Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Outrage after ISIL burns Jordanian pilot to death

There has been shock, outrage and condemnation after Islamic State militants released a video that showed the barbaric murder of a Jordanian pilot. But the horrific killing has not managed to bring all nations together in a united effort to destroy the terror group.

Previous video style

This was not a simple video of Jihad John ranting in the desert that the terror group had previously released. The new video was something entirely different from what had been seen before.

Previous execution videos released by ISIL usually consisted of a short propaganda message followed by a statement by both the victim and an ISIL militant who  has become known as Jihad John.

After the political rant Jihad John would raise his knife to the hostage's throat at which point the video would fade to black. The only confirmation the hostage had indeed been killed was a subsequent shot showing the decapitated victim.

These videos, despite holding back on the actual execution itself, were extremely shocking and prompted a severe response from the West to degrade and destroy the terror group.

There have been successes in terms of degrading ISIL, but the terror group remains strong and they continue to taunt their enemies with execution videos.

Japanese hostages killed

The latest series of such video taunts were the murders of two Japanese citizens. Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto [BBC].

Their killings prompted anger in Japan and from the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who said Japan "would not give in to terrorism" and that he would expand his support to countries fighting ISIL.

Each video has come with demands. Some have merely come with a demand for the West to stop their attacks. But recently the terror group has changed tack and demanded large sums of money or the release of terror suspects.

Refusal to give in to demands

Japan refused to bow to ISIL's demand for money and Jordan similarly backed down from a prisoner exchange. There had been calls from Jordan for ISIL to offer evidence their captured airman was still alive before negotiating any prisoner swap.

However no evidence was forthcoming, and it is believed the Jordanian pilot had already been killed weeks before demands were even made to Jordan.

The brutality of his death has enflamed Jordanians, some of whom have questioned the country's role in the US led war on ISIL.

Professional video production

The slickly produced video was far removed from previous releases. This was a 25 minute propaganda film, in Arabic, aimed primarily at the Jordanian people.

Complete with hi-tech graphics, music and tight editing, this was produced almost to Hollywood standards.

But this went beyond the the kinds of propaganda seen in the past. In the 1940s the Nazis used film to dramatic effect, to garner support for the party and to stir up emotions.

One such film was The Eternal Jew [Video] which likened Jews to rats. This was shocking in its time and went far beyond Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film Triumph of the Will [Video].

China has used propaganda films to push its message about Tibet claiming that its 'liberation' was to save the territory from serfdom [Video].

The propaganda now emanating from groups such as ISIL is in a different league altogether. Less intellectually constructed, propaganda films coming from terror groups tend to veer more towards shock value.

Media battle

Ayman al-Zawahiri,  the current leader of al-Qaeda, is quoted as saying that "We are in a media battle for the hearts and minds of our umma [community] of Muslims."

In this battle, media has been exploited extensively by terror groups. In the Iraq war hostages found themselves the unwitting stars of execution videos which were little more than short clips showing the victim being forced to read a statement before being killed, usually by a cut to the throat.

ISIL have gone further, with slick editing, video graphics and a well constructed script. But the core of the videos have centred around the shock of a hostage being murdered.

New low

The latest video hit a new low as the terror group set fire to a captured airman. Held in a cage, the man is doused in petrol before a masked ISIL militant ignites it. The horror, which lasts several minutes, and filmed from several angles plays out to Islamic music whilst the screams of the victim are heard in the background.

As he collapses to his death a digger then drops hardcore upon the cage burying the victim. The video then fades to a graphic calling for other 'crusaders' to be put to death.

Media reaction

Most Western media have stopped short of showing the video or even still images, not wanting to air the terror propaganda. CNN, the BBC, Sky News and Al Jazeera all made the decision not to show any images, though in Jordan clips from the film were shown repeatedly on news broadcasts prompting anger and revenge for the abhorrent murder. Fox News also made the decision to post the entire video on its website [Guardian].

Newspapers took a different tack with some showing images of the Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasasbeh prior to his execution, though none showed his actual immolation.

The Daily Mail described the killing as "22 minutes of sickening savagery" adding that the "execution video has reached a truly depraved new low" [Daily Mail].

Of the video Piers Morgan said, "It was just as repulsive and sickening" and "truly the worst thing I have ever had to witness." [Daily Mail].

Morgan says he was "glad" to have watched it. Glad because it had revealed "exactly what these monsters are capable of", that they "have no limits, no humanity, no semblance of any kind of soul."


It reinforced and affirmed, if there were any doubt remaining, that these were "utter sadists".

"We all have to feel the same kind of unquantifiable, collective horror everyone felt when the full scale of the Nazi concentration camps was revealed," Morgan writes.

Hitler's Nazis and ISIL shared similar aspirations and values, he further asserts. "And as with the Nazis, the world must now come together to rout and destroy them."

Fear and anger

There is certainly a boiling anger. But there appears to be no cohesive plan [CNN]. Indeed some countries appear to have given into the fear as it emerges the UAE halted airstrikes after the capture of the Jordanian pilot [Guardian].

One academic has described ISIL's latest propaganda video as part of an asymmetry of fear [BBC]. Questions abound over how or why ISIL could do this. To understand their mindset requires a brief examination of Islamic, or Sharia, law.

Eye for an eye

ISIL believes in a principle known as "qisas" which, in its broadest terms, is the law of equal retaliation. Put another way, it is the Islamic equivalent of "lex talionis", or the doctrine of an eye for an eye.

Jordan retaliated in kind as it put to death the very individuals that ISIL had demanded be released [BBC]. But there are fears, especially in the West, that by going down such a route lowers themselves to the same standards of the enemy.

But as the psychological war and barbarism continues there is no clear consensus with how to deal with the threat. Jordan has vowed an "earth-shattering" response, and Safi al-Kasasbeh, the pilot's father, has called for the Jordanian government to do "more than just executing prisoners".

The blood of his son was the blood of the nation, he said, "and the blood of the nation must be avenged." He also called for ISIL to be eliminated completely.

Weakening coalition

There are few that would disagree with his call. But despite recent terror attacks seen in Australia, France and elsewhere, there is little stomach for an all out war against ISIL.

PM David Cameron would face a difficult task convincing the British public to launch an invasion, and it might well amount to political suicide in an election year. Barack Obama too would be reticent as the US also approaches the 2016 election. There are also concerns that some Arab partners are reticent in bolstering any military efforts.

The question facing everyone is how bad does ISIL's brutality have to get before the fight becomes more than a few targeted drone strikes.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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