was because the Einsatzgruppen soldiers who manned the gas vans and roving firing squads were beginning to develop debilitating PTSD.

So the sort of horrific behaviour on display in the Levant is certainly cruel, unusual, and inhumane. It could not be just anyone.
posted by Nevin at 5:09 PM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the government of France guillotined someone that year.

Thus justifying these recent terrorist beheadings....
posted by holybagel at 5:10 PM on October 9, 2014


Some of this stuff just doesn't add up to me. ISIL does beheadings to scare the Iraq military away from them? I thought the Iraq military was kind of indifferent in general because things have sucked balls there for so long? Like the Kurds were pretty much the only people willing to go toe to toe with ISIL for a variety of reasons that beheadings only begin to play into?

Also the Boston Globe article is gross. Lots of talk about "Islamists" and "jihadi outlooks" and that ending where the author is trying to claim that beheading is ? Really, Boston Globe? "It may take a long while to destroy that enemy, but surely the first step is to call it what it is." Really?

Also I liked John Nolan/Gary Brecher better when I was an angry drunk and his stuff seems like a particular kind of bullshit where the facts are all there but they're sewn together in a particular charismatic ideology way that stems from his own personal and v. idiosyncratic outlook on the world.

I'm more ideologically aligned with "The Mentality of Brutality" but it also veers away from examining ISIL specifically by the end of the second paragraph.

It's so disappointing. I want to know what the fuck is going on with ISIL, why this thing is happening, what forces are acting and acted upon in the Middle East to make this thing happen now and in this way and what potential outcomes might be. I got bored of screed-style Islam-baiting horseshit back in 2001.
posted by beefetish at 5:10 PM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


Also "terrorist" is such a fake out term. Like you get a free pass to engage in violence/terror activity but only if your people have enough juice on the global scene to be declared a nation. I know this is fundamentally true but it bums me out to see people use "terrorist" in a moral designation way because it is so fucking fake.
posted by beefetish at 5:11 PM on October 9, 2014 [8 favorites]


No. It absolutely DOES take a monstrous person to behead someone. People who behead others ARE monsters and should be treated as such.

I agree, as long as we stipulate that obliterating women and children with drones and cluster bombs is equally monstrous, possibly more so. It's a tried trick to say "Well we're just as bad," but if, like me, you're a citizen of the USA, we are just as bad. Our president gives personal orders to drop the most brutal munitions imaginable in places where he knows he will kill civilians on an almost daily basis. Then he brags about it. He doesn't do it because Republicans "force" him to, but as a perfect expression of who he is and what he stands for.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:12 PM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


The War Nerd talking about the propaganda aims of ISIS beheaddings?

Dear god this is better than Rommel Christmas.
posted by clarknova at 5:12 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


No. It absolutely DOES take a monstrous person to behead someone. People who behead others ARE monsters and should be treated as such.

But this is not productive. Under what conditions and contexts does a person come to commit these sorts of acts? What steps can be taken so those conditions and contexts no longer arise? Without additional unintended consequences? I think these are more productive approaches.
posted by zeek321 at 5:13 PM on October 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


Some of this stuff just doesn't add up to me. ISIL does beheadings to scare the Iraq military away from them? I thought the Iraq military was kind of indifferent in general because things have sucked balls there for so long? Like the Kurds were pretty much the only people willing to go toe to toe with ISIL for a variety of reasons that beheadings only begin to play into?

When you're already a morale depleted shamble of a force knowing your enemies are going to fuck you up even if you surrender unconditionally just fucks you up psychologically. If you can't beat them they can at least join them.

The Kurds on the other hand are pretty much forced to engage because there will be no quarter for them. They're fighting for their very survival because ISIS are just going to rape their women and behead/execute the men if the village falls.
posted by Talez at 5:14 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I want to know what the fuck is going on with ISIL, why this thing is happening, what forces are acting and acted upon in the Middle East to make this thing happen now

Patrick Cockburn's recent The Jihadis Return lays out the causes pretty plainly. Definitely recommended reading, and the ebook is DRM-free.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 5:16 PM on October 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


Also "terrorist" is such a fake out term. Like you get a free pass to engage in violence/terror activity but only if your people have enough juice on the global scene to be declared a nation.

“The story of terrorism is written by the state and it is therefore highly instructive . . . compared with terrorism, everything else must be acceptable, or in any case more rational and democratic.” - Guy Debord
posted by ryanshepard at 5:23 PM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


I agree, as long as we stipulate that obliterating women and children with

There are plenty of places to discuss American war crimes. Is this the appropriate one?
posted by holybagel at 5:26 PM on October 9, 2014


It seems like some distinction should exist between beheading in the "traditional" sense -- the guillotine, a head on a chopping block, etc. -- and the brutality of grabbing someone by the forehead and sawing through their throat. The former seems downright enlightened compared to the latter.
posted by BurntHombre at 5:28 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Under what conditions and contexts does a person come to commit these sorts of acts?

Nostalgia, for a simpler time back when $favorite-religion held more sway over peoples' lives. I think there's a reason why these things are called "barbaric," which refers to a people from the past and not some future race of super-cyborgs.
posted by rhizome at 5:31 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Call me a loon, but IMO, anyone who is for capital punishment can say jack squat about those who decapitate for sport. I see far more similarities than differences.
posted by scamper at 5:36 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I want to know what the fuck is going on with ISIL, why this thing is happening
try John Pilger - From Pol Pot to ISIS which I posted in another thread. It's historical as so much is.
posted by adamvasco at 5:37 PM on October 9, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think zeek321's question was more rhetorical; I take his point to be that it's not informative or particularly useful to just say "whoever does this is evil", because that doesn't help you go after the problem, except in a retributive sense.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:37 PM on October 9, 2014


try John Pilger - From Pol Pot to ISIS

That's really good. I didn't even know Pilger was still around.
posted by clarknova at 5:43 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


People who behead others ARE monsters and should be treated as such.

Imprisoned in a labyrinth?
Made the subject of a movie franchise?
Staked through the heart?
Shot with a silver bullet?
Killed by Thor during Ragnarök?
Not believed in?
posted by mr_roboto at 5:57 PM on October 9, 2014 [7 favorites]


mr_roboto: "People who behead others ARE monsters and should be treated as such.

Imprisoned in a labyrinth?
Made the subject of a movie franchise?
Staked through the heart?
Shot with a silver bullet?
Killed by Thor during Ragnarök?
Not believed in?
"

Captured and put before a court? Have their monstrosity placed in judgement before people that find torture and murder abhorrent? If found guilty, be sentenced by a court? And maybe poisoned or electrocuted?

Wait...
posted by Splunge at 6:05 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


We can and will discuss just about anything whether you like it or not.
As long as the mods allow it, you mean.

I'm GUESSING that there hasn't really been an increase in beheadings over the past few years...or centuries.

The media is just curious about it, and that curiosity trickles down. One day we'll all be going "damn...did you hear how State Pen X used killacide for prisoner Y. I mean it wasn't as bad as State Pen Z and how they used half as much killacide and twice as much muscle relaxant".

People are interested, because the media is making the beheading issue a bigger deal than the actual MURDERS that are happening.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:16 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why beheading?

We're talking about it, aren't we. I think the answer is obvious.
posted by Fizz at 6:18 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


They are in a war with an enemy who has vastly superior forces at its command. Do not expect your enemy to fight under a set of rules you wish to dictate.
posted by notreally at 6:35 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


We just had Eid-ul-Adha over the weekend. A festival that celebrates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son to please God and the mercy of God to not require said sacrifice. As part of the celebration it is required that Muslim families sacrifice an animal if they can afford to do so, and they quite often do the slaughtering themselves. To put it bluntly, in Muslim neighbourhoods around the world the streets were red with blood over the weekend (and lots of great BBQ was had by all).

So if they're going to kill a hostage, even if they haven't witnessed a ton of other brutality in their lives (which given that these people are in Iraq and Syria I find very hard to believe), I don't know if it is really such a brutal thing for them.

Also, count me as one of those who is more disturbed by drone strikes than this. Being killed by someone halfway around the world playing a video game? The person doing the beheading is going to know they did something fucked up, even if they are able to justify it. I don't know if the drone controller is.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:36 PM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


The person doing the beheading is going to know they did something fucked up, even if they are able to justify it. I don't know if the drone controller is.

I hate that you're right.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:39 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I want to know what the fuck is going on with ISIL, why this thing is happening, what forces are acting and acted upon in the Middle East to make this thing happen now

Try this Fresh Air interview, which offers some interesting background and historical context.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:42 PM on October 9, 2014


I want to know what the fuck is going on with ISIL, why this thing is happening, what forces are acting and acted upon in the Middle East to make this thing happen now

The New York Review of Books has some interesting articles worth checking out with some links to some books worth finding as well.

The Pillars of Arab Despotism.
Iraq: The Outlaw State.
posted by Fizz at 6:51 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Killing a person for your political or religious ideals is wrong. Government or personal, wrong. Using the death of a person to make a point is wrong. This goes for where you live or where the "other" lives. The degree of the insult to your personal views means nothing. Wrong is fucking wrong.

Would people be so freaked out if ISIL televised an electrocution? Or an injection?

Of course I think a beheading is a barbaric action. But am I a better person if I condone other forms of execution? Is it better if a person is shot to death or hanged by "my" military?

Examine your values.
posted by Splunge at 6:59 PM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've been working my way through two history podcasts, The History of Byzantium and History of the Crusades, and I'm continually surprised at how common beheadings - and the subsequent parading of the heads around on spikes - seem to be on all sides: Turks, Arabs, Romans, and Normans.

I have a hard time associating this with anything intrinsic to Islam, even if it has become one of IS's trademarks. For example, I think it's also one of the trademarks of the Mexican cartels.
posted by kanewai at 7:02 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Atrocious behaviour by victors following a seige is not uncommon. See Wellington's troops following the Siege of Badajoz.
posted by Nevin at 7:37 PM on October 9, 2014


Hm. Wikipedia tells me Jacoby was suspended from the Globe as a plagiarist a while back and did the round of right-wing talk shows talking about how he was persecuted as a conservative.

Not too surprised that's the guy whose line is "beheading is TOTALLY Islamic! SUPER Islamic! Authentically 100% pure Islam! When Obama says ISIL are un-Islamic, he's lying to you!"

Seems a shame to start off the post with him.
posted by edheil at 7:40 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


>The person doing the beheading is going to know they did something fucked up, even if they are able to justify it. I don't know if the drone controller is.

>>I hate that you're right.


For what it's worth, and that ain't much, drone operators have been complaining of PTSD.
posted by clarknova at 8:01 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


For example, I think it's also one of the trademarks of the Mexican cartels.

The only beheading I've ever seen was a video taken of a competing drug lord being executed by his opposition. They used a large Rambo-type survival knife and sawed at him for around a minute. It felt like an hour. And while watching that was horrible enough to give me nightmares, it was the horrible sounds of him trying to breathe and gasping, especially when his jugular was severed and he started choking on his own blood. I can still hear that clear as a bell, some eight years after.

Thus, when these new ISIL videos surfaced, I ran in the other direction as fast as I could. I've seen it once, and once was more than enough for this little black duck.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 8:28 PM on October 9, 2014


If America televised her executions, it would mean the end of the death penalty. Civilized societies don't film or broadcast their capital punishments!
posted by Renoroc at 8:45 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thus, when these new ISIL videos surfaced, I ran in the other direction as fast as I could. I've seen it once, and once was more than enough for this little black duck.

Same here. I saw one from ten years ago (or more?) in Iraq, and that was horrifying enough that the images are embedded in my brain. I'm not even remotely tempted to watch any of the newer ones.
posted by kanewai at 9:09 PM on October 9, 2014


Also, count me as one of those who is more disturbed by drone strikes than this.

Unforgettable are the stories of kids who fear empty blue skies because drones don't fly when it's overcast.

Which is more terrifying? Which is terrorism?
posted by fredludd at 9:23 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Renoroc: "If America televised her executions, it would mean the end of the death penalty. Civilized societies don't film or broadcast their capital punishments!"

Civilized societies don't kill. Or shouldn't, if they want to consider their society civilized.
posted by Splunge at 9:34 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Spectacle Of The Beheading: A Grisly Act With A Long History

also btw, i was just reading this yday: "From the chaos emerged a hard man in the form of Maximilien Robespierre who, with his Jacobin allies and the Committee of Public Safety, plunged France into even more bloodshed than before. The guillotine was kept busier than ever as thousands of people were denounced as anti-revolutionary traitors. It is believed more than 40,000 people died during the Terror. Fortunately for France, Robespierre and his cronies were overthrown in the Coup de Thermidor on 27 July 1794 and he was executed, facing upwards, on the guillotine."
posted by kliuless at 9:54 PM on October 9, 2014


If America televised her executions, it would mean the end of the death penalty. Civilized societies don't film or broadcast their capital punishments!

Weirdly, I was reading some relevant passages in Foucault recently. Kind of wonder what he'd make of this, if he was still around.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:57 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


drjimmy11: I agree, as long as we stipulate that obliterating women and children with drones and cluster bombs is equally monstrous, possibly more so.

You know, I don't think it is. ISIL would be doing something on the level of drones and cluster bombs if they were, say, indiscriminately shelling villages. It's callous and ruthless, but there's at least some theoretical tactical point to it if there is any military presence there. Brutally murdering captured prisoners is pretty much indefensible on any level; you can't argue that they pose a threat in any way. It's just murder and terror for the point of murder and terror.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:48 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Civilized societies don't film or broadcast their capital punishments!"

Civilized countries don't have capital punishment.
posted by el io at 12:18 AM on October 10, 2014 [8 favorites]


The linked "why" in the post goes to a Politico.com article that says "And yet, as of late August the United States remained “unaware of any specific, credible threats against the homeland.”, implying that ISIS is that credible threat now. Really? Lincoln's sentiment from the Lyceum address is still true: "All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years."

Please don't freak out over ISIL.
posted by Harald74 at 12:22 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is it even worth dignifying these... people engaging in some sort of abstract discussion to situate them properly in a historical context of some kind?

I'd like to give the shout out to my avatar and namesake, a woman acknowledged as a glorious monarch who presided over one of the greatest cultural flowerings our sceptre'd isle ever witnessed. She did exactly this to her cousin, after her father did it to two of his six wives, one of whom was her mother.

Yes, it's horrific, but please don't pretend it has no historical context. We're all just savannah monkeys in nice outfits. When we ignore history we're doomed to repeat it.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 3:21 AM on October 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


Like others, I was avoiding looking at these videos having made the mistake of watching terrible, unforgettable things on the internet 10 years ago.

Then for some reason I just went ahead and watched them anyway. I was surprised that they don't show beheadings at all.

They are all the same: the guy in orange calmly talks about how his government or whatever is to blame for what's about to happen. Then the guy in black pretends to behead the guy in orange. It's obvious he's pretending. I don't know if he just has a plastic knife, or if he's taking care not to touch the neck, but he saws six or seven times with nothing happening: no blood, no screams, no resistance. This is not what a beheading looks like. Then the screen fades to black.

The video cuts to the image of the apparent corpse of the orange guy with his head sitting on his chest. There are lots of discussions on various websites about how this bit has obviously been faked. I don't know anything about that. I'm going to assume that these guys are dead and that somehow they ended up without heads.

However, my feeling is that this probably doesn't happen in the way these videos would like you to think it does. Maybe the guy in orange just gets shot and then the corpse is decapitated? Maybe the guy in black has the best speaking voice but doesn't have the stomach for beheading, so hands over to someone else when the camera turns off? Who knows?

The Times (Foley video with Briton was staged, experts say, and re-reported elsewhere) has a forensic expert point out what should be obvious to anyone who watches these: they don't show what they puport to. But I haven't seen any other reporting of this. The videos are just presented completely straight, as if they actually do show murders taking place. They don't.
posted by cincinnatus c at 4:51 AM on October 10, 2014


Hi! If you'll read our message verbatim to the camera, we'll kill you with a bullet and cut your head off later. If you don't, we'll saw your head off while you're (temporarily) still alive.

How does that sound? Pretty fair? Favour for a favour?

Our operatives are standing by!
posted by Wolof at 6:30 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


That “The Mentality of Brutality” link contains some pretty nasty holocaust denial in addition to its pretty much accurate argument that the level of brutality in the now-democratic rich world, especially in a historical context, is pretty much a cognate of ISIL's brutality, so that's quite an unpleasant surprise.
posted by ambrosen at 6:57 AM on October 10, 2014


Since it hasn't been mentioned in the thread (though possibly in the links in the OP, I haven't gotten through all of them yet), in the lead-up to the American Civil War the Pottawatomie Massacre by anti-slavery forces in the Kansas Territory involved beheadings with swords, in an action led by the abolitionist John Brown of the Harper's Ferry Raid in Virginia several years later. (The Virginia raid being an attempt to incite a slave revolt, for which John Brown was tried and executed.)
posted by XMLicious at 11:13 AM on October 10, 2014




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