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The Politics of Islamic Beheading

by Dawn Perlmutter


The videotaped beheading of a second American journalist Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State is titled Second Message to America. Scripted and filmed in the same manner as the videotaped beheading of James Foley both videos are primarily about disrespecting President Obama. The language, gestures and violence signified disrespect in the same manner as a gangbanger calling out a rival gang leader. The executioner in this latest video, who appears to be Jihad John from the first video, implements the philosophy of honor/shame cultures where ‘word is bond’.

Hence the Islamic State followed through on their threat and demonstrated that when they set a red line they mean it. If there were prizes for jihadist propaganda videos both of these would win academy awards in the category of recruitment. In the Sotloff video the executioner ratcheted up his in your face rhetoric stating,

“I’m back Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic state, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings ……, despite our serious warnings. You Obama, have but to gain from your actions but another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike out people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”

Referring to the President of the United States without title but simply as Obama symbolically strips him of the honor of that title and the position it represents. Pointing the knife at the camera while calling President Obama out is the kind of gesture that appeals to young men who respect strength and action, particularly if that action involves what is perceived as badass violence such as cutting off the head of your rival with a small knife as revenge for crossing your turf. This type of rebellious message attracts failed rappers and disaffected misfits who last year were wannabe gang bangers and this year are joining the Islamic State to become Mujahideen fighters….

….Beheading videos are an effective information warfare tactic. But part of their success is dependent upon instilling fear and influencing American policies such as restricting freedoms by censoring information. As horrible as the Foley and Sotloff videos are, a more effective reaction than censorship is to not demonstrate fear but to reply with conviction and strength. For example, a public response from Nick Powers, a Marine Corps veteran who sent an unambiguous message of strength and power, the message that President Obama should have sent:

“Remember we are armed to the teeth in the US and I can promise you this… the Geneva Conventions will not apply to you. You attack us and there will be no mercy. We will bring the righteous hand of God down upon you and crush you.”

Thank God for the United States Marines. They understand honor and know what kind of message to send to the enemy.



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