Moaz al-Kassasbeh’s murder has united Jordanians – but are we really ready for war?
It’s hard to avoid hearing a sort of breathlessness emanating from the description of ISIL’s latest grotesque release. When the death cult put out a video showing the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh this week, many commentators alluded to the slick production skills, special effects and careful editing.
There’s this queasy mix of revulsion for the deed and near-admiration for the delivery mechanism, in some of the analysis of frames from what is essentially a snuff movie.
And when Fox News decided to publish this latest ISIL terror offering, it sent the video to the top of the charts; since Tuesday, the clip has received over two million views.
Analysts have noted before that it is precisely the juxtaposition of medieval violence and modern media savvy that draws attention to the twisted propaganda of the so-called Islamic State – with this latest now dubbed a “Hollywood style execution”. The sadistic videos are designed to make us talk about it – and here we are, talking about it.
Most media, unsurprisingly, decided not to publish this video of Kassasbeh’s sickening, devastating murder – showing, instead, photographs of the pilot in uniform, or grinning into the camera in a T-shirt.This means, hopefully, that the image most of us will have of him is of a vibrant young man, evidently proud to serve his country and filled with the possibilities of a full life ahead of him.
Fox News initially didn’t give much of a reason for its decision – beyond that the channel wanted to bring to us “the reality of Islamic terrorism”.
This – again, unsurprisingly – sparked much anger and disgust. Across social media, people wondered why the channel, which had not showed videos of previous ISIL hostage killings – of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, or Alan Henning – had done so now, over a Jordanian hostage.
Responding to this question, Fox News executive vice president, John Moody, said: “As we’ve seen from the news reports out of Amman [Jordan], this – more than the previous acts of ISIL – has profoundly touched the Muslim world as well as the West.”
Understanding ISIL brutality
This answer pretty much confirms our worst fears over the Fox broadcast; the channel seems to think that Muslims need help understanding the brutality of ISIL. The suggestion is that this death video will dislodge supposed Muslim support for the death cult in a way that previous acts of terror did not.
ISIL’s terror is mostly waged against Muslims in Iraq and Syria – but, as usual, Fox News isn’t just inaccurate, it is spectacularly offensive, misleading and dangerous.
ISIL's terror is mostly waged against Muslims in Iraq and Syria - but, as usual, Fox News isn't just inaccurate, it is spectacularly offensive, misleading and dangerous.
Here is what the Fox head goes on to say: “Many people in the West and the US have asked where the Muslims are who condemn this. And all you have to do is look at the footage [from protests in Amman] and you see where they are now.”
Well of course Jordanians are more outraged over a Jordanian being killed – in the same way that anger and sadness over any terror killing tends to be more acute in the victim’s country of origin. I’d really like Fox to explain how you go from that to the assumption that Jordanian grief here is more to do with being Muslim – because honestly, I can’t figure it out.
Meanwhile, as terror experts pointed out, the channel’s decision over this video was giving terror the platform it needed; actually helping terror to be terror.
Working for ISIL’s media
Malcolm Nance, an expert on counterterrorism and radical extremism told the Guardian that the channel was “literally – literally – working for al-Qaeda and ISIL’s media arm”.
These ISIL murder videos, designed to simultaneously impress potential recruits and strike fear into the hearts of everyone else, in some way bring other images to mind; the giddy enthusing by TV experts over military hardware and “precision-bombing” during both Gulf wars; the pyramids of naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, or the photograph of one Iraqi prisoner shivering with terror next to guards holding large dogs; some Israelis setting up a make-shift, open-air viewing gallery to witness bombs dropping onto the Gaza Strip.
This is in no way to suggest that any of these acts are remotely comparable, or an attempt to instigate a disgustingness ranking system for such images. The sole point here is that it seems as though the cruel spectacle of war isn’t just a medieval relic; it has, in some manner, been running through our contemporary landscape, long before ISIL.
Perhaps, then, one aspect of the compulsion-revulsion element surrounding some of the commentary over ISIL’s propaganda is precisely that some of the visual motifs are recognisable as a part of our world, too.
There is a reference to our cultural output, too – as Guardian writer Steve Rose observed last year: “Western film-makers seem to be providing more material for ISIL’s image library. Hollywood has even been accused of setting the tone, with its dark, doomsday scenarios…”
Even something so grotesque as an ISIL murder movie, designed to terrify, seeming to revel in being the opposite of humanity – even that is connected to us somehow. It is an uncomfortable and unpalatable reminder that, whatever else this group represents, it did not spring out of a vacuum.
Rachel Shabi is a journalist and author of Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.