Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Steven Sotloff learned Arabic, the language of the Qur'an.  He studied it while living in Yemen as a war reporter in training.

How could anyone cut off such a head?  Think of the intelligence, the languages that were stored there.

Steven then lived in Benghazi, Libya, to report on difficulties there that resulted in the murder of US ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens with three of his staff.  

How could any Muslim not respect Steven's effort to meet others on their own ground?

When civil war began to consume Syria, he went there to bear witness to the deaths and suffering of civilians, risking his own life.  He was taken hostage in Aleppo in 2013 and news of his murder surfaced today.

Where were you when you heard the report of his beheading?  It's the kind of moment many of us will remember.  I was parking my car, late for a physical therapy session.  

I felt a physical revulsion.  My body reacted to violation of the physical integrity of another human body.  Then came the emotional reaction.

Why do we react so powerfully to this kind of murder?  It's recorded in early epics, in the medieval tale of Gawain and the Green Knight, in stories of headless horsemen.  We call it barbaric.

Is shooting someone or using poisonous gas more "civilized"?  

There must be a deep, genetically based taboo against beheading, perhaps two million years old in its encoding. 

A request to everyone commenting on this murder: please don't call it an execution.  Don't dignify the brutal taking of Steven's life by giving it the same term we use for legally ending a life after years of trials and appeals. 

On the other hand, using the same term exposes the American practice of execution to scrutiny.  Is it ever civilized to take another human being's life?  European nations have decided that all executions are unworthy of civilized social order.

But back to Steven and to James Foley, whose death was reported on August 19, and to Daniel Pearl, decapitated in Pakistan in 2002: it's against the rules to kill journalists.  Like the Red Cross or Red Crescent, journalists are understood to be a special class of well-meaning civilian, deserving of respect.  

Clearly, however, obeying rules is not part of the thinking of these jihadists.  Their goal is to break all international rules in the most shocking way, like kids who post insults on Facebook, even insults against another child who has taken his or her own life.

I'm setting up a miserable attempt at logic:
1)  Beheading is horrific.
2)  Beheading journalists is even worse.
3)  Exhibiting a video of this crime is still worse.

The goal now is to understand how a cuddled baby, grown into a curious child, grown into an angry young man, can get to the point of believing he is defending his people by beheading a journalist.  

How was this callousness created?  How did hatred undercut the years of being an innocent, growing child?  Perhaps the child was never loved or had some short circuits in his emotional development.  Someone eventually will do a study of the mental development of brutal killers.  

Actually, these studies have already been done in the case of countries like Liberia, where children are kidnapped into armies and threatened with death unless they commit crimes.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjSNzNOK4qU

Another parallel is gang culture, where young men are required to kill someone to demonstrate their commitment to the gang.  Perhaps that kind of psychology is going on here.

My effort to try to understand today's horrible news will have to end here.  The fact is, I can't take in today's news and find any kind of structure to fit it into.  

One beheading I took last August 19 as a terrible event and aberration, but the second today really throws me off.  Threats of continued video beheading have never occurred before in my 66 years on this planet.

It's time for prayer, everybody.  And that means you.  

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