Healing the believers’ chests

The world is shocked at the horrific burning of Jordanian pilot Lt. Muaz Al-Kaseasbeh.

Shocked. Again.

This is not the first time Islamists burned someone alive. This is not the first time Islamists have killed other Muslims in this horrific manner. Just a few months ago over 140 people, most of them children, were murdered in a Taliban attack on a Pakistani school. At least three of the teachers were burned alive, in front of the children.

The only thing new here is that this time, the burning was filmed.

Again and again the world is “shocked”. And then they forget.

Or get used to the “new normal”.

I wonder how many people actually watched the entire video.  It seems to have been expunged by most Western media sources, but the video wasn’t really made for us. Unlike the beheading videos that had a specific message, in English, directed to the western world, this video speaks to Muslims worldwide and to the elements within the Arab world that are “collaborating with Crusaders”  i.e. America, Europe and Israel.

I watched the video. It is actually a short film, over twenty minutes long, a drama-thriller on par with any of today’s tv or Hollywood films. It is not a “snuff movie”. This is the Islamic State’s version of Gladiator. It is a sweeping story about the battle between good and evil, fighting against oppression, justice, the sweetness of revenge and the ultimate triumph that will come, perhaps in the sequel.

In case this is confusing to anyone I will clarify; in the IS movie, they are good, everyone standing in their way is evil. Their triumph is our defeat. Their justice is revenge for our self-defense. And the end justifies any means.

Although the version I saw had no translation, the story was very clear.The intro explains Jordan’s crime of collaborating with the coalition against Muslims. The movie goes on to shows the capture of the Jordanian pilot. Muaz, with a black eye, sits and explains about targets he bombed as part of the coalition forces. He discusses the participation of other Muslim nations in the coalition and the weaponry they used to bomb IS.Lt. Muaz Al-Kaseasbeh Then actual bombings are shown spliced with images of wounded, dead and burnt children. The accusation is clear. The Jordanian pilot and the other collaborators are targeting Muslim children.

The scene changes and Muaz is walking in to an area that looks like it had been bombed. IS soldiers are standing in a circle, watching him, silent witnesses. The silence is palatable – a now common cinematographic trick to emphasize the drama of the action that is about to occur – it is the silence before the storm. Muaz is then seen standing in a cage, wet with some liquid. The executioner dramatically sets the fire and the soldiers watch as their enemy burns to death. A bulldozer dumps dirt and rubble over the cage then runs it over. Like the people that were killed in coalition bombings, what is left of Muaz is his burnt fingers sticking out of the rubble – poetic justice.

The video is called “Healing the Believers’ Chests”. This is an Islamic idea of a healing catharsis, releasing rage by wrecking vengeance that is suitably horrible (i.e. torturing to death) on someone who has committed a perceived atrocity. When the rage is released, the chest is healed. This is very different from the Judeo-Christian belief that revenge belongs to God, that a person who hurts someone else is hurting his or herself. Hate cannot heal.

The movie does not end with Muaz. It ends with an invitation and promise of 100 gold dinars to all who kill additional “Crusader pilots” with specific reference to a list of Jordanian pilots participating in the campaign. This message is reinforced with picture after picture of Jordanian pilots including their name and rank, alongside maps of locations that they supposedly bombed. This is the trailer to the sequel…

Marketing is my profession. I studied (among other things) cinematography. I use my communication skills and knowledge of media, every day, to make a living. The Islamic State is using first-rate marketing skills to change the world we are living in.

And they are succeeding.

I cannot help but be awed. And afraid.

They have conviction. The Western world gets bored. They have distinct, consistent and compelling messaging where we have confusion and shock.

Again and again the world is shocked at the stream of people flocking to the black flag of jihad. After seeing the beheadings, crucifixions and mass killings, how could anyone in their right mind want to join these activities? Why are young people, male and female, from Europe, America, Australia, from all over the Western world, running off to join the Islamic State?

Some try to explain away the phenomenon using terms like “lone wolf” or “mentally unstable”.

I will use a different word – advertising.

It is human nature to want to belong to something bigger than oneself. America used to spark the imagination of people around the world who wanted to belong to the dream that man can control his (or her) own destiny. America is no longer the shining city on the hill. She’s just another country.

Once movies used to have a good guy and a bad guy. When you have one cowboy with a white hat and another with a black hat it is very clear which is the good guy and who the viewer is supposed to identify with. For a number of decades the “hero” of the movies has not necessarily been a “good guy”. In some, the main characters are very clearly “bad” but the viewer identifies with them anyway. Video games are like that as well. The player can just as easily be the cop chasing the criminal or the criminal shooting the police officer.

Moral relativism permeates everything in the modern world. Advertising is king. It’s all about messaging. (How many times have we heard Obama explain that the American people didn’t accept his ideas because he and his team “hadn’t gotten the messaging right”?)

When everything is depicted as gray is it really surprising that some people begin to believe everything is gray? That they begin to be blind to black and white? Or that they begin calling black, white and white, black? If society does not clearly define good and bad, right and wrong, everyone is left to choose for themselves.

Is it really so surprising that many people are charmed by the narrative of the Islamic State? “We”, they say, “are the true heroes. We are fighting for a pure world, free of immorality and injustice. We are not the bad guys like the media says, we are the persecuted ones, the underdog.”

This is a powerful narrative and, unless countered by something just as compelling, it will win.

Western media has refused to show this video, explaining that it is too graphic, too horrible and that Lt. Muaz Al-Kaseasbeh should be remembered for his life rather than the way he died. Those are all true statements however they are also the explanations why this video should be seen. You can be sure that it is being viewed, over and over. This is the best recruitment video IS has made to date. I am certain it is being put to “good” use.

The Western world needs to understand the horror. It needs to be looked at directly, without turning away, without looking for something “nicer”. There are no excuses for ignoring this. Muaz and all the forces fighting the Islamic State need to be given the respect due them. They are endangering their lives for our freedom. If they are captured they will pay the price of the rage of IS, just like Muaz.

Healing their chests is our destruction.

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