WHEN MADMEN RULE THE ASYLUM
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Like all people of good faith - and surely this means Muslims as well as Christians, Jews, Buddhists and atheists - the recent beheadings of hostages in the Middle East have left me outraged and repelled.
That is the intent, of course: to terrify America and its allies, shake our will, chase us all out of the Middle East, and hold us all as hostages to terror.
Why are we forced to endure this? Better yet, why we are in the Middle East at all? Why are we dumping our money and the bodies of our young people into Iraq (and forget about "sovereignty," we're there for the long haul) instead of using our most trained special ops forces to hunt down these insane criminals and take them out of action?
Despite what President George W. Bush wants us to believe, there's no such thing as a "war on terror." Terror is a state of mind. How do you aim a gun at that?
Still, is it moral relativism to place the beheadings over other kinds of killings as a special source of anguish? I don't know. I've mourned every (reported) American death and every (unreported) Iraqi death. I regard President Bush and his administration as murderers. Yet my fiercest anger is turned against the psychopaths who use beheadings - and the images they produce - as propaganda tactics.
How can we not imagine someone we love in the hands of these madmen? How can we not picture our husbands or wives, sons or daughters, trembling and crying and pleading and weeping and suffering such hideous psychological, and then physical, pain?
When I think of these beheadings my hands clench and unclench, my teeth grind, and my brain spins around in circles. I want to scream "Stop it!" at the top of my lungs - like a kindly kindergarten teacher pushed over the edge by her charges' smirking bad behavior. Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! These beheadings make me feel as though our most precious possession, our civilization, is under direct attack.
But beheadings have a long history, in the West as in the East, and not just in the name of terrorism. There are at least two famous beheadings in the Bible. David cut off Goliath's head after he was dead, and Herod had John the Baptist's head cut off while he was still alive.
Man's inhumanity doesn't stop with the Bible. The guillotine, created to be a "humane" method of execution, comes to mind. So does the Coliseum of ancient Rome, the Inquisition, Vlad the Impaler, and the Tower of London. Remember Mary, Queen of Scots?
And today we have Saudi Arabia, which has already given us Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and 9/11. On Fridays there, they cut off the hands and feet of thieves and the heads of murderers, homosexuals and those who practice "witchcraft," among other offenses. According to Amnesty International, the Saudis have executed 1,409 men and women between 1980 and November 2002, "and the real figure may be much higher."
In Afghanistan, during the Taliban days, they held public beheadings on Fridays in a stadium in Kabul. On an Islamic Web site called Haimza, which claims it is "linking the Muslim community together on-line," Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips explains why Friday is the preferred day.
"We were instructed (by the Prophet) to carry out the cutting of hands or heads, stoning people to death, lashing, etc. in public, and the greatest gatherings of Muslims, excluding the two Eids and Hajj, is on Fridays," he says. "It was the practice of the Prophet to gather as many people from the community to witness the implementation of the Islamic law."
Philips goes on to say that in Saudi Arabia, beheadings are a deterrent to crime: "The number of murders which are committed in Saudi Arabia in a year are less than the number of murders which are committed in New York City in a week."
This is faulty reasoning. For the low crime rate in Saudi Arabia to be attributable solely to the brutality of its justice system, you'd have to first flood it with guns. Then see what happens.
The death penalty in any form is brutal, dehumanizing and coarsening - look at our behavior at Abu Ghraib. It has proven so unsuccessful as a deterrent against violent crime that most nations have given it up.
Violence just breeds more violence. As a case in point, consider a Reuters story out of Afghanistan last week: "Afghan soldiers beheaded four Taliban fighters after guerrillas cut off the heads of an Afghan interpreter for U.S.-led forces and an Afghan soldier."
Many Muslim leaders have suddenly become shocked, shocked, by the recent terrorist beheadings. They fear a backlash, especially against Muslims living in Europe.
According to a story last week in U.S.A Today, Imam Mohamad Adam El-Sheikh, co-founder and chief cleric at the Dar Al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va. says, "Beheadings are not mentioned in the Koran at all. According to Islamic penal law, killers will be sentenced to death, but the means of execution are not mentioned... Whoever did (the beheadings), we don't condone this. They are not following Islam. They are following their own whims."
Some suggest that terrorist beheadings are symbolic: the brutal killing of one American is a symbol of killing all Americans.
"These radical Islamists see such acts as the ultimate symbols of power over an enemy: horrific and utterly unambiguous examples of ruthlessness," wrote Daniel J. Wakin in The New York Times last week.
Just after 9/11, we made jokes about bombing Afghanistan and Iraq back to the Stone Age. Instead, it looks as if we just bombed ourselves back there and took the whole world with us.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.