What is it about beheadings that simultaneously attracts and appalls us? Public executions have a long and tangled history in human society, and it is only recently that we in the West have succumbed to the shocking notion that it might be mite more dignified to have them unfold behind closed doors, if indeed they have to happen at all. Our public blood lust is now mainly confined to movies, where we continue to share many unacceptable behaviour patterns in a warm womb of darkness.
As a method of social control some would say public executions are unbeatable, right up there with stonings and crucifixions. As public entertainment they were once very popular in many parts of the world, and apparently still are in several hold-outs against modernity around the globe.
Our current enemy, in this seemingly endless “war against whatever’s handy”, ISIS, ISIL, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, proudly and unrepentantly publicize their many ruthless barbarities for all the time honoured reasons: terrifying their opponents, controlling the populace under their command and waving the flag of the spiritually righteous reformer.
Despite our horror at their ruthless methods of punishment and enslavement, nothing they do is particularly new or innovative. Enslavement of the conquered is as old as civilization and, in fact, many would argue that the success of any civilization is squarely based on such slavery.
To be sold as a wifely chattel in the marketplace to the highest, and perhaps ugliest, bidder is but a few steps down from signing on to some multinational generator of obscene profits while barely surviving on food stamps and hand outs. The permanent underclass includes peasants of all permutations and we would all do well to slit open the envelope of our propaganda and see what’s written inside in that oh-so-clever invisible ink.
Speaking of propaganda, as we so often do in this era of skepticism of any official source, it is no secret that among other countries (eg. the despised Iran & N. Korea) yet practicing such public barbarities, is our honoured ally Saudi Arabia, home to approximately 80 beheadings per annum, a figure so regularly reached that some have suspected a quota to be quietly in operation.
That we ignore the trespasses of our geopolitical pals while denigrating the same in our enemies-of-the-moment is pretty much a given at this point, and I suspect our leaders excuse their hypocrisy with the customary Machiavellian ‘Great Game’ justifications: we do what we have to do to either come out on top or stay on top. (And you whining plebs oughta be darn grateful we do!)
The rules of the game, which as citizens who come equipped with educations and overflowing information, are viewed with a suspicion bordering on contempt, as we see the cosseted elites tripling their already bloated wealth and status while the donkeys of so-called progress perish in the practice of democratic expansion. While the fanatics of fundamentalism flourish with the merciless sword, the purveyors of greed based technocratic freedoms further tunnel their vision into the resource dominance they have always cherished.
And those beheadings that attract and appall, are their willing or captive audiences any more than opposite sides of the same coin, that emblem of moral stature which detracts and yet enables? Let us, as Ouspensky was said to have opined, be ‘detached but not indifferent’. And in that, shall we say, warm neutrality, let our own moral stature be based on honest compassion and unwavering mercy rather than the outrageous hypocrisy we now practice.
The law of the jungle can and must be transcended, although the realist in me recognizes that ISIS may have to be bombed relentlessly before a negotiated peace can be achieved. But let that peace be equitable so that it will not breed any more tiny monsters in its wake.