The most terrible things hit our computer screens every day: injustice, suffering, calamity, wars, violence, and a hundred other cruelties and degradations. We choose which ones we’ll watch and which ones we won’t. In general we exercise a reasoned approach and self-restraint based on our ethics, politics and beliefs; we don’t want to be colluding with anything that is unacceptable, depraved or abhorrent. We draw a line in cyber-space: this far and no further.
Applying common decency, reason and empathy, we filter what we choose to watch. The majority of us don’t go hunting through the murky depths of the internet world; we know there are things out there that are degraded, cruel and appalling. It’s not necessary for us to see them to know that. Which is why I was shocked and dismayed at the number and the kind of people who watched the video of James Foley being beheaded.
Certain types of people were always going to do it, that’s no surprise. It’s not predictability that gives you a shock, it’s the unexpected. It was the people who have declared themselves to be on the left and feminists (I’m a feminist too), who claim to occupy the correct political position – and who chose to watch this act of barbarity, who astonished me. This was an act of evil, where there were no new truths or knowledge to be gained. We know what it is and how it happens.
Those on the political left and feminists rail against ISIL (as most of us do, ISIL barbarity is against every morality, humanity and religion) and yet many did exactly what ISIL wanted them to. They became complicit in ISIL’s barbarism.
It’s my view that watching the video of the beheading of James Foley was not only disrespectful to him but playing into the manipulations of ISIL.
ISIL wants others to become as depraved as they are. Wants their own barbarity to call out the atavistic barbarity that still resides inside us – for that will validate their methods and ambitions, bring them into the mainstream.
They want to reduce existence to the level of the hunter and hunted. Where fear, terror, violence and brutality are the only forces of power; the only determinants of right and wrong; where civil liberties, laws, democracy, debate and doubt have no place.
ISIL knows the ugly truth about human beings. That the fear of others is the greatest fear, the greatest secret. It leads people to seek power over others, lest they gain power over them. The planet’s history demonstrates this: from tribal warfare to global conflicts, from personal rivalries to neighbourhood gangs, from boardroom battles to bedroom power struggles.
People use power over others to secure their place in the world and to define themselves. In nations, companies and families, power struggles are ongoing and continuous: at best they’re sub-textual and manipulative, at worst abusive and violent.
As knowledge, thought, ideas and politics have progressed there has been recognition of, and attempts to change, structures which cause indignity, injustice and inequality, whether they’re encapsulated in class, religion or social convention. To a greater or lesser degree, there is an acknowledgment of the forces that propel emotions and actions, and the development of a culture of self-examination and self-discipline. It’s therefore expected and required that people exercise control over themselves according to the needs of safety, ethics and politics.
Which is why I was so shocked that those, who declare themselves to be on the political left and/or feminists, who would consider themselves to be more socially conscious and ethical, chose to watch the beheading of James Foley. What political beliefs, morality and above all – humanity did they engage by making that choice?
What dignity was accorded to James Foley and in turn, to themselves?
There’s no need, necessity or excuse for watching acts of barbarism – wherever you are on the political spectrum.
(It’s recently been suggested that the video was staged and didn’t show the actual murder, that the murder of James Foley took place off-camera. Whether it’s fake or not, the fact is that when the video was released it was believed to be true by everyone).