A New Barbarism Sweeps the Middle East. Tim Veater.
WARNING: Graphic Photographs of Beheaded Victims. (See below)
These disturbing photographs of predominately young males beheaded, are a graphic demonstration of the depths of depravity to which human beings can stoop. It is as much an eloquent comment on human nature, as it is of the religious values that apparently justify or excuse it.
It is also the graphic illustration of what power brokers, east and west, have created in the cascading chaos that has followed on from the espousal of violent military intervention in the region, for at least the last twenty years. Do we really believe massive use of high explosives bring peace, stability and prosperity, let alone the embedding of civilized behaviour? Do we really believe that primitive barbarism can be eradicated by bombing?
One of the most shocking but revealing aspects of the images, is the pleasure shown by perpetrators, or their supporters, over a severed head or a dead body. That minds can be so inculcated with religious garbage, that natural affection and empathy are completely excluded, is mind boggling. Indeed that humans can gloat and get satisfaction from the humiliation, torture or murder of another is a chilling reality that should not escape our attention. If nothing else, these images play the useful role of reminding us of a latent capacity in all of us – a “nature red in tooth and claw” in Tennyson’s phrase, requiring only a certain mindset and permission to evidence itself.
Nor should we fall into the trap of believing this is only, or predominantly a Muslim issue, though clearly these images have resulted and are intimately connected with Muslim theology and politics. (We might equally argue they inseparably linked to Western/Christian dominated thought and action of which they are the inevitable consequence.)
Bombing innocent civilians has indistinguishable results on the human body. An American policeman shooting dead an unarmed civilian demonstrates the same disregard for life, even if the images are somewhat less shocking. Torture and Abu Graib demonstrate the civilized west is also capable of horrendous behaviour. Nor should we be blind to the fact that our own servicemen have to be conditioned as part of their training to kill, including the deadly use of knives and bayonets. The psychological “re-framing”, to use a current term, is just as important as the physical abilities and associated skills that have to be imparted.
To the modern, anaesthetised world the image of detached heads of young men comes as a shock to the system. It is an affront to rational thought, that such young faces should be absent of life so recently evident. Government would rather we were protected from such reality, the Metropolitan Police even suggesting that to view such might constitute an offence under the Terrorism Act! They take the view that it might lead to copy-cat behaviour. Equally I would suggest it might lead to revulsion and a desire to prevent a recurrence anywhere. Might they not engender a resolve in the Muslim community to reject such obscene behaviour? I sincerely hope so or my faith in the residual goodness in humanity will be severely shaken.
Rather I take the view that it is cowardly and immature not to view them, however distasteful they may be. The world and human behaviour needs to be faced up to. We should be under no illusions as to the nastiness of war whether undertaken by Muslim or Christian, nor should we be led by our political masters, that our military intervention is somehow more civilised or humane. It isn’t. That is why it can only, and should only be entertained in self defence or to protect the defenceless and that those principles should be applied consistently, which clearly has not been the case.
Perhaps we should remind ourselves that it is not so long ago that our English ancestors were almost daily faced with such images of highwaymen in chains on gibbets, of public executions of the most gory kind, of heads on spikes as they entered or departed important towns and cities. It may well have led to a paradoxical degree of apathy and reform in equal measure. Where would we be today without the social, philosophical and political reformers of the past three hundred years, many of whom we should not overlook, were inspired and energised by their religious beliefs.
Religion, namely a system of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours, has always had a downside to the good it might do or encourage. Non-conformity with the stated norms invariably has consequences for the individual so inclined and lead enlightened thinkers in the 17th and 18th Centuries such as Locke to differentiate between State and Church and limit their respective powers to intervene in the other.
It is ironic that even with the passage of several hundred years, these principles need to be restated and relearned. It is a serious error into which many in the Muslim faith appear to have fallen, usefully assisted by the West’s arrogance, decadence and aggression. Muslims must inevitably learn the same often painful lessons that have we. Can it be imagined that these images of severed heads of Muslims by Muslims be considered desirable or supportable by British Muslims? I do not believe it possible unless their minds have been so corrupted and polluted by indoctrination by blood-thirsty haters, that they have lost all touch with their humanity.
Christians were urged by their founder to be as wily as serpents and as harmless as doves. “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves” Jesus said to his disciples. How resonant is that, even after two thousand years?
Muslims could do worse than adopting a similar motto. The Muslim world desperately needs its own enlightenment, retaining what is best about it but also ditching its narrow, intolerant approach, its emphasis on hatred of the “unbeliever” and the liberal values that promote equality and individual freedom, as long it does not impinge on the rights or freedoms of others.
Education is clearly the key. Without mutual respect between faiths, without the acknowledgement that a line must be drawn between the civil and the ecclesiastical, between moral desirability and legal necessity, between religion and state, the end result must surely be disaster for all concerned. These photographs are the disturbing living (or dying) proof of it and a wake-up call to all of us. END.