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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.

Kurdish Journalist: Executed by ISIS and forgotten by western media

The forgotten journalist executed by Islamic State

Western correspondents are not the only ones being murdered.

Peter Ford, Staff Writer posted this October 14, 2014

  • close
    Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 11, 2014.

Of these three, which is the odd man out: Steven Sotloff, James Foley, Muhanad Akidi?

They were all journalists murdered by Islamic State, the Sunni jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria. But you have likely never heard of Mr. Akidi. Why not? Because he was an Iraqi Kurd, not an American.

It is hard not to detect more than a whiff of hypocrisy here, in a part of the world where the United States is often accused of hypocrisy.

And the whiff is particularly rank when it comes from the media, which should hold itself to higher standards.

Recommended: How much do you know about the Islamic State?

Only two online news outlets reported Akidi’s murder by Tuesday evening: The Russian news agency RIA Novosti and a small Belgian newspaper published in Flemish, De Standaard.

Akidi is the first Iraqi reporter whose death at the hands of IS has been officially confirmed, though a cameraman for a local TV station, Raad al-Azzawi, was killed last Friday according to his relatives, after refusing to work for IS in Tikrit.

Foreign journalists individually are exercised over Akidi’s death, as evinced by their copious Tweets on his fate. But they are not writing anything for their papers or broadcasting anything on their TV stations.

That may be because there is not much to say.

Actually, a few if us know anything at all about our colleague Muhanad, other than that he was a Kurd and that he was kidnapped by IS forces in Mosul, in northern Iraq, two months ago.

But that means that for two months none of us bothered to try to find out anything about Akidi or what had happened to him.

Granted, he is just one of many Iraqi civilians caught up in this conflict.

In September alone, over 1,100 Iraqis died of acts of terrorism or violence, according to the United Nations.

Journalists aren’t special, in this sense. Iraq’s minorities – Christians, Yazidis, Kurds – can attest to the vengeful slaughter perpetrated by IS.

Moreover, the murders of Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Foley, who were abducted in Syria, not Iraq, were videotaped and uploaded for propaganda purposes, precisely because they were Americans and their deaths would shock and appall a Western audience.

Their profession appears to have been less important than their nationality; IS has now started butchering Western aid workers.

It’s a long time since I covered the Middle East. But I am quite sure that many people there have just the same suspicions of Western intentions today as they ever did – that America and its allies only get involved to protect their own interests, not those of the locals.

A cynical journalist might say that is only to be expected.

But even the most cynical journalist might hope that the Western “mainstream media” as we are often sneeringly called, would pay a little more attention to the locals.

Note: It is becoming a flagrant fact that the US fight against ISIS is mainly meant to completely destroy Syria infrastructure, oil wells, wheat and gain silos, bridges… Just about anything that is important for Syria reconstruction. France and England and Australia bombs ISIS in Iraq. Only the US is permitting itself to defy Syria and bomb it under the pretense of bombing the resources of ISIS.

 

PARENTS OF KILLED U.S. NAVY SEAL

TELL OBAMA

”YOUR COWARDLY LACK OF LEADERSHIP HAS LEFT A GAPING HOLE’

YOU ARE NOT UP TO THIS JOB. YOU KNOW IT. WE KNOW IT. THE WORLD KNOWS IT.

After finally choosing to view the barbaric, on-camera beheading by ISIS of freelance war correspondent James Foley, I have been left with a level of rage known only to those of us who have sacrificed unspeakable offerings on the altar of world peace.

My offering was my only son — Aaron Carson Vaughn.

Aaron was a member of SEAL Team VI. He was killed in action when a CH47D Chinook, carrying thirty Americans and eight Afghans was shot down in the Tangi River Valley of Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011.

aaron-carson-vaughn-navy-seal-team-6

Many times over the past three years, I have been asked what drove my son to choose his particular career. What made him want to be a Navy SEAL? My answer is simple.

Aaron Vaughn was a man who possessed the courage to acknowledge evil. And evil, once truly acknowledged, demands response. Perhaps this is why so few are willing to look it in the eye. It is much simpler — much safer — to look the other way. (Time to describe Evil in terms not related to religion or cultural ideosyncracy)

That is, unless you are the leader of the Free World.

As Commander-in-Chief, your actions — or lack thereof — Mr. President, cost lives. As you bumble about in your golf cart, slapping on a happy face and fist-pounding your buddies,your cowardly lack of leadership has left a gaping hole — not only in America’s security — but the security of the entire globe.

Your message has come across loud and clear, sir: You are not up to this job. You know it. We know it. The world knows it.

Please vacate the people’s house and allow a man or woman of courage and substance to seize the reigns of this out-of-control thug-fest and regain the balance we, America, have provided throughout our great history.

Thanks to your “leadership” from whatever multi-million dollar vacation you happen to be on at any given moment, the world is in chaos. What’s been gained, you’ve lost. What’s been lost, you’ve decimated.

You’ve demolished our ability to hold the trust of allies. You’ve made a mockery of the title “President.” And you’ve betrayed the nation for which my son and over 1.3 million others have sacrificed their very lives.

But this should come as no surprise, since your wife uttered a vile statement on Feb. 18, 2008, during the primary campaign — one that speaks volumes of your true convictions.“For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country,” she said.

I am sure my deceased son thanks you for that, Mrs. Obama. Oh, and you’re welcome.

Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such despair and such growing fear that the world’s last best hope, America, has finally been dismantled. Perhaps the better word is transformed — fundamentally transformed. Come to think of it, it’s become difficult — if not impossible — to believe things haven’t gone exactly as you planned, Mr. President.

barack-obama-michelle-traitors-killed-aaron-carson-vaughn

Amazingly, in five short years, your administration has lurched from one disaster to another.

You spearheaded the ambitious rush to end the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan — with no plan on how to do so effectively. Also, the release of “the Taliban five” in exchange for one American — without consulting Congress — is also on your shoulders.

You have been at the helm during unprecedented national security leaks — including, but not limited to the outing of SEAL Team VI on the Bin laden raid, the outing of the Pakistani doctor who provided the intelligence for that raid, the outing of Afghanistan’s CIA station chief, and the outing of your personal “kill list” to make you look tough. In addition, 75% of American deaths in Afghanistan and 83 percent of Americans-wounded-in-action have occurred on your watch, according to icasualties.org.

And now, we have this recent, heinous event: the beheading of an American citizen by a barbaric organization you foolishly referred to as “the JV team” in your statements to the New Yorker magazine in January.

You, sir, are the JV team. It’s time for you to step down and allow a true leader to restore our honor and protect our sons and daughters.

Note: Obama speech on the US strategy to defeat ISIS was not convincing either.

If your allies are the ones who funded and supported ISIS, how can you convince the world community that your objective is actually to confront terrorism?

America has always been exceptional. And she will be again. You, Mr. President, are a bump in our road.

Modern means. Slick production… ISIS forging its archaic Caliphat-hood

Iraqi expert on Isis, Hisham Alhashimi, said:

Abu Bakr Baghdadi wants to bring the US Americans into a war with him so he will prove that what was written in the Quran and the prophecies that (Christians) will fight against the Muslims. He wants to prove that he is the leader of Muslims.

Having the Americans bomb him is not at odds with spreading the caliphate. ISIS dream is a real jihad against the Crusaders.”

Baghdadi does not fear the Arab world’s armies.

He has tapped into the ruins of a body politic across much of the Arab world that has spectacularly failed to share power or respond to the will of the street.

He knows from his time in Iraq, both in US prisons and on the battlefields that to be realistically confronted, the US, or another power, will need to ally with local backers.

 in The Guardian, Wednesday 3 September 2014

What next for Islamic State, the would-be caliphate?

Isis is making very modern military and media advances, but its existence is rooted in religion and old sectarian divides
A Shia militia fighter holds a gun

A Shia militia fighter holds a gun near a graffito that says ‘Amerli‘ in Arabic (city  in Iraq that was freed lately from Daesh). Photograph: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

The world’s most potent terror group is also its most savvy.

In its 18 month existence, Islamic State (Isis) has imposed its old world view of Islam using very modern means. Slick production, an eye for a camera angle and high definition horror have done just as much to showcase the group – and further its aims – as its rampage across Iraq and Syria.

Almost every move Isis has made has been chronicled in some form, either through shaky hand held mobile phones that have captured battle scenes Blair Witch style, or by applying more sophisticated Hollywood production values.

An hour-long chronology of barbarism that the group posted online in June featured an opening sequence copied straight from the 2009 film about the Iraq war, The Hurt Locker.

Isis may eschew much of the modern world, but it certainly studies its enemy.

And, in what is the biggest punt of its short and bloody life, the group appears to have gambled that it can call the bluff of its most formidable foe.

On extremist web forums and within the organisation, debate is raging about how the US will respond to the beheading of two of its citizens, and what Britain and Europe may do if its nationals are harmed.

A growing school of though is that the gruesome, highly public, deaths of James Foley and Stephen Sotloff (an Israeli/US), have done what three blood-soaked years in Syria and Iraq had previously failed to do: galvanized war-weary western leaders and their deeply skeptical publics to a common and fast growing enemy that may eventually point its turrets their way.

Advocates of toning down the brazen violence say that while such tactics have a strong terror shock value among communities they want to conquer, they also stir sleeping giants.

And if Isis is to continue its quest for dominance, having superpowers collectively enraged so soon might not help further such goals.

The group has enormous momentum at the moment:

1. militarily it is manoeuvering on three fronts at once – something far beyond the Iraqi, or Syrian armies.

2. It is collecting large numbers of Sunnis on both sides of the now redundant border. Some are joining out of coercion, others from fear and a smaller number from a conviction that the jihadis share their values and are acting out pre-ordained prophecies.

Whatever their motivation, Iraq’s Sunni minority shares a common sense of being estranged from any semblance of a political process ever since Saddam Hussein was ousted in Iraq and Shia Islamic Iran established itself as a post-occupation power.

Syria’s Sunni majority, especially in the north and east, has been partly subservient to a Shia-aligned Alawite regime for more than three decades longer. Together they make a formidable support base.

Supporters in favour of a less confrontational approach say that Isis needs this stunning progress to continue if it is to make good its goal of re-establishing a caliphate across ancient Islamic lands.

After declaring the establishment of a new caliphate, what to do now is at the behest of the self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and a tightly-knit military council that makes all the group’s strategic decisions.

(Currently, all the leading chiefs in ISIS are Iraqis. The Syrians and foreigners play secondary roles)

Some who study Isis closely say Baghdadi is aiming for an apocalyptic showdown that he wants to bring on sooner rather than later. Interpretations of Koranic teachings underpin all of what Baghdadi does.

And high on the list of teachings being adhered to by Isis is a 1,400 year old prediction that Muslims and Christians would fight a pre-apocalyptic battle in a place called Dabek. (I never heard of that prediction or who did the prediction)

Since establishing themselves as a force in northern Syria in May 2013, Isis members have focused on small hamlet of 4,000 people some 30 miles south of the Turkish border, called Murj Dabek. This, to many among Isis, is ground zero of the war, a place where ancient prophecies will be thrashed out in an existential battle between the faiths.

(I never heard of that prediction or who did the prediction. Murj Dabek is the battlefield where the Ottoman army crushed and the Mameluke army that ruled Egypt and Syria as the Ottoman Empire decided to expand southward during Salim I in the 16th century)

Baghdadi does not fear the Arab world’s armies. He has tapped into the ruins of a body politic across much of the Arab world that has spectacularly failed to share power or respond to the will of the street. He knows from his time in Iraq, both in US prisons and on the battlefields that to be realistically confronted, the US, or another power will need to ally with local backers.

He also knows, that without an occupying army – and re-occupying central Arabia is something that Barack Obama still seems repulsed by – it will be difficult to splinter the Sunni support base that now stands with him.

“There are military leaders working with him, former Saddam henchmen,” said one former middle-ranking member of Isis who left the group before it changed the face of the Middle East in June with its advances into Mosul and Tikrit.

They were not with us then. They thought we were a bus that they wanted to get to their destination. But now, from what I know of them, they are just as ruthless, just as committed. These people are running the war in places like Tikrit. Even if they part ways, they will help Islamic State win.”

Note: Apparently, the western States have not yet decided to crush ISIS and the social networks used by ISIS have been easily circumvented to spread the message.


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