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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.

In the Syria US citizens Don’t Know

A young woman in Damascus produced a smart phone from her handbag and asked, “May I show you something?”

The phone’s screen displayed a sequence of images. The first was a family photograph of a sparsely bearded young man in his twenties. Beside him were two boys, who appeared to be five and six, in T-shirts. The young man and his sons were smiling. Pointing at the father, the woman said, “This is my cousin.”

The next picture, unlike the first, came from the Internet. It was the same young man, but his head was severed. Beside him lay five other men in their twenties whose bloody heads were similarly stacked on their chests. I looked away.

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Contact Press Images. Supporters of Bashar al-Assad at a demonstration in Homs, May 2012

Her finger skimmed the screen, revealing another photo of her cousin that she insisted I see. His once happy face had been impaled on a metal spike. The spike was one of many in a fence enclosing a public park in Raqqa, a remote provincial capital on the Euphrates River in central Syria. Along the fence were other decapitated heads that children had to pass on their way to the playground.

The woman’s cousin and his five comrades were soldiers in the Syrian army’s 17th Reserve Division.

The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS or Daesh) had captured them when it overran the Tabqa military airfield, about twenty-five miles from ISIS headquarters in Raqqa, on August 24.

The family’s sole hope was that the young man was already dead when they cut off his head. There was no question of returning the body or holding a funeral.

Only a few weeks later ISIS savagery touched the United States and Britain, as it already had Syria and Iraq, with the beheadings of the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and the aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.

The woman explained that her cousin had recently turned down a chance to leave his unit for a safer post near his home. It would not be right, he reasoned, for him, as a member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite sect, to desert his Sunni comrades. He stayed with them, and he died with them.

The Syrian government does not publish casualty figures by sect, but martyrs’ notices pasted on the walls in Jabal Alawia, the Alawite heartland in the hills east of the port of Latakia, indicate that the Alawites have suffered a disproportionate share of deaths in the war to preserve the Alawite president.

A myth promulgated by the Sunni Islamist opposition is that the Alawites have been the main beneficiaries of 44 years of Assad family rule over Syria, but evidence of Alawite wealth outside the presidential clan and entourage is hard to find.

The meager peasant landholdings that marked the pre-Assad era are still the rule in Jabal Alawia, where most families live on the fruits of a few acres. Some Alawite merchants have done better in the seaside cities of Latakia and Tartous, but so have Sunni, Druze, and Christian businessmen.

This may explain in part why, from my own observations, a considerable proportion of Syrian Sunnis, who comprise about 75 percent of the population, have not taken up arms against the regime. If they had, the regime would not have survived.

The rising number of Alawite young men killed or severely wounded while serving in the army and in regime-backed militias has led to resentment among people who have no choice other than to fight for President Assad and to keep their state’s institutions intact.

Their survival, as long as Sunni jihadists kill them wherever they find them, requires them to support a regime that many of them oppose and blame for forcing them into this predicament.

After my friend’s cousin and his comrades were decapitated at Tabqa and their corpses left on the streets of Raqqa, ISIS publicly executed another two hundred captured soldiers. It was then that someone, said to be an Alawite dissident, declared on Facebook, “Assad is in his palace and our sons are in their graves.”

Alawite frustration is matched by that of the now-marginalized nonviolent opponents of Assad’s rule.

The Damascus cafés where I met young anti-Assad activists early in the uprising are now mostly empty, and their original enthusiasm has dissipated. Some organizers are in prison, others have gone into exile, and the rest have given up, as disillusioned with the rebellion as many Alawites are with the regime.

But like the Alawites who grumble off the record, they are powerless. One former protester told me, “I spent three days in jail, three days of hell. I’ve gone back to my job and stay out of politics.” He fears ISIS more than the security forces who arrested him, and he tries to avoid them both.

It took less than a year for the armed militias that coalesced into the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamic Front to displace the pro-democracy demonstrators. The FSA predicated the success of its rebellion on a repetition of the Western air campaign that deposed Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. “When that failed to materialize,” Patrick Cockburn writes in his enlightening The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, “they had no plan B.”* Without the air support they demanded, the FSA–Islamic Front offensive ground to a stalemate.

ISIS came along to supersede the FSA, as the FSA had replaced the protesters.

ISIS was more combative, more ruthless, better financed, and more effective, using mobility across the desert in Syria and Iraq to launch surprise attacks. It used suicide teams in bomb-laden trucks to open the way into regime strongholds that its rebel adversaries had merely besieged.

Moreover, it has achieved the one objective that eluded the FSA: it brought American airpower into the war, but not in the way the FSA wanted. Instead, the Syria war has produced an opposition to Assad so repellent and so antagonistic to Western allies in the region that when the air intervention came, it arrived in the guise of the regime’s ally in all but name.

The prospect of America reversing its policy from threatening to bomb the regime in August 2013 to actually bombing the regime’s enemies this year gave the regime hope. It saw that not only would it survive, but that it would become, however covertly, a partner of the nations that had worked most assiduously to remove it.

Although I left Syria just before the United States bombed ISIS-held towns, with the predictable civilian casualties and targets that turned out to be grain silos and private houses, Syrian officials were anticipating American involvement with satisfaction.

Contacts with the US had been underway at least since June 20, when Syrian presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban met former US President Jimmy Carter and former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman in Oslo. Feltman was attending a conference as a newly appointed UN official, but he still had his State Department connections.

Officials present at his meeting with Dr. Shaaban recounted a conversation in which Feltman told her, “We know President Assad is going to stay, but you know what President Obama said. So, how can we solve the problem?” Having said for three years that Assad must go, Obama has yet to explain why Assad can, for the time being, stay.

This change would not be unusual for an American president, since the recurring theme in US–Syria relations throughout the Assad era has been one of hostility followed by cooperation—that is, cooperation when both sides needed it.

During the early years of Hafez al-Assad’s rule, which began in 1970, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger refused all dealings with the ostensibly pro-Soviet ruler. The October 1973 war, launched by Egypt and Syria to regain territories Israel occupied in 1967, put an end to that. Kissinger flew to Damascus in December 1973 and wrote later:

Withal, I developed a high regard for Assad. In the Syrian context he was moderate indeed. He leaned toward the Soviets as the source of his military equipment. But he was far from being a Soviet stooge. He had a first-class mind allied to a wicked sense of humor.

The US opened an embassy in Damascus in 1974 and enjoyed a brief honeymoon with Assad père, until his meddling in Lebanon made him persona non grata again in Washington.

A near victory by Palestinian commandos in Lebanon’s civil war in 1976 prompted Kissinger to ask Assad to send his army into Lebanon to control the Palestine Liberation Organization and save Lebanon’s Christians.

By 1982, the US was again fed up with Assad for giving aid to Yasser Arafat.

That turned out to be disastrous for Arafat. Syrian tolerance of his actions only worsened his situation and that of his people as Palestinian commandos had a part in dividing and ruining Lebanon.

Ronald Reagan let the Israelis drive Assad’s army out of most of Lebanon. A few years later, when Hezbollah was making life unbearable in West Beirut and Westerners were easy pickings for kidnappers, the first Bush administration invited Syria back into the region that its army had evacuated in 1982.

This was followed by another freeze in relations that ended when Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, asked Syria to take part in the war to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Assad obliged, making him a temporary hero at the White House if something of a pariah to those of his citizens who were Arab nationalists.

After September 11, the US rendered terrorism suspects to Syria for torture.

That relationship ended with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005 and Syria’s humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon after it was accused of conspiring against Hariri. If his father survived the ups and downs of that seesaw, young Bashar, who succeeded him in 2000, has a good chance of riding out a rebellion that has become, as he had prematurely claimed at its inception, an uprising of fanatics and terrorists who want to take Syria into a dark age.

As Bashar’s prospects improve with each American sortie against his enemies in the east of the country, Damascus and the populous towns to the north have been enjoying a respite of sorts from war.

The Syrian Ministry of Education reported that, of the 22,000 schools in the country, more than 17,000 of them reopened on time in the middle of September.

Needless to say, almost all of the functioning schools are in government-held areas. The souks in the old city of Damascus, unlike their more extensive and now destroyed counterparts in Aleppo, are open. Shops selling meat, vegetables, spices, and other basic items to the local population are doing well, although the tourist boutiques in and around the famous Souk Hamadieh have no customers apart from UN workers and a few remaining diplomats.

At night, restaurants in most neighborhoods are, if not full, nearly so. Everything from wine to grilled chicken is plentiful, albeit at prices higher than before the war. Traffic remains heavy, although somewhat less obstructed since June when the government felt confident enough to remove many of its checkpoints.

Electricity is intermittent, and those who can afford private generators use them in the off-hours.

Syria-Glass-MAP-110614
Mike King

In the old city of Damascus, where I stayed in an Ottoman palace converted into a hotel, I heard each morning at eight the roar of Syrian warplanes. They ran bombing missions on the suburb of Jobar, not more than a few hundred yards from the old city’s walls.

Most of Jobar’s inhabitants fled long ago, and its buildings have dissolved to rubble under relentless shelling. The rebels are said to be safe underground in tunnels that they or their prisoners have dug over the past two years. They fire the occasional mortar, which the Damascenes ignore.

People in the city refuse to see and hear the violence in their suburbs, much as Beverly Hills ignored riots in Watts in 1965 and 1992.

It becomes easy to pretend there is no war, unless a bomb falls too close or kills someone you know. One morning as I was driving through the upscale Abu Rummaneh quarter, a rebel mortar shell whistled overhead, hit a fuel storage tank, and sent black smoke soaring into the sky. Yet the shoppers around the corner went on as if nothing happened.

Jobar is not the only outlying area of the capital in rebel hands, but the government has dealt more successfully with the others. It has recaptured some, like Mleiha on August 14. In others, a UN official said, the strategy has been subtler.

Commanders from the warring sides make local agreements not to fight one another. “Local agreements for them are just stages of their military strategy,” said a United Nations official involved in talks between the two sides. “Fragment areas. Isolate them. Besiege them, until the people understand that they are not going to win the war and are going to negotiate. The opposition calls this a policy of kneel or starve…. The government uses the term ‘reconciliation.’ We call it ‘surrender.’”

A young Druze friend, who like the rest of his community has struggled not to take sides, said, “People are exhausted. Even those who fought the regime are moving toward reconciliation.” It is hard to blame them, when 200,000 Syrians have died and another 9 million have become refugees inside and outside their country in a war that has, to date, achieved nothing except death and destruction.

t’s a lot quieter in Damascus,” admitted a UN aid worker, “but there are other places that are on fire.”

Yet the fire is burning far to the north and east of Damascus, many miles from the heartland of populated Syria. The roads west to Lebanon and north from Damascus to Homs look as if central Damascus has become contiguous with the regions the regime considers vital to its survival.

The first sight as I drove on the highway north out of the capital was the district of Harasta, destroyed and mostly deserted. Then came Adra, an industrial town that was brutally captured last year by Islamists who massacred its Alawite inhabitants. Shortly after I drove past, the government took it back and invited its industrial workers to return.

Further north, the highway crosses open land of farms and peasant hamlets. A year ago, the route there was not safe. Bandits and rebels alike set up flying checkpoints to demand money or cars and to kidnap those who looked prosperous enough to afford ransom. It was a no-go zone for minority sects like the Alawites, Ismailis, and Christians, as well as for visiting Westerners. A year later, the atmosphere has changed.

The rebels in Homs, said in 2011 to be the cradle of the revolution, surrendered their positions to the government and left with their light weapons last May. Only the district of Al Wa’er, about a mile from the old city, remains in rebel hands and under regime siege.

There is a tense and regularly violated truce, but the city is mostly quiet. Some civilians are returning home, even to houses that must be rebuilt after three years of fighting.

Christians fleeing from areas taken by ISIS and the Islamic Front groups have found temporary refuge in an Armenian church in the city, and the local aid organizations help people of all sects.

From Homs, the road north to Aleppo remains as precarious as the road west to the sea is secure. Aleppo, which like Damascus claims to be the biggest city in Syria, is the major zone of battle between the regime and the rival opposition forces, who fight one another as much as they do the army. A Human Rights Watch report this summer identified hundreds of sites in Aleppo that had been attacked, often with “barrel bombs” by government forces.

The road west toward the sea, however, is safe for anyone not allied to the rebels. The famed Krak des Chevaliers Crusader fortress, from which rebels were able to shell the highway and nearby villages, is again in government hands. So are the towns of Qosair and Qalamoun, which the rebels had used to keep their lines of supply open to Lebanon.

The road runs through fields where the apple harvest has begun and the olives will soon be collected. The coastal city of Tartous is buzzing with life, as if there had never been a war. The ferry to Arwad Island, where families go for lunch, runs every twenty minutes.

Further north, the port of Latakia has suffered shelling only on the rare occasions that rebels took positions in the Alawite hills above it until the army quickly pushed them back.

It may sound odd to anyone outside Syria who has followed the conflict, but the beach in front of my hotel in Latakia was filled with families swimming and not a few women in bikinis.

There is fear, however, that a major onslaught by ISIS and similar jihadist groups would put an end to these pockets of ordinary life.

It is hard for Syrians to accept that the countries in the Gulf and elsewhere that supported ISIS with arms, financing, and fighters are now signing up to an American coalition to bring it down.

Yet ISIS may have gone too far, even for its backers. The caliphate that it declared in parts of Syria and Iraq struck a strong chord with Islamist fanatics in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and other states that had facilitated the group’s rapid and rabid expansion.

These states must fear that the movement they brought to Syria will come to haunt them. “It’s like the lion tamer,” an Arab diplomat in Damascus told me. “He feeds and trains the lion, but the lion might kill him at the right moment.”

—Damascus, October 8, 2014

 

 

ISIS (Daesh) video: This British hostage (John Cantlie) promoting his captor ideology and political lines 

France decided to name ISIS as Daesh in order to deny it the Islamic State status. Obama wants to promote the name ISIL (for Islamic State in the Levant, which will include Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan)

ANTAKYA, Turkey — The Islamic State released the latest in a series of propaganda videos on Thursday, a slickly produced introduction to what it promised would be a multipart series on the group and the folly of efforts by the United States to fight it.

The segment is a sharp departure from the Islamic State’s recent grisly videos showing a black-clad executioner beheading Western hostages in the desert, which helped galvanize international support for wider military action against the group.

The new video takes direct aim at a Western audience, and particularly Americans.

It features a British hostage, John Cantlie, a journalist who speaks in tones reminiscent of prime-time news. Seated alone at a table in the familiar orange jumpsuit, he promises to explain the Islamic State and persuade viewers that the latest war effort by the United States and its allies would end as badly as their previous interventions in the Middle East.

Continue reading the main story Video

Play Video|1:52

ISIS’ Goals and Tactics Worldwide

Some background on goals, tactics and the potential long-term threat to the United States from the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Video Credit By Natalia V. Osipova and Christian Roman on Publish Date September 10, 2014. Image CreditReuters

SEPT. 18, 2014

Analysts said that the shift in tone from the previous videos sought to gain maximum exposure and showed how attuned the group is to Western sensibilities in crafting its message.

“They are masters at getting attention, and this is a masterstroke,” said William McCants, a scholar of militant Islam at the Brookings Institution. “Diabolical is the word, just evil genius.”

The new video is the latest in a series of English-language hostage videos by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, that have tried to shape the international response to its shocking brutality and rapid expansion in Syria and Iraq.

The 3-minute, 21-second video, called “Lend Me Your Ears,” begins with Mr. Cantlie introducing himself and anticipating those who would dismiss his statement as coerced.

“Now, I know what you are thinking. ‘He is only doing this because he is a prisoner, he’s got a gun at his head,’ ” he says, pointing a finger at his temple.

Appearing tired and under stress, he acknowledges that he is a prisoner and says that since he has been “abandoned” by his government, he has “nothing to lose” by making the video.

Then he gives a pitch that has the “coming soon” feel of a promotional spot for a documentary series, promising future videos that will reveal the “systems and motivations” of the Islamic State as well as how the Western news media have misrepresented the group.

“There are two sides to every story,” he says. “Think you’re getting the whole picture?”

The video, like those before it, seems designed to forestall international military action against the Islamic State.

But while the previous videos threatened revenge for attacks, Mr. Cantlie’s message seemed crafted to capitalize on reluctance in the West to get involved in a new war.

“After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict?” he says.

Analysts suggested that the Islamic State had many reasons to shift away from beheading videos, if only temporarily.

Nonviolent videos are more likely to be seen by a wider audience, and the use of a Western journalist instead of an Islamic State fighter to deliver the message makes the group look more polished.

“They’re using him to present a rosy picture,” said Laith Alkhouri, a senior analyst at Flashpoint Global Partners, a New York security consulting firm that tracks militant websites.

“Despite the absence of a knife or gun to his head, he appears to be under some duress while speaking.”

While Mr. Cantlie’s life appears to be in danger, the militants have only a limited number of hostages, and killing them all would leave the group with no more leverage.

Beside Mr. Cantlie, the group holds two American aid workers and another British citizen, Alan Henning, who the group said in a previous video would be the next to die.

John G. Horgan, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell who studies terrorism, called the new video “evidence that these guys are winning the psychological warfare battle.”

He said staggering the releases was a kind of “choreography” that was carefully timed for maximum emotional impact.

“They don’t just want to humiliate us,” Mr. Horgan said. “They want to humiliate us on a regular, scheduled basis, and they are upping the ante every time they do it.”

Mr. Cantlie also says that future videos will address why some captives and not others have been released, presumably because of different countries’ policies on paying ransoms. Any inside information released on the topic could prove deeply embarrassing to the countries involved.

While most European countries deny paying ransoms, many have, putting millions of dollars into the coffers of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

And more than a dozen captives once held by ISIS were released after their governments paid ransoms, according to someone familiar with the releases. (Business as usual)

Britain and the United States do not pay ransoms, a policy that some captives’ families have said gives them no way to work for the return of their loved ones.

In the video, Mr. Cantlie spells out what the European countries had done differently.

“They negotiated with the Islamic State and got their people home, while the British and Americans were left behind,” he says.

Mr. Cantlie, a freelance journalist who has worked for The Sunday Times of London and The Telegraph, has been kidnapped twice in Syria.

He and a Dutch freelance photographer, Jeroen Oerlemans, were captured together by a group of foreign jihadists in northern Syria in July 2012, shortly after crossing the border from Turkey.

(Follow the Turkish trail for all these kidnapping)

They were both shot during a failed escape attempt and then released after one week by other rebels, the men said later.

After returning to Britain, Mr. Cantlie was a witness in the trial of a British doctor accused of playing a role in the kidnapping.

But in November 2012, the doctor, Shajul Islam, was acquitted. At the time, a British prosecutor told The Guardian newspaper that the case had collapsed because it rested exclusively on the testimony of two witnesses who were not available to testify.

On Nov. 22, 2012, Mr. Cantlie, who had returned to Syria, was kidnapped again along with the American journalist James Foley near where Mr. Cantlie had been captured the first time.

In August, the Islamic State beheaded Mr. Foley and posted a video of it online, the first of three such videos posted by the group so far.

Mr. Horgan, the psychologist, said that the video turned Mr. Cantlie into a new type of victim, one forced to speak for his oppressors.

“We need to bear in mind that he will do, understandably, whatever he has to do to preserve his life,” Mr. Horgan said. “He has no say in how this is unfolding.”


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

September 2020
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