This was not a random act of violence
The James Foley beheading is ultimately a horrific scene, but in creating it, ISIS has made some significant and intelligent creative choices that are unique, and provide substantial insight into the enemy we face. The video starts with Barack Obama coldly laying out his justification for attacking ISIS in what is unfortunately a dispassionate, disinterested and uninspiring tone. His disdain for intervention in the Middle East could not be more clear and he comes across as tired, worn out and reluctant. They cut to the overhead imagery of a bomb being dropped, presumably in Iraq. The title of the video is “A Message to America”. The video quality is clear, the sound is crisp, and the imagery appropriate to the message throughout. This introduction is mostly Obama (and the Arabic textual translation) and lasts about two minutes.
As indicated in the title the target audience is America and the west, but the translation, tone and imagery will speak volumes to the Muslim world. This in and of itself is telling in where ISIS considers its support base to be, and where it thinks it can gain influence. Mr. Foley has been coerced into to making a cohesive statement about ISIS grievances with the United States. He articulates an unreasonable but rational justification for his own death. He then makes an emotional argument against American intervention via the an appeal to his brother, a pilot in the U. S. Air Force, to think about who he is victimizing. Lastly he creates an emotional connection with his audience by discussing his wish for a future with his family that he cannot not have. He ends his speech with “all in all, I wish I wasn’t an American” thereby, expressing his personal disagreement with the American polices. Rational thought processes, emotional connections and audience manipulation are not the techniques of amateurs. James did not make this up on the fly, nor without substantial guidance and probably coercion from his captors.
This was very well scripted. Throughout the speech, Mr. Foley is calm, collected, well spoken and very well rehearsed. For a man who is explaining why he is about to be murdered – he is too calm. My suspicion is that he has “rehearsed” this speech many times, and believes this to be yet another rehearsal. The calm on his part is a critical component to this video that his murderers intentionally captured on video. Fear creates discomfort in human beings and we can hear it in the voice, and see it on the face of any other living being. If that fear were present, it would create what is called cognitive dissonance – a emotional disconnect with the message. Mr. Foley was not afraid, and therefore he did not evoke the natural disconnect from his message that would otherwise have been felt.
His murderer stands confidently, and patiently next to Mr. Foley as if listening respectfully to what he has to say. It is filmed outside, in the light of day for all to see. They are not hiding in a basement, because they want to give the impression that they are in control of the area and the conditions in their Islamic State. Mr. Foley is kneeling and his murderer is standing to create the subliminal illusion that ISIS is significantly larger and clearly in complete control of its small American captive. We are now 3.5 minutes into a 4.5 minute video. When the murderer begins to speak, he grasps the collar of the orange jump suit behind the neck of his victim, like one would grab the collar of a dog, to reiterate his complete control.
They selected a UK educated (if not born) murderer. English may or may not be his first language, but his command of the language is impressive and he has clearly spent a substantial amount of time in the UK. He speaks in English with a clear, precise, calm and educated tone and with perfect diction and grammar. He introduces Mr. Foley by his full name to acknowledge that he knows the human being he is about to kill. He does not preach, quote the Quran or speak down to his audience. He makes a clear statement that Obama and the U.S Government policy of attacking ISIS, not the American people are to blame for what he is about to do, there by attempting to give the impression to Islamic viewers that there is a difference between the American people and the American government.
He laid out a clear rationale for his actions, which largely parallel the justification used by Obama for the American airstrikes during the introduction. Unique to this video is the lack of a religious justification for his actions. This is not a religious fanatic, but the explanation of a state actor. Unlike Obama, James Foley’s murderer is passionate and engaged and he comes across as anything but tired. He makes the claim that the insurgency is over, and America is now attacking an Islamic Army in an Islamic State that Muslims have accepted. He claims aggression against the Muslim state, is aggression against all Muslims, and that Obama’s attacks are not allowing Muslims to live at peace in the Islamic caliphate. This is intended to make the case that America’s bombs are killing Muslim civilians and that this is the result. He spends less than 45 seconds making his case.
The murderer then calmly, but efficiently begins the process of beheading Mr. Foley at which point the camera cuts to black, and only some limited sound remains. The beheading is not done under screams of Allahu Akbar. The arterial blood spray is not shown. There are no screams of pain, nor sounds of choking. Once again, the cognitive dissonance created when seeing fellow human beings in pain is completely avoided. The next scene is Mr. Foley’s decapitated head placed in the middle of his back. It is designed to be shocking, and demonstrate that ISIS follows through with its threats. In this case they have done so in a very business like and controlled manner. The final scene is the murderer holding Steven Sotloff by the neck of his orange jump suit and telling Barack Obama that his next decision on American use of force will determine weather or not Mr. Sotloff lives or dies.
This video is in stark contrast to previous Islamic beheadings and specifically Al Qaeda beheading videos. The brutality depicted in Nick Berg’s beheading turned many supporters and eventually Al Qaeda itself against Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. This video is unlikely to evoke nearly as much backlash in the Muslim world. From a messaging standpoint, every thing is translated on screen into Arabic, and every subliminal message is that we (The Islamic State) are in control.
In my opinion this is one of the the most impressive quality video messages to emerge from Islamic terrorists to date. That does not in any way excuse their brutality nor their barbarous behavior, against Mr. Foley, and probably hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis in the past two years. In fact the intelligent production indicates they know and understand exactly what effect their brutality is having.
This is a living breathing example of what it means to have an Islamic Caliphate on the face of the earth. This is the face of Islam we are now dealing with. Call them extremist Islam, or whatever you choose but there is no compatibility between humanity and this growing disease that is ISIS. This is a disease that Barack Obama’s inaction in Syria, and his foreign policy failings throughout the globe have created. Unfortunately he and his advisors lack the skill, experience and spine to effectively deal with it.
Our prayers for The Foley Family, and our condolences for their loss.
~ Patrick Henry
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