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The very least we can do, as human beings coddled in the luxurious safety of the Western world, is to keep the suffering of those in darker situations in our minds and to prevent it from being buried under passing time.
What is going on in ISIS controlled Syria and Iraq defies credulity and logic. There has been no evil of this intensity, industry and sick creativity since the fall of the Nazi Party. No Soviet Gulag ever concealed the amputation of limbs. The war in Vietnam involved no attempt to impregnate the women of the enemy. Only Hitlerism at its most bestial merits comparison with the Islamic State.
Given how frequent the reports of death and destruction have become, it is only human to feel what popular sociologists call ‘compassion fatigue'; the tiring out of the capacity for shock or sympathy. While understandable, I really think we should fight that emotion. These are real people dying, and their suffering only has meaning if it is known and remembered and if conclusions are drawn from it.
Though Satanic from the get-go, Islamic State’s brutality has become distinctly theatrical of late, almost as if the savages are thrilled by the attention of the civilised world.
Today, polished and clear footage shows bearded militants embracing two blindfolded ‘homosexuals’ (the militants are said to have whispered words of forgiveness to the condemned, no doubt to raise hopes of a stay of execution). Shortly after, they are seen pelting the prisoners with sharp desert stones until their heads lose their shape, and dribble with purple blood. After the bodies stop twitching, the stoning relents, and the gathered throngs disperse.
Days before that, a lion-hearted Syrian who had campaigned locally against ISIS cruelty was made to kneel in the desert and shot point blank. Photographs were released of the murder.
Last week, 30 Ethiopic Christians were beheaded on the shores of Libya by ISIS fighters. Denied the most basic allowance of dignity, footage of their deaths was uploaded to the internet shortly afterwards.
Before that, a video depicted a young thief having his hand sliced off and the stump sown back up by an ISIS ‘doctor’ (if he is one, he disgraces the name of medicine). This insanitary and inhuman practice, relative to the other available retributions should perhaps be considered merciful.
Before this, photographs showed how a long line of Coptic Christians were made to kneel on the Libyan shoreline before being almost simultaneously beheaded, the massive ejaculations of blood from their necks turning the seawater deep red.
If ISIS ever had a point to make, they have surely made it.
It is very difficult to find the right words when talking about this. Terms like ‘savage’ and ‘beastly’ may offer short-term satisfaction, but they seem rather too mild when placed in captions under images like those described above. Even ‘evil’ doesn’t cut it; one must be more specific:
When mothers feel their children are threatened (especially newly born children), they can develop what is known in medicine as ‘hysterical strength’ – a superhuman toughness that is impossible under almost any other circumstance (at its most dramatic, a legend describes women lifting up cars to recover children trapped beneath).
ISIS fighters have achieved a kind of hysterical evil; a malice in excess of ordinary human potential. From its energy, it fuels its own perpetuation. Most people could never overpower their conscience to the degree necessary to behead a man in the morning, and then impregnate his daughter at night.
ISIS fighters are high on evil, thrilled by it, addicted to it, no longer fully in control of it, like rabid dogs. Needless to add, they have ceased to possess any human value and have thereby forfeited all human rights. Every further day they live is an abomination.