Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Next In Line

"You could see the scars on his ankles. He told me how they had chained his feet to a bar and then hung the bar so that he was upside down from the ceiling. Then they left him there."
"Most people would say, 'Let's convert so that we can get better treatment. But in his case [U.S. freelance journalist James Foley], I think it was sincere."
Jejoen Bontinck, 19, Belgian, freed co-hostage

"As the American government was dragging its feet, reluctant to save James' life, negotiations were made by the governments of a number of European prisoners, which resulted in the release of a dozen of their prisoners after the demands of the Islamic State were met."
"In the archive of photographs he had personally taken, there were images glorifying the American crusaders."
Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, Dabiq magazine
ISIS (Photo: Reuters)

Well, then, the United States is obviously at fault for the torture and eventual beheading of American hostages held by ISIS. Not their fault, after all, that the United States refuses to bargain with terrorists. Of course they consider themselves liberators, not terrorists. Although jihad is liberating only for those who subscribe to the imperative of proselytizing for Islam through violent means and ongoing coercion.

A lot of good it did James Foley.  On the other hand, he is said to have taken great comfort from what he read in the Koran, so in some way unknown to those who did not suffer as he was forced to, perhaps it did him some good. Though he feared death, he faced it in the end, fearlessly. Knowing full well what lay in store for him; not a swift and painless transition from suffering privation to the oblivion of death.

But a prolongation of the agony of a man still hanging on to life, feeling the unbelievable pain of a small saw laboriously making its way through his flesh, his sinews the veins that led the flow of blood to his brain and his mind grappling with the finality of the end of his knowing, of himself and the world around him that he worked so hard at trying to understand.

In the end, it is beyond the understanding of civilized people to come to grips with the undeniable fact that human beings could descend to the level of depraved bestiality that prods them to relish the spectacle of the anguish they inflict without an iota of conscience on other human beings. One can only guess that the power rush of adrenaline persuades them that they have achieved the ultimate, guiding God's hand.

There were 23 Western hostages representing a dozen countries of origin held hostage by Islamists fighting in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. His penchant for inflicting pain and misery on his Sunni population did much to excite the imagination of the Islamist hordes who flooded over the border to augment the conflict that the Syrian Free Army militias were waging against the regime.

And it must have seemed to the Syrian Sunni rebels that this was a most helpful turn of events, until the Islamists began to turn on them and to slaughter their rebel commanders. And that was even before the advent of the Islamic State. Eventually, the hostages collected by the Islamists found their way into the possession of ISIS. Who, enamoured of mutilating torture, allowed their imaginations to run away with them in discovering brand new ways to inflict suffering.

On the other hand, if the Western hostages were treated to starvation, so were the Sunni Syrian civilians on whom Bashar al-Assad turned his malevolence. He restrains himself from committing atrocities against Westerners because he has no need to; still harbouring the illusion that his detestable crimes against humanity will not keep the West from eventually making common cause with him to battle the jihadists.

European prisoners held by ISIS became familiar with the protocol undertaken to contact governments and families of those they held, to sending pleading videos, to making the deal that would release them, to understanding that the British and Americans among them whose governments made no deals, would be destined for final, atrocious disposal. Most of those held succumbed to the continued pressure to convert to Islam.

One who did not was the sole Jewish captive, Steven Sotloff. But Mr. Foley's fate as Abu Hamza was no different than Mr. Sotloff's, other than that he preceded him in the beheading ritual to shock the world. From beatings to mock executions, starvation and waterboarding, along with other little-spoken-of tortures, their suffering was perhaps a fate second only to death. "It was when there was no blood" said a former cellmate "that we knew he had suffered something even worse."

Perhaps the gruesome beheadings were in fact, a deliverance, in the final analysis. First James Foley, then Steven Sotloff followed by Brit David Cawthorne Haines, and finally Alan Henning, another Brit. Two Americans, Peter Kassig and a woman as yet unidentified, as well as a Briton are still left. And Mr. Kassig, yet another humanitarian aid worker dedicated to aiding the oppressed and the helpless is now himself oppressed and helpless, a converted Muslim, awaiting his beheading, next in line.

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