It still makes me shudder thinking back to that first time the world saw a hostage about to be beheaded by the Islamic State.
Those initial thoughts come flooding back – how unbelievably barbaric people can be, that these extremists have to be stopped, that the “war on terror” is never going to end.
I couldn’t bring myself to actually watch the horrific video by which this terrorist group proclaimed how bloodthirsty it would be. For many, TV and the movies have worn off our revulsion to graphic violence. For me, just the description – “sawing at his neck” – was too horrible to dwell on for long.
Instead, I looked for coverage of the hostage’s family and friends – the people who knew and loved him and who understood why he risked his life. His name was James Foley. He was a journalist who disappeared while reporting in northwest Syria in November 2012. Colleagues described him as brave and tireless, trying to show humanity even in the horror of war.
He was not the last to be butchered.
The Islamic State released videos of two other Americans and two British hostages being executed. They were not soldiers or spies. They were humanitarian workers trying to help people in Iraq or Syria, or reporters trying to keep the world’s attention on their plight.
In each video, it appears to be the same masked, black-clad militant with the British accent – dubbed “Jihadi John” – wielding the knife. There’s so much I want to know about him. What was his childhood like? What was it about the West that so alienated him? How did he become indoctrinated into this violent perversion of Islam? And how did he become a person who seems to revel in beheading the innocent?
Just when you thought it couldn’t get more despicable, there are unconfirmed reports that since Islamic State couldn’t get a ransom for Foley when he was still alive, it is trying to sell his headless body to his family for $1 million. If that’s true, we’d have to invent a new word for how heartless that is.
The Islamic State does this as propaganda, of course. The execution videos help recruit more fighters to its cause and get attention around the globe.
We don’t want to play into the hands of the terrorists. But if beheadings didn’t shock us, it would say something far worse about us and our faith in humanity.