The most frightening aspect of ISIS (Islamic State) militants and their method of warfare is the execution of captives, ranging from soldiers, journalists and aid workers to poverty-stricken labourers risking their lives to send remittances home – just about anyone deemed hostile to ISIS interests and ideology.
The frightening aspect of this practice is that the criterion for the execution falls far outside all established legal practices for carrying out the death penalty as stipulated by international and national laws, and there is no possibility of clemency.
The recent, gruesome execution of captured Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh, followed by the mass murder of 21 Egyptian expatriate workers, means that neither international pressure nor the more subtle, insidious and subjective pressure of human decency and conscience will deter ISIS members from their chosen path and modus operandi. If they have a conscience, it certainly works in ways very different from what we understand by the term.
The Jordanian pilot was burnt alive. This grisly execution is certainly meant as a warning to other pilots about their fate if captured. ISIS have sophisticated American-made anti-aircraft weaponry captured from the Iraqi army.
Their normal method of execution is by slitting the throat. It isn’t a swift beheading, and amounts to torture. Among hundreds executed by this method by ISIS members are a number of Westerners and two Japanese.
Idealist Japanese journalist Kenji Goto was apparently executed by ‘star’ ISIS executioner Jihadi John, so named because of his British accent. Goto was captured by the ISIS when he went to the Islamic State territory to plead for the release of fellow Japanese Haruna Yukawa, captured earlier by the ISIS.
The latest Western victim is Peter Kassig, an idealistic American aid worker, kidnapped over an year ago in Syria and beheaded in mid-November. It was followed by the mass killing of a group of captured Syrian soldiers. Captured American journalist Peter Cassig was killed shortly before that. British aid worker David Haines was executed in September last year.
This grisly modus operandi was first given wide publicity when hundreds of captured Iraqi soldiers were summarily executed after lightning advances into Iraq by ISIS forces early in 2014. This has generally been the fate of all those captured while fighting the ISIS, including women fighters of the Kurdish Pashmerga militia. There is no trial and executions are summary. Captives are shot rather than beheaded when the numbers are large. If not, they must undergo grisly and painful beheadings.
These Arab and Kurdish victims of what may be the most ruthless and feared guerrilla force of modern times remain incognito, remaining nameless as such events are reported in the international media. (Not all executions may even be reported.)
Even the zealous Mujahedin guerrillas of Afghanistan preferred to take prisoners during their war against the Soviet army. Those who converted to Islam were spared, but others were executed, sometimes in grisly ways.
But death by beheading didn’t become standard practice among Islamic militants until after 9/11. Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl was the first American victim of a grisly beheading carried out by a shadowy Islamic terrorist group in Pakistan, and the video was displayed on the internet. This has now become standard practice.
The frightening aspect of this practice is that the criterion for the execution falls far outside all established legal practices for carrying out the death penalty as stipulated by international and national laws, and there is no possibility of clemency. Ever since Isis forces swept into Iraq, all the widely-publicized executions have included people of many nationalities, religions and ethnicities, both male and female, ranging from combatants to journalists, aid workers, labourers or people killed simply because of their religious values.
Though the ISIS now has an arsenal of modern heavy weaponry captured in Iraq, it is essentially a guerrilla force. But no guerilla force in modern history has made a policy of executing all captives as a matter of policy as the ISIS does. Not even the Afghan Mujahedeen have been so single-mindedly brutal. Captured Soviet soldiers were spared if they converted to Islam.
During the Vietnam War, if anything was more brutal than what’s being fought in the Middle East, Viet Cong guerrillas kept their American and Allied PoWs alive. Such PoWs became a symbol of their potency, power and prestige. Captured pilots were imprisoned in Hanoi. They were often ill-treated, but none were executed summarily even though American bombers were destroying the Vietnamese countryside with napalm and chemical weapons.
It isn’t known if any Western journalists were taken prisoner by the Viet Cong. Several photo-journalists were killed by landmines or crossfire. But none were captured and killed by the Communist Viet Cong, though they could be ideologically as ruthless as their ISIS counterparts, sometimes executing civilians and captured South Vietnamese soldiers as they did in the city of Hue during the Tet Offensive of 1968.
But the modus operandi of the ISIS makes even the Viet Cong or the Mujaheddin guerrillas look lenient by comparison. Their refusal to distinguish between civilian and combatant points to an unbelievably narrow ideological hatred, not just against non-Muslims but against everyone, including Muslims, who don’t adhere to the militants’ version of Islam. In their hands, beheading as punishment becomes not an aberration by extremists as it was in the case of Daniel Pearl, but the ‘lawful’, regular practice of an army with a state (or bent on creating one) on the warpath.
The ISIS isn’t Islam, not any more than Bodu Bala Sena represents Buddhism. Publicity videos of Isis executions have done irreparable harm to Muslims all over the world by instigating violent internet hate campaigns from Muslim-haters in the West and elsewhere. Afghan Mujahedin operated in a world without internet. The worldwide web was invented by 1990. The Soviet army left Afghanistan in 1989. Today, ISIS are master manipulators of cyberspace, Face Book, Twitter etc. They actively recruit disenchanted or gullible Muslim youngsters from all over world with their media and publicity campaigns.
Several hundred young Muslim women from Western Europe have reportedly joined the ISIS. But their lives are 100% controlled by the militants and their role is strictly non-combattant. Unlike the Viet Cong or the Sandinistas of Nicaragua, who followed the Soviet model of arming their women to fight alongside the men, the ISIS ideal for its female members is to look after the men, cook for them and bear children. It’s a far cry from the ISIS internet propaganda about a new life in the Islamic State which ‘empowers’ Muslim women.
The world should be wary by now of sending multinational forces to bring ‘better government’ to other parts of the world. But there are instances where UN intervention can be justified. One such case was Rwanda, even though the UN stepped in very late and foot-dragging by the then Secretary General Kofi Annan resulted in hundreds of thousands of Tutsis being massacred by Hutus.
Today, a similar argument can be made for intervention against the ISIS. But any UN military force sent to confront them should consist mainly of soldiers from Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey (inclluding the Kurdish Peshmerga, right now the main bulwark against the ISIS), Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia rather than the West, with the latter backing ground operations with air power and logistics. If not, the conflict could degenerate into a fully-fledged ‘holy war’ (jihad). On the socio-political plane, the West could work harder to make their Muslim populations feel more at home, reducing the number of alienated young Muslims who want to join the ISIS.
Comments - 1
Mason Tuesday, 24 February 2015 11:45 AM
The armies fighting the ISIS are not sufficiently strong and well equipped. The ISIS is a threat to the whole world, be it Muslims, Christians etc etc. An invasion army of multiple strength has to walk in under air cover. The strike has to be swift and savage. We are not fighting humans but savage brutes.
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