Islamic State – Why Beheadings?

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The Islamic State’s widely publicized beheadings of American journalist James Foley, American aid worker Peter Kassig and others Americans are designed by the Islamic State for the greatest shock value.

The sheer gore of the now-too-common beheading videos was a highly-calculated propaganda tool by the terror group. Designed to evoke both paralyzing fear as well as dissuade those who may think of opposing the group, the beheadings seem to have served their purpose.

Western leaders, imagining their own soldiers captured and in a similar position, are loathe to send them to such a potential fate, which means politically and militarily their hands are tied.

Local armies – underpaid, poorly trained and demoralized –simply stripped off their uniforms and fled from battle when facing the Islamic State, even though they vastly outnumbered the terrorists. This combination paved the way for the Islamic State to commandeer large swaths of territory in eastern Syria and northwest Iraq.    

  • “When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks.”  Sura 47:4. Historian Timothy Furnish writing in a 2005 study published in Middle East Quarterly says: “For centuries, leading Islamic scholars have interpreted this verse literally.” 
  • Similarly, “[Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, ‘I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.’"
  • Beheading has been used by Islamists since the time of Mohammed: Ibn Ishaq (d. 768 C.E.), the earliest biographer of Muhammad, says that Mohammed ordered 700 Jewish men in Medina to be beheaded for allegedly plotting against him.
  • Furnish writes: “Yusuf b. Tashfin (d. 1106) led the Al-Murabit (Almoravid) Empire to conquer from Western Sahara to central Spain. After the battle of Zallaqa in 1086, he had 24,000 corpses of the defeated Castilians beheaded ‘and piled them up to make a sort of minaret for the muezzins who, standing on the piles of headless cadavers, sang the praises of Allah.’ He then had the detached heads sent to all the major cities of North Africa and Spain as an example of Christian impotence. The Al-Murabits were conquered the following century by the Al-Muwahhids (Almohads), under whose rule Castilian Christian enemies were beheaded after any lost battles. 
  • Beheadings of live and dead enemies have been recorded over the course of more-modern Islamic history, from the time of the Ottoman Empire to the present. 

Islamic State purportedly executed 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya in a film released April 19.

This is the latest country in which ISIS has murdered merely because of the religious affiliation of their victims.

(WARNING: extremely graphic content)

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org