Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Why Islamic State Kills Hostages

As we know, one burgeoning income stream for the psychotic would-be caliphate is ransom payments. Despite a covenant between Western states to not pay out for the safe return of citizens kidnapped by terror groups of whatever persuasion, Islamic State has a tendency to release Danes, French and Germans who've fallen into their clutches. A rare moment of pity? An attempt to divide the coalition arrayed against it? Or is mercy redeemed through bundles of cash made payable by a labyrinth of back channels? I know what I believe.

This is scant compensation for British and American hostages currently held by IS. Unlike other governments whose commitment to not paying ransoms might be less than absolute, this is one foreign policy both states have stuck to. Is know this, so what does it gain from kidnapping journalists and aid workers, and then bragging about their brutal murders?

Writing of the September 11th attacks, the late Jean Baudrillard argued they were acts of semiotic terrorism. The World Trade Centre, The Pentagon, The White House were targeted not so much for the maximisation of casualties but their symbolism as universally-regarded signifiers of American power. These kinds of operations seem beyond the capacity of IS to pull off, even if it is reasonable to assume some of its ex-fighters have made their way home from Syria and Iraq. But as medieval thugs with a situationist sense of the spectacle, they have to rely on smaller scale but no less shocking ways to outrage and disgust. As Stalin reputedly noted, the death of one man is a tragedy yet the death of a thousand is a statistic. This is the insight that informs the IS manual on semiotic terror. The parading of the victim, the boilerplate denunciation of the West and its works by Jihadi John, and the fade out before the hostage is murdered - leaving the viewer to play the terrible act through their mind - and then showing the body is carefully calibrated and contrived to disturb, upset and anger. Sophisticated, and all the more chilling for it.

Unlike the Nazis who, despite the scale of their crimes, attempted to conceal them; IS positively revels in its brutality. The murder meted out to British and American hostages is on a continuum of terror and murder. Apostates and infidels, anyone not conforming to their twisted notions of religious purity are right to be fearful should IS gobble up their town or village. This, of course, is not accidental. Projecting violent imagery is psychological warfare designed to create panic among civilians behind enemy front lines. As well as dealing with logistics, Iraqi army and Peshmerga have their resupply schedules affected by refugees fleeing their homes. But it also has the opposite effect. IS brutality has galvanised the Kurdish response and, suddenly, the West have forgotten the PKK are on its terror list and are showering it and Iraqi Kurds with all manner of weaponry. But to return to the main point, IS criminality projects an image of radical seriousness. To alienated young Western Muslims undergoing bedroom radicalisation, IS are the real deal. Unlike fusty mosque goers preaching understanding and tolerance, these brothers and sisters are wading through blood to build a caliphate. The image of the boiler suited hostage isn't just about outrage. It's a recruitment pitch.

Lastly, for the IS fighters themselves - especially those from the West - murdering hostages is a form of substitutionism. It works on two levels. In revolutionary socialist groups, the activist from a non-working class background often has to deal with issues of "authenticity", even if its a prolier-than-thou superego that's piling on the guilt. Something similar happens with Western jihadis. They may have suffered racism, Islamophobia, prejudice and discrimination of some sort, but compared to IS fighters drawn from Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan they might feel "less real". Hence they will tend to overcompensate by volunteering for dangerous missions, suicide bombings, or the business of torture and execution. British jihadis, for example, are reputed to be among the most fanatical, murderous and pitiless fighting under the IS banner. The second level is payback. Try as they might, IS will not goad Western troops into a ground war with them. Drones, special forces, and air power is elusive and next to impossible for them to counter. American and British hostages, unfortunately, are the only means they have at "striking back". They are stand-ins for targets they cannot reach.

8 comments:

Speedy said...

But of course it is equal opportunity barbarity - what it does to Westerners it does one thousand fold to locals off camera.

Beheading is the shock of the old, careering in to the new. This visceral violence mocks all our supposedly civilised values, that is it purpose - to expose our hypocrisy. To shake us from our complacency. Its violence goes back to the violence of the Muslim Conquest, as does its religion (all this rot about it not being "true" Islam by people who actually know nothing about the religion and its history).

Of course, this is not 600, just as the original Christianity had little to do with today's, but you can see where they are coming from. It is all consistent and, just like Nazism - its modern equivalent - it is exquisitely evil. Just look at the orgy of torture the jihadis embarked upon in that Kenyan mall - IS and its ilk is the devil shaking you by the hand and it will keep doing so until you look it in the eye.

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."


Robert said...

If Muslims themselves say that IS is a perversion of the true Islam, Speedy what advantage do we gain by disagreeing with them?

IS is to Islam what the Inquisition was to Christianity or the Stalinist Gulag to socialism.

If the Muslims had succeeded in conquering Europe maybe there'd be a lot more European Jews around.

Chris said...

It would be nice to see the British troops and our war mongering psychopaths get put in the psycho babble chair sometime. But as can be seen from this article, it is nothing but a trick to justify your own brutality. It serves to make the enemy an ailment that must be cured. The US attack on Iraq is like the rape victim getting counselling from the rapist.

“But as medieval thugs with a situationist sense of the spectacle, they have to rely on smaller scale but no less shocking ways to outrage and disgust. “

Whereas American and British modernist thugs rely on grand shock and awe, call in the air-power level of spectacle. All then packaged replete with cross-hairs for tea time news.

Behold our civilisation!

“Unlike the Nazis who, despite the scale of their crimes, attempted to conceal them; IS positively revels in its brutality. “

This is something they have in common with our psychotic, war crazed leaders, and sections of the public. Except their brutality is dressed in the flag of liberation, but reveled in nonetheless.

“Apostates and infidels, anyone not conforming to their twisted notions of religious purity are right to be fearful should IS gobble up their town or village. “

Again something they have in common with our psychotic terrorist leaders. Anyone who doesn't subscribe to democracy and freedom (free trade for the empire and its stooges) is carpet bombed, bulldozed or droned. Tremble world and kneel before thy masters.

“Projecting violent imagery is psychological warfare designed to create panic among civilians behind enemy front lines.”

I guess they learnt this from the Bush and Blair war that took place in that region not so long ago, while you focus on one side of the ISIS phenomenon you fail to mention a region under severe trauma. But then again West weapons of death dropping down on civilians is all just a computer game to you!

“To alienated young Western Muslims undergoing bedroom radicalisation, IS are the real deal. “

The way to avoid the real issue is to focus on the trivial and exceptions. ISIS is mostly not foreign fighters. But traumatised people of that region, traumatised by the brutality of Western imperialism. Which is never an ailment in need of a cure!

“The image of the boiler suited hostage isn't just about outrage. It's a recruitment pitch.”

Blasting a few baddies on call of Duty, dehumanising the enemy, these are among the recruiting technique of the West. Though ultimately it is all about serving the interests of our psychotic terrorist leaders.

“Hence they will tend to overcompensate by volunteering for dangerous missions, suicide bombings, or the business of torture and execution.”

A bit like the Gurkhas?

asquith said...

Speedy is quite right, they've "achieved" more by these beheadings than they did by all them Yezidis and Christians. To whom Shameron, staggeringly, has still not offered asylum.

Some support intervention (I do: I think Obama's strategy is tight and am extremely gratified to see Arab states joining in) but I appreciate that others claim this won't be the best way of ridding the world of Islamic State*. The only unambiguously good thing we can do is support the efforts of Andrew White and his friends and lobby for the asylum situation to be changed. Let's ignore the focus groups and do the right thing, that's what I say.

Despite my atheism and secularism, I have donated to this charity.
http://frrme.org

The tragedy, as Tom Holland has chronicled, is that centuries or even millenia-old minorities who had already been suffering before Islamic State's arrival, have now gone the same way as the well-nigh forgotten Jews of North Africa and the Middle East. I could weep for the loss. Even if some physically survive, their ancient way of life has been crushede. You can't just go to some council estate in Paris and exist on the dole, and replicate all that.

*I will not be using the politically correct euphemism: they may not be following the Koran or even aware of its contents, but to say their actions are unconnected to religion is daft and more importantly hinders efforts to stop them.

davidjc said...

I've seen others say the British IS-ers are the nuttiest as well and your reasons seem plausible, but how do we know, where has this idea come from, is there some sort of measuring stick?

Speedy said...

Robert, i dont think there is any advantage to disagreeing with muslims re what is or is not true islam, however we need to recognise for ourselves the truth.

This islam is entirely consistent with the islam of the past. Jesus did not go around enslaving and beheading Mohammed did - IS is simply Saudi Arabia at war. There is very little to divide between thw two of them - this means, know your enemy. It is not IS but Salafism, from which almost all jihadism springs, that is our enemy. The Islamism of MB or Iran is grim but is not actively promoting terrorist violence, on the whole.

Yet Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states are pouring literallly billions into promoting their brand of Islam, thereby creating the conditions for IS abroad and at home.

Know your enemy.

David Hill said...

There is nothing new with the atrocities that the Islamic State carries out in the name of Islam and religion, for so-called Christians according to history have committed genocide as well. Indeed the history of humankind is continually full of genocide and torture on a barbaric scale. What appears to be the reason for this barbarism is that humankind has a darkness that resides within itself that shows its extremes against its fellow man or women if certain 'triggers' are unleashed. The irony of these triggers to this inhumane action that emerge in so-called struggles appears to be the suffering and suppression of those close to you, overridingly in the poor world. But the cause of these 'triggers' can using basic common sense be traced back to the vested interests of the minority, whose decisions in other regions of the world create all this poverty and inequality. In many ways they are psychopaths who have no empathy with their fellow humans as the Horizon programme 'Are you good or evil?, clearly showed. Therefore the root cause of all genocide is not religion as most try to blame, but the economic model that we in the West use to the extreme. Capitalism at its base is good for creating the wealth of the people but where unfortunately those controlling the mechanism corrupt it so that they get richer and richer through greed and the vast majority get poorer and poorer. They therefore inflict the seeds of genocide through greed and power over others and where they do not really care about the suffering that their actions bestow upon humanity. Indeed presently nearly 4 billion people live in abject poverty and more add to these numbers yearly. Therefore capitalism is failing humankind in the interests of the few. So much so that after the global financial meltdown the rich got even richer than ever before (last year the top 100 richest people increased their wealth by $240 billion and where OXFAM stated that this would have solved dire global poverty that year), but where 90% of the global population have got poorer and poorer and are continuing to do so. This is the first time in the history of financial meltdowns and global recessions that this has ever happened. The reason and irony of this is that this has been due to the taxpayer (the people) supporting the rich and powerful so that no harm whatsoever financially comes to them and allowed through the actions of our elected governments. Never before has this happened either and where one can only come to the conclusion that governments, the rich and powerful are all in it together - corruption has therefore been elevated to a whole new level over the past quarter of a century and the reason why entities like ISIL will continue to emerge indefinitely unless we change our ways of economic development for the very few. For that is how it really is - http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/the-establishment-makes-amends-but_720.html

Speedy said...

Wrong, David Hill. So are the Qatari and Saudi billionaires who fund IS motivated by concern for the poor? I don't think so. Are most IS terrorists poor themselves? Ir appears not - many are bourgeois.

IS rides on a wave of wealth, as do the movements in Nigeria, etc. Salafist terrorism, like Islamism in general, is a counter-hegemony. Rich playboy Osama bin Laden or the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood were not motivated by economic inequality but disgust at Western values - consumerism, secularism and equality. They reacted to the dominance of Western values which challenged their own supremacist ideology. This is what is going on - this is the war that is being fought.

Blaming the West for IS is simply proving their point - it is an orientalist perspective that sees the West as inherently superior even in its wickedness. It is an utterly false, and lazy, narrative.

Some people despise the West so much they will support anyone else. Plus ca change - it was precisely the same in the 1930s, and just like the 30s an unwillingness to confront the reality will lead to greater tragedy - in the 30s it was fear of slaughter in the trenches, now it is the legacy of the gas chamber.