The Iconography of Terror: How ISIS Taps into Our Fears

For some time, I have been convinced that ISIS is tapping in to Western fears, using an intimate knowledge of our history, art and myth to stir night terrors for an entire civilization.

ISISSquadThis first occurred to me when I saw this picture, which I and many compared to the einsatzgrupen on the Eastern Front. The helpless victims with their backs to death, the collective nature of the method of of executions so all the killer share equally in the act tie the two scenes  together across time.

Gruppen                                                                 Contrast this to Goya’s rendering of a similar scene. The Spaniards in this painting will all surely die, but they face their killers and defy them. They have not been robbed of all agency. They die, but we know others will live. Beyond the horror is hope. It is if Goya could look across more than a century and see liberty arise from a sea of corpses. Whereas, the equally iconic picture of the the German killers presents no hope, only hopelessness, and shame at that helplessness. We have long thought -or hoped – that Goya’s was, in the end, the clearer vision.

"Third of May"  Francisco Goya.  Napoleon's troops shoot civilians. An archetype for countless atrocities over the next century and a half.

“Third of May” Francisco Goya. Napoleon’s troops shoot civilians. An archetype for countless atrocities over the next century and a half.

ISIS has been described as “sophisticated” in their media output, but the latest from Libya, is in my view, brilliant. Lets have a look at this still from the video of the mass murder of 21 Copts on a Libya shore.

LONSHOTBEACCH

21 Copts murdered. New reports of 21 captives held in cages. A reference to a 21 gun salute? I wouldn’t put it past this bunch.

First we see a line of obviously cowed, despairing men in orange jumpsuits, each escorted by a masked figure who towers above his captive. The use of orange jump suits in beheading videos goes back to at least Nick Berg, and is in part a riposte for the humiliations visited to some prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Beyond that, it is a mockery of our Western notions of justice. Unlike western prisoners, like those you sometimes see out clearing verges along highways, these men will have no lawyers, no work release, no parole. Only death. And this is as decreed in a multitude of Islamic sources. Allah’s law prevails, and the statutes of Pharaoh, Caesar and Parliament are as nothing. Note how the line recedes form the foreground into the distance. No matter how many  “Crusaders” there are, there is a limitless supply of executioners. The setting along the shore is no accident. The shore in question is the southern Mediterranean, a Latin term meaning at the center of the earth, the sea that bound the Roman world together, Mare Nostrum, Our Sea. A sea that Islam cleft in twain for more than a millennium. This is to let us know that the sea is ours no longer, and will once again be theirs.

A shore is the limit of the human inhabited earth, a dead end.  There are no waiting ships, and no escape. Only a brooding sky over an iron sea. A storm is coming.

axeman It is the back cloaked figures who tap most deeply in to our subconscious. The axeman is a familiar archetype. For how many centuries did Europeans live under rulers who could at a whim, send their subjects to the block, where a masked man in black would send them to eternity? In fact, beheading was reserved for the nobility, while the common man was more likely to go via the rope. Certainly, the hangman’s noose, remains a symbol of death, while the hangman is remembered in folklore, but who we see in our nightmares, is the axeman, perhaps because he figured in the last moments of so many famous historical figures. ISIS and others use knives, not axes. This is the tool of halal slaughter, a clear message that the victims are as beasts.

grey

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey. Paul de la Roche, 1834

In this painting of the execution of Lady Jane Gray one sees a similar sort of obscene intimacy as that in the lSIS Libyan video, where the executioners each guide their victims with a hand on the shoulder. They proceed in step, both part of the choreography.( Surely this was rehearsed.) While I’m not a cinematography nerd, as a long time consumer of horror movies, the technique in the ISIS short seems familiar. There are a couple of tricks I’m sure I’ve seen in the kind of second tier scare flicks you see on Thirll TV.

Open on an empty beach. Which quickly rushes up to the viewer, then back again, a kind of whiplash view accompanied by  reptilian chattering. Same again, but the line of men is now on the beach. Again, and the beach is empty. Then the men return and the narrative becomes more conventional There is a declaration, the usual tale of victimization and retributive aggression.

See Video: ISIS executes 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya

We are given time to learn their faces, so that we will recognize them in death.

The camera lingers briefly over each face that we will remember them. When the moment comes, the men are shoved on to the sand in a wave action beginning at the far end of the line. Continuity disappears. There is a brief montage of violence, blood, body parts ,screams and exultant shouts. I have seen this before. The violence is such that we comprehend its nature, but so brief that a gag reflex isn’t triggered.  The dialogue may well sound better in Arabic and perhaps a more competent translator might have given it greater power. Nevertheless, it bares examination as some of it has been much in the news.

The beheaded Copts are referred to as Crusaders, which may be read as any Christian in Muslim lands. In this instance,and many others, pundits have referred to the enduring wounds of the Crusades, which is utterly nonsensical. Islam won the Crusades and they were of little import until anti-Catholic historians made much of them and their victimization of idealism Islamic societies, beginning with Edward Gibbon. Another Edward, Edward Said, was notable among many others in the last century who recast the Crusades as the first assault of Western Colonialism upon non-Western peoples.

Equally laughable is the speculation of some that the Jihadi pointing his knife towards Rome is an attempt to enlist Libyan nationalists resentful of Italian domination. The Italians have been gone from Libya since Montgomery kicked them out in 1943. Indeed, the knife wielder makes a point of his geographic proximity to today’s Rome, but Islam has a long history with both the city,and the idea of Rome. Islam arose in th 7th Century decades after the official end of the Western empire, but the City of Constantine, the New Rome, endured until 1453. Beyond, the city, Rum, the polity, and Rumi, the people were for Islam the entire West.

The speaker says that they will take Rome, and Jesus will return to “overthrow the cross.” This demented eschatology is orthodox in Islam. In 1984, Orwell` posited an end to history in which a boot stamped a human face, forever. With Islam, it is a knife to a human neck.

This short film thus uses Western mass communication techniques to at once feed on our ancient terrors and to rally Islam to an interrupted conquest, with the aid of anti-colonial Marxist derived tropes perpetuated by the West itself.

Brilliant.

Koran 3.151

Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority: their abode will be the Fire: And evil is the home of the wrong-doers!seventhSeal

Between Iraq and a Hard Place: In Which I Bail the President Out From His Bad Middle East Optics

ISIS-truck-convoy-Anbar-Province

ISIS column in Anbar Province, Iraq.

After an early enthusiasm for the Viet Nam war, other than Grenada, I have not supported any American intervention overseas in my lifetime. So for once, I find myself in agreement with the 44th president.

Mr. Obama has some bad optics with the ISIS assault in Iraq. Sure, it wasn’t his war, but his Vice President did say this in 2010:

(Iraq )”could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.”

The rout of the Baghdad government from large parts of the country looks bad, and calling it Bush’s war will resonate with the faithful, but others are a bit jaded with the” Bush did it” excuse six years in.. No matter who may be seen to “own” Iraq politically, the ISIS advances represent at the very least, a massive intelligence failure – or perhaps failure to act on intelligence. Coming so soon after the Crimea takeover, it just looks like crap.

As senator, Obama did not vote for Iraq, and rather than his frequent custom of listing himself “present,” voted against it. Others in his party cannot say the same. Mrs. Clinton was in, and both her husband and his VP, Al Gore, are on record long before the war, pointing to the danger posed by Saddam. Many other Democrats joined in the war vote, including the current Secretary of State, John Kerry.

nissan

Shiite militia parade, Baghdad, June 20, 2014. Despite the Nissan in the lead, from the headlights, it looks like Toyota has the conflict sewed up,truck-wise.

So how can Mr. Obama clear up his Iraq optics?

Embrace the Iraq war, and then kiss it goodbye.

Here, Barrack, let me show you how to do it.

“Good evening.

My fellow Americans, I am asking for your time this evening to speak on the recent and ongoing events in Iraq. This country has cast a long shadow on American politics and foreign policy, across administrations and parties, long before I became President.

Mehdi Army Women loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr march during a parade in Najaf

These Shia ladies are on our side, sort of.  In Syria and Lebanon, their veiled sisters are on the other side. Got it?  I don’t. Did American really think it could handle this place?  What were we thinking?

It is no secret that I voted against the Iraq War as Senator and ran against it when I first campaigned for the office of President. I promised an end to ur role in the conflict, and I kept that promise. As President I have learned much, and I have come to know this about America’s role in Iraq.

The men and women, in both parties, who voted for, and worked towards the ouster of Saddam, l believe, especially in view of Iraq’s present agony, were wrong.

But they were not, and are not, selfish or evil. There was no war for oil. Those who supported the war policy had two things in mind:

The national security of the United States, and, along with a hatred of Saddam’s tyranny, a sincere wish that Iraq be stable and free, and in time, lead the region out of its sad history of conflict and deprivation.

They should not be vilified for misplaced hope.

I, they, and all Americans honor the courage and sacrifice of the many thousands of our forces who served, died, and were maimed in Iraq. We also recognize the contributions of our civilians there, the diplomats, engineers and technicians, doctors and nurses, educators, and the whole range of specialists who worked to bring Iraq back from ruin.

In 2010, when we finally withdrew our forces it seemed we had succeeded.

That we have not is not the fault of any administration. America expended massive amounts of her treasure and expertise, and above all, the precious lives of our best and brightest young people, to give the Iraqi people a chance at a future of freedom and progress.

We are deeply saddened that ancient hatreds should make this unlikely for the foreseeable future.

But we have done enough, and can do no more. Nor would we if we could.

Self reliance is a core American value. While we cannot instill such a value where it is not, we understand that it must exist for any nation to succeed.

Therefore, while I will take such action as may be necessary to our immediate security needs, and may provide assistance where it can be used efficiently and honestly, the United States under my administration will not intervene in Iraq. Our time in Afghanistan is also coming to an end, and I hope profoundly hope that our friends there will look to Iraq and resolve to do better.

That so grand an undertaking has failed is a tragedy, but I urge you all tonight and in the days to come, to look back upon this chapter in our history as one of many times when America has given much, in return for little.

God Bless America

God bless our veterans

Thank you, and good night.”

 

C’mon, Mr. President. I guarantee you a 5% overnight bounce in the polls.

But for Barrack Obama to make such a statement would require both humility and magnanimity, two qualities in which he is signally lacking.

Not a chance.

 

 

HuffPoofery: My Response to Ariana’s 9/11 Piece

I wouldn’t expect other than fatuous nonsense from this source.  What is disturbing is the many who agree with her.  So I put my two cents ( actually around 750 words in four sections due to 250 word limitation per post).

Here it is in its entirety:

I of course expected Ms Huffington to make no mention of Islam in her 9/11 piece, and after scrolling through the first six pages of comments I find it almost completely absent from the the  thoughts expressed.  One commenter viewing American foreign policy as a “root cause,” mentioned Iran in 1957.  I would be rather surprised  if Osama Bin Laden  had ever heard of Mussadegh, and if he had it would be ludicrous to assume this Sunni  Salafist would care about a Shia secularist from the left in Iran.  This is typical of  the logical gyrations in which some  people  engage so as to  exonerate Islam.

Whatever one thinks  of the “Wars to Help Muslims” (Beginning with the Gulf war, I have I opposed all five – count them – other than taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was fumbled) and the growth of the National Security State, these developments have their origins in a total lack of understanding in the US of what Islam is, and how it affects statecraft in nations that profess it.

The absurd lengths to which people will go in order not to mention Islam stuns me at times.  Israel, or US foreign policy have nothing to do with the ongoing  murder, oppression and violence against Christians and other minorities in parts of Nigeria, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh,  Sudan.  They have nothing to do with the internecine Muslim violence endemic in Iraq and Afghanistan,and the persecution, suppression and murder of Ahmadis in Indonesia.

One simply has to look at the rest of the world to see that there is no other belief system giving rise to such persistent and high levels of violence, not to mention appalling human development indices, outside the rich Gulf nations, and a general disregard for basic freedoms, most especially manifested  in low status for women, and in places, outright gender apartheid. Simple logic dictates that this is no coincidence.

On 9/11 we were attacked by Islam, a renascent Islam fueled by petro-dollars, another term  for our money. There have been other such  attacks throughout the history of Islam, starting from its base in the Arabian Peninsula,  sweeping hence to  rapid  dominance of the southern Mediterranean littoral and on into Western Europe

Tarik ibn Zayid, Arab conqueror of Spain. Artist's rendition, as no true portraits exist due to Islamic restrictions on depicting living being. He landed at Gibraltar, which is a corruption of Jebel Tarik, "Tarik's Mountain.".

Charles Martel, King of the Franks, who decisively broke Muslim power in France, at the Battle of Tours, 732.

from Africa, and later from Turkey into Southeast Europe .  These waves were beaten back, but never has a country or region relinquished Islam voluntarily, or more accurately, has Islam peacefully relinquished territory.  The secular experiment of Ataturk in Turkey is at an an end, and Malaysia and Indonesia( where I live) may follow. We are, in a sense, experiencing the Third Jihad.  It will be the last.

The_Battle_of_Lepanto_by_Paolo_Veronese

Despite continuing attempts, increasingly from lone actors, and of fairly amateurish nature, the US will most likely not see another 9/11 in my view.  This hardly means the danger is past.   We must prepare for an Islamic World from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia that, while chaotic and disunited, will be unified in its hatred of us and our values.

On September 11, 1683 King Jan Sobieski III Of Poland joined battle with the Ottoman Turks to lift the Siege of Venna, begining the roll back of muslim power in Central and Southeastern Europe

One commenter here suggested withdrawing form the region( the Middle East and Afghanistan.  I would agree, and extend this withdrawal to ceasing any attempt to reach out to, understand, interface with, or influence developments in  the Islamic world.  Withdraw, but maintain our guard toward both external and internal threats. This would make as safer, and perhaps afford us the time and resources to heal  ourselves.

Finally, I exhort one and all: read the texts of Islam!  I sincerely doubt Messers Bush the elder and younger, Clinton or Obama ever have.

September 13: It is noteworthy that the anniversary of the two day battle outside Vienna in 1683,  in which the advance of Turkish Muslim power in Central Europe was stopped, is September 11/13.  Now we have no captains to fight the crescent, and Europe lies supine, while America slumbers.