Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 11th, 2016

Public beheadings: Get millions of views

Slaughter is different than beheading: It is like watching a chicken flapping its wings

For the last year, everyone’s been watching the same show, and I’m not talking about “Game of Thrones,” but a horrifying, real-life drama that’s proved too fascinating to turn off.

It’s a show produced by murderers and shared around the world via the Internet.

Their names have become familiar: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig, Haruna Yukawa, Kenji Goto Jogo.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
ted.com|By Frances Larson
0:44 Their beheadings by the Islamic State were barbaric, but if we think they were archaic, from a remote, obscure age, then we’re wrong. (And the hundreds more currently being shot and beheaded?) They were uniquely modern, because the murderers acted knowing well that millions of people would tune in to watch.

The headlines called them savages and barbarians, because the image of one man overpowering another, killing him with a knife to the throat, conforms to our idea of ancient, primitive practices, the polar opposite of our urban, civilized ways. We don’t do things like that. But that’s the irony.

We think a beheading has nothing to do with us, even as we click on the screen to watch. But it is to do with us. The Islamic State beheadings are not ancient or remote. They’re a global, 21st century event, a 21st century event that takes place in our living rooms, at our desks, on our computer screens.

They’re entirely dependent on the power of technology to connect us. And whether we like it or not, everyone who watches is a part of the show.

lots of people watch. We don’t know exactly how many. Obviously, it’s difficult to calculate. But a poll taken in the UK, for example, in August 2014, estimated that 1.2 million people had watched the beheading of James Foley in the few days after it was released. (Just in the UK?)

And that’s just the first few days, and just Britain. A similar poll taken in the United States in November 2014 found that 9% of those surveyed had watched beheading videos, and a further 23%  had watched the videos but had stopped just before the death was shown. (Why it was shown?)

Nine percent may be a small minority of all the people who could watch, but it’s still a very large crowd. And of course that crowd is growing all the time, because every week, every month, more people will keep downloading and keep watching.

If we go back 11 years, before sites like YouTube and Facebook were born, it was a similar story. When innocent civilians like Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, Paul Johnson, were beheaded, those videos were shown during the Iraq War.

Nick Berg’s beheading quickly became one of the most searched for items on the Internet.

Within a day, it was the top search term across search engines like Google, Lycos, Yahoo. In the week after Nick Berg’s beheading, these were the top 10 search terms in the United States. The Berg beheading video remained the most popular search term for a week, and it was the second most popular search term for the whole month of May, runner-up only to “American Idol.”  (Remember, they are now called Al Nusra in Syria, and the US support this terrorist faction)

The al-Qaeda-linked website that first showed Nick Berg’s beheading had to close down within a couple of days due to overwhelming traffic to the site. One Dutch website owner said that his daily viewing figures rose from 300,000 to 750,000 every time a beheading in Iraq was shown. He told reporters 18 months later that it had been downloaded many millions of times, and that’s just one website. A similar pattern was seen again and again when videos of beheadings were released during the Iraq War.

Social media sites have made these images more accessible than ever before, but if we take another step back in history, we’ll see that it was the camera that first created a new kind of crowd in our history of beheadings as public spectacle. As soon as the camera appeared on the scene, a full lifetime ago on June 17, 1939, it had an immediate and unequivocal effect.

That day, the first film of a public beheading was created in France. It was the execution, the guillotining, of a German serial killer, Eugen Weidmann, outside the prison Saint-Pierre in Versailles. Weidmann was due to be executed at the crack of dawn, as was customary at the time, but his executioner was new to the job, and he’d underestimated how long it would take him to prepare. So Weidmann was executed at 4:30 in the morning, by which time on a June morning, there was enough light to take photographs, and a spectator in the crowd filmed the event, unbeknownst to the authorities.

Several still photographs were taken as well, and you can still watch the film online today and look at the photographs. The crowd on the day of Weidmann’s execution was called “unruly” and “disgusting” by the press, but that was nothing compared to the untold thousands of people who could now study the action over and over again, freeze-framed in every detail.

The camera may have made these scenes more accessible than ever before, but it’s not just about the camera.

If we take a bigger leap back in history, we’ll see that for as long as there have been public judicial executions and beheadings, there have been the crowds to see them.

In London, as late as the early 19th century, there might be four or five thousand people to see a standard hanging. There could be 40,000 or 50,000 to see a famous criminal killed. And a beheading, which was a rare event in England at the time, attracted even more.

In May 1820, five men known as the Cato Street Conspirators were executed in London for plotting to assassinate members of the British government. They were hung and then decapitated. It was a gruesome scene. Each man’s head was hacked off in turn and held up to the crowd. And 100,000 people, that’s 10,000 more than can fit into Wembley Stadium, had turned out to watch. The streets were packed. People had rented out windows and rooftops. People had climbed onto carts and wagons in the street. People climbed lamp posts. People had been known to have died in the crush on popular execution days.

Evidence suggests that throughout our history of public beheadings and public executions, the vast majority of the people who come to see are either enthusiastic or, at best, unmoved. Disgust has been comparatively rare, and even when people are disgusted and are horrified, it doesn’t always stop them from coming out all the same to watch.

Perhaps the most striking example of the human ability to watch a beheading and remain unmoved and even be disappointed was the introduction in France in 1792 of the guillotine, that famous decapitation machine.

To us in the 21st century, the guillotine may seem like a monstrous contraption, but to the first crowds who saw it, it was actually a disappointment. They were used to seeing long, drawn-out, torturous executions on the scaffold, where people were mutilated and burned and pulled apart slowly.

To them, watching the guillotine in action, it was so quick, there was nothing to see. The blade fell, the head fell into a basket, out of sight immediately, and they called out, Give me back my gallows, give me back my wooden gallows.”

The end of torturous public judicial executions in Europe and America was partly to do with being more humane towards the criminal, but it was also partly because the crowd obstinately refused to behave in the way that they should. All too often, execution day was more like a carnival than a solemn ceremony.

Today, a public judicial execution in Europe or America is unthinkable, but there are other scenarios that should make us cautious about thinking that things are different now and we don’t behave like that anymore.

Take, for example, the incidents of suicide baiting. This is when a crowd gathers to watch a person who has climbed to the top of a public building in order to kill themselves, and people in the crowd shout and jeer, Get on with it! Go on and jump!”

This is a well-recognized phenomenon. One paper in 1981 found that in 10 out of 21 threatened suicide attempts, there was incidents of suicide baiting and jeering from a crowd. And there have been incidents reported in the press this year. This was a very widely reported incident in Telford and Shropshire in March this year.

when it happens today, people take photographs and they take videos on their phones and they post those videos online. When it comes to brutal murderers who post their beheading videos, the Internet has created a new kind of crowd.

Today, the action takes place in a distant time and place, which gives the viewer a sense of detachment from what’s happening, a sense of separation. It’s nothing to do with me. It’s already happened. We are also offered an unprecedented sense of intimacy.

Today, we are all offered front row seats. We can all watch in private, in our own time and space, and no one need ever know that we’ve clicked on the screen to watch.

This sense of separation — from other people, from the event itself — seems to be key to understanding our ability to watch, and there are several ways in which the Internet creates a sense of detachment that seems to erode individual moral responsibility.

Our activities online are often contrasted with real life, as though the things we do online are somehow less real. We feel less accountable for our actions when we interact online. There’s a sense of anonymity, a sense of invisibility, so we feel less accountable for our behavior.

The Internet also makes it far easier to stumble upon things inadvertently, things that we would usually avoid in everyday life.

Today, a video can start playing before you even know what you’re watching. Or you may be tempted to look at material that you wouldn’t look at in everyday life or you wouldn’t look at if you were with other people at the time. And when the action is pre-recorded and takes place in a distant time and space, watching seems like a passive activity. There’s nothing I can do about it now. It’s already happened.

All these things make it easier as an Internet user for us to give in to our sense of curiosity about death, to push our personal boundaries, to test our sense of shock, to explore our sense of shock.

13:20 But we’re not passive when we watch. On the contrary, we’re fulfilling the murderer’s desire to be seen.

When the victim of a decapitation is bound and defenseless, he or she essentially becomes a pawn in their killer’s show. Unlike a trophy head that’s taken in battle, that represents the luck and skill it takes to win a fight, when a beheading is staged, when it’s essentially a piece of theater, the power comes from the reception the killer receives as he performs.

In other words, watching is very much part of the event. The event no longer takes place in a single location at a certain point in time as it used to and as it may still appear to. Now the event is stretched out in time and place, and everyone who watches plays their part.

We should stop watching, but we know we won’t. History tells us we won’t, and the killers know it too.

14:36 Bruno Giussani:  While they install for the next performance, I want to ask you the question that probably many here have, which is how did you get interested in this topic?

Frances Larson: I used to work at a museum called the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which was famous for its display of shrunken heads from South America. People used to say, “Oh, the shrunken head museum, the shrunken head museum!” And at the time, I was working on the history of scientific collections of skulls. I was working on the cranial collections, and it just struck me as ironic that here were people coming to see this gory, primitive, savage culture that they were almost fantasizing about and creating without really understanding what they were seeing, and all the while these vast —

I mean hundreds of thousands of skulls in our museums, all across Europe and the States — were kind of upholding this Enlightenment pursuit of scientific rationality. So I wanted to kind of twist it round and say, “Let’s look at us.” We’re looking through the glass case at these shrunken heads. Let’s look at our own history and our own cultural fascination with these things. BG: Thank you for sharing that.

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First Legal Abortion Providers tell their Stories

Seven physicians on the pre- and post-Roe world.
Andrew Bossone shared this link

Two quotes sum it up:
“I just want people to realize that it’s not a question of whether abortion is legalized or not, it’s a question of whether women are going to have one that’s medically safe or terribly unsafe.

Every society that we know of, there have been abortions.

Women are just as desperate not to have children as they are to have children.”

“If we’re going to be equal in society, then we have to be able to control our reproduction. We have to be able to choose if and when we’re going to have children and how many.

We don’t have that. We’re at the whim of the pregnancies that come along.”

How Hillary Clinton Defends her Failed War in Libya

Using contested intelligence, a powerful adviser urges a president to wage a war of choice against a dictator; makes a bellicose joke when he is killed; declares the operation a success; fails to plan for a power vacuum; and watches Islamists gain power.

That describes Dick Cheney and the Iraq War—and Hillary Clinton and the war in Libya. (Hillary said: we came, we saw, we killed Gaddafi. Trying to emulate Caesar uttering)

At Tuesday’s primary debate, Clinton was criticized not just for the Iraq War vote that cost her the 2008 election, but also for the undeclared 2011 war that she urged in Libya.

The Obama Administration waged that war of choice in violation of the War Powers Resolution and despite the official opposition of the U.S. Congress. “Governor Webb has said that he would never have used military force in Libya and that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was inevitable,” Anderson Cooper told the former Secretary of State. “Should you have seen that attack coming?”

“American military adventurism relies on a very backward notion of causation,” he explained. “When evil men in the world kill their own people, somehow America is to blame for not stopping them. When American action leads directly to disorder, barbarism, and terror, well, that’s someone else’s fault.”

Few viewers seemed to notice the weakest moment in the Democratic frontrunner’s debate.
http://www.theatlantic.com|By Conor Friedersdorf

Her answer included a broad defense of the war in Libya. “Remember what was going on,” she began, repeating a version of events that some intelligence officials and human rights groups doubt. “We had a murderous dictator, Gadhafi, who had American blood on his hands … threatening to massacre large numbers of the Libyan people. We had our closest allies in Europe burning up the phone lines begging us to help them try to prevent what they saw as a mass genocide, in their words. And we had the Arabs standing by our side saying, ‘We want you to help us deal with Gadhafi.’”

She characterized the Obama Administration’s response as “smart power at its best,” saying that while America refused to take the lead in the war, “we will provide essential, unique capabilities that we have, but the Europeans and the Arabs had to be first over the line. We did not put one single American soldier on the ground.”

She then put a positive gloss on the war’s outcome. “I’ll say this for the Libyan people…” she said. “I think President Obama made the right decision at the time. And the Libyan people had a free election the first time since 1951. And you know what, they voted for moderates, they voted with the hope of democracy. Because of the Arab Spring, because of a lot of other things, there was turmoil to be followed.”

That is about as misleading as summarizing the Iraq War by saying that the Iraqis had a terrible leader; they had a free election after the war; and they voted for moderates. It elides massive suffering and security threats that have occurred in postwar Libya.

Yet the answer didn’t hurt the Democratic frontrunner. That’s because neither CNN moderators nor prospective Clinton supporters understand the magnitude of the catastrophe that occurred amid the predictable power vacuum that followed Ghadafi’s ouster.

“Libya today—in spite of the expectations we had at the time of the revolution—it’s much, much worse,” Karim Mezran, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told Frontline. “Criminality is skyrocketing. Insecurity is pervasive. There are no jobs. It’s hard to get food and electricity. There’s fighting, there’s fear … I see very few bright spots.”

U.S. arms found their way into the hands of Islamists.

“Nearly three and a half years after Libyan rebels and a NATO air campaign overthrew Muammar al-Qaddafi, the cohesive political entity known as Libya doesn’t exist,” Libya expert Frederic Wehrey reported earlier this year in Defense One.

“There is no central government, but rather two competing claims on legitimacy.”

He went on to describe the rivals:

On one side of the fight are the forces of Operation Dignity gathered around General Khalifa Hifter, a former Qaddafi-era officer who defected in the 1980s and returned to the country in 2011. In May, he launched Dignity as a military campaign to root out Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi and exclude Islamists from political power. His allies include disaffected military units, security men from the old regime, prominent eastern tribes, federalists demanding greater autonomy for the east, and militias from Zintan and other western towns.

On the opposing side is the Libya Dawn coalition… It includes ex-jihadists from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, militias from the powerful port of Misrata, and fighters drawn from certain Tripoli neighborhoods, the ethnic Berber population, and some communities in the western mountains and coast. Dawn has forged a tactical alliance with a coalition of Benghazi-based Islamist militias that are battling Hifter’s forces, one of which is the U.S.-designated terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia. Each side claims its own parliament, prime minister, and army.

In August, The New Yorker’s John Lee Anderson described the gains made by the Islamists as well as the consequences of ISIS fighters controlling territory in Libya:

Last November, battle-hardened Libyan Islamists, who had returned home from fighting in Iraq and Syria, along with Islamists from other countries, seized the eastern city of Derna and claimed it for ISIS. Emulating their comrades in Raqqa and Mosul, they stoned, shot, beheaded, and crucified people deemed guilty of espionage or ‘un-Islamic’ behavior. Last month, a rival militia loyal to Al Qaeda waged and won a battle for control of the city. The victors are said to have marched the captured ISIS commander through the streets naked before executing him. ISIS lost Derna, but in the past few months they have taken Qaddafi’s home town of Sirte and surrounding areas in Libya’s “Oil Crescent,” and have begun attacks on the outer defenses of the city of Misrata.

Alas, that’s not all:

For months, ISIS has been trumpeting its abduction and execution of African Christians in Libya. In February, a slick, ghoulish video showed twenty-one Egyptian hostages in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach by black-masked executioners, who forced them to kneel and then cut off their heads.

In April, another video appeared, showing the execution of twenty-nine Ethiopians in Libya. Gunmen who trained with ISIS in Libya were involved in the murder of twenty foreign tourists, at a Tunis museum in March, and thirty-eight more tourists, most of them British, at a seaside resort in Tunisia in June. These attacks focused attention on the fact that Libya, a vast, oil-rich, underpopulated country with a long southern-Mediterranean coastline, has become part of the self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate. In a parallel phenomenon, armed trafficking gangs in Libya are driving most of Africa’s illegal immigration to Europe. As many as a hundred and seventy thousand are thought to have made the crossing last year, with thousands dying en route. Unprecedented numbers are continuing to cross this year, taking advantage of the chaos in Libya.

An unnamed Obama Administration official told Anderson, “We think that the threat from ISIL-affiliated groups in Libya is very serious and we’re treating it that way.”

A strong case can be made that the war made Americans less safe.

Michael Brendan Dougherty offers one of the most incisive descriptions of Clinton’s incoherent approach. “American military adventurism relies on a very backward notion of causation,” he explained. “When evil men in the world kill their own people, somehow America is to blame for not stopping them. When American action leads directly to disorder, barbarism, and terror, well, that’s someone else’s fault.”

He continued:

Death and civil war in Libya were unacceptable outcomes for America when Gadhafi was alive. But death and civil war continue unabated, the difference being that the Islamic State is now one of the players — and somehow it’s not in the American interest to stop it or to help Libyans establish some kind of law and order. The lessons of Iraq have been internalized: Once you create a total power vacuum that will attract terror gangs and radical Islamic fundamentalists, it’s best to not have any boots on the ground to stop them.

The catastrophe continues to unfold this month. The International Business Times reports that “an armed group in the northwestern Libyan coastal city of Sabratha kidnapped dozens of Tunisians late Monday night. The number of hostages has not yet been confirmed, but local news reports state that roughly 300 Tunisians were taken.”

The Wall Street Journal reports on the people trying to flee the region:

More than 300,000 refugees and migrants have tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, up from 219,000 in all of 2014, according to the United Nations refugee agency, and at least 3,000 have died en route. A significant percentage of those deaths have occurred on ships sailing from the Libyan coast around Zuwara, according to U.N. and Libyan officials. That area is known as a crossroads for smuggling both migrants and cheap fuel to Europe, and alcohol and cigarettes from Europe back to northern and sub-Saharan Africa.

What was a fringe business in Gadhafi’s time has blossomed into a core part of the economy, especially after layoffs at Zuwara’s main employers—a nearby oil refinery and chemical plant—because of the political uncertainty.

Clinton is hardly alone in bearing blame for Libya. But she was among the biggest champions of the intervention. As one of her closest advisors once put it in an email, “HRC has been a critical voice on Libya in administration deliberations, at NATO, and in contact group meetings—as well as the public face of the U.S. effort in Libya. She was instrumental in securing the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime.” She stands behind her course of action even today. More than that, she calls it “smart power at its best”!

As a result, Democrats ought to conclude that she hasn’t learned enough  from her decision to support the Iraq War, and that a Clinton administration would likely pursue more wars of choice with poor judgment and insufficient planning. It is difficult to imagine a more consequential leadership flaw. And yet, the issue remains an afterthought in the campaign, even as multiple Clinton rivals criticize her hawkishness and pledge to be more wary of involving America in wars of choice. Neoconservatives could hardly orchestrate a Democratic primary more to their liking.

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.


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