The Boston Globe headlines its editorial on the hideous murder of American journalist James Foley “Beheading of Foley Exposes True Nature of ‘Islamic State.'”
I’m sorry, guys, but putting the name of the new caliphate into scare quotes is too precious by half. It’s not a euphemism, it’s their name, and thousands of Muslims from around the world are pouring into their ranks. You can’t make them go away by pretending they’re inauthentic, as President Obama tried to do with all his whiny little digs about how they’re not really Muslims, no just God would stand still for their atrocities, there’s no room for them in the 21st Century, they’ll inevitably fail, et cetera.
ISIS must be defeated, and we may all hope the process of defeating them includes an Islamic reformation that rallies good people against monsters and expels murderous evil from worldwide Islam. That’s not going to happen easily, or quickly. No one should pretend otherwise, which is one of the reasons Obama’s stubborn insistence on continuing the nonstop vacation of his second term without allowing the throat-cutters to visibly harsh his mellow is so outrageous. He’s sending all the wrong signals to the American people about the magnitude of the threat we face. Western editorialists can’t banish the powerful, well-funded, determined violent fanatics from Islam by giving them a couple of red cards and marching them off the soccer field. The effort to do so assists this enemy, by leading us to underestimate their appeal.
As for this stuff about exposing ISIS’ true nature: I don’t know, Globe editors, but I think their nature was already pretty well exposed by crucifying people, burying people alive, conducting purges of Christians and the genocide of the Yazidis, taking women as slaves, and so forth. It’s not just a quirky choice of words in the headline of the editorial:
Foley’s death, by beheading on a video in which an Islamic State terrorist threatens the United States, is an outrage that will never be forgotten. His family, friends, and admirers around the world, like those in his native New England and at the Boston-based GlobalPost for which he reported, are justly shocked and heartbroken, but also proud. Foley succeeded in bearing witness and, though his death was tragic, it, too, has meaning: It exposes the world to the boundless brutality of the Islamic State, which operates in both Syria and Iraq. It shows why the United States is justified in preventing it from taking further territory, even while cautiously avoiding a deeper entanglement with the hapless Iraqi government.
There is another way in which his death could mark a turning point. Foley saw his reporting as giving a voice to average Syrians, people caught in a chaos beyond their control. Many Iraqis in the parts of the “Sunni triangle” now controlled by the Islamic State are similarly powerless. Some may have collaborated with Islamic State fighters out of sectarian anger against the Shiite-dominated government of outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But those Iraqis can now see the true nature of the Islamic State. More striking even than the viciousness of Foley’s murder was the fact that the Islamic State sought to showcase it to the world. In such a situation, even sympathetic Sunnis now know who and what they’re dealing with. There will be no peace or justice in a “caliphate” created by terrorists. Even in the most dire circumstances, under the most intense pressure, and while carrying the most painful grievances, human beings can see through to basic truths. That’s what Foley believed. And that’s what the world saw in his unforgivable slaying.
I hope no one actually believes that the Foley murder video is going to shake the people who joined up with ISIS out of their sinister daze. They beheaded an American on film? That’s the last straw! I’m outta here!
It’s a game-changer for people in the Western world, and appropriately so, because Foley was an American, and that video included not just the heinous war crime of his execution, but also a declaration of war against us, with threats of further violence. But seriously, editorial writers, the people in Iraq already knew what ISIS was capable of. They haven’t been in the least bit shy about making it known. They’ve circulated many videos of similar beheadings and other atrocities. Those atrocities were equally “unforgivable.”
I don’t wish to take anything away from the horror of Foley’s killing, or the anger that I hope every one of his countrymen, and all the civilized people of the world, share with me. But it sometimes seems like nothing is really real to the media until it happens to a reporter. I would submit one of James Foley’s many admirable qualities is that he did not feel that way. He knew real horror was out there, and he went looking for it, because he wanted the world to understand what was happening in Syria. His work should have been enough to accomplish that mission; it should not have required his death.