By their works they shall be judged.
If there's one thing more distasteful than people watching the video and then boasting about doing so, it's those who say to watch it is to be complicit, to play into Islamic State's hands. It's the exact same point as was made after the hacking of celebrities' cloud accounts, only slightly modified. Not only is the message delivered invariably in a sanctimonious, holier than thou style, it also jars precisely because they're talking about something they don't want you to see, which in psychology terms rather defeats the object. Suzanne Moore also wrote during last year's Gaza war that sharing graphic images of the conflict "devalued the currency of shared humanity". Rather, it gave the lie to Israeli claims of only targeting Hamas. The real hypocrisy is how sanitised the reporting of war is in the West, at least when our servicemen are involved. The same injuries from bombing have been inflicted by British and American pilots in Afghanistan and Iraq, but only when journalists are directly caught up in it, as John Simpson was, do we see the true horror.
The fact is the media has an increasingly bizarre and idiosyncratic attitude to just what the public can and can't handle on their front pages or news channels. The denouement of hostage crises, as we saw on a Friday last month, can be shown in real time and no one bats an eye-lid as long as there isn't any viscera in the frame. Crazed killers who reacted badly to sensationalist media coverage will have their last moments recorded and played back as soon as possible for your delectation, and hardly anyone will speak up and say this is a new low. Show the real, immediate aftermath of an airstrike though, and I don't mean the gray from the air footage released by the military, a raid carried out not by terrorists or murderers but a democratic state, and many will begin to squirm and come up with reasons as to why it shouldn't be viewed.
There is a line to be drawn, obviously, and on the whole the right decisions are usually made. As yesterday's post likely made clear, I've watched a lot of jihadist video releases down the years, mostly from Iraq. I could say I did so in order to be better informed, to know your enemy, and that would certainly be part of the truth. Was part of it also curiosity though? Well, yes, and I defy anyone to say they haven't sought out material that challenged them in some way at some point, whatever it may have been. I'm not a gorehound by any means, and watching such things hasn't desensitised me in any way, shape or form. If anything, it's furthered my loathing of cruelty, my suspicion of getting involved in wars where the realities are cloaked behind a curtain. Often the attitude of dedicated researchers or experts, as voiced in the Graun's piece, appears to be only we are capable of analysing such videos and statements in a clinical manner, and to allow the hoi polloi to see them is unthinkable. Indeed, anyone in this country who watches videos by Islamic State is likely to be committing a criminal offence. To merely have in your possession a digital copy of Inspire magazine is to risk jail.
Without doubt, some of the reaction is down to the very fact you're capable of making the choice to click, rather than it being in the control of those judged to know better. Whether such a video should be as easily available as Fox News has decided to make it is dubious, if only because the more clicks or searches needed to find something, the more likely those who in their heart of hearts don't want to see it will step back. There have been times when I've thought long and hard about describing certain things on this blog, but often the decision I've reached is they need to be confronted and talked about, precisely because we all too often blanch from doing so. Many seem to prefer not to remain ignorant, but to just not know. My aim yesterday was to describe Muadh al-Kasasbeh's suffering as respectfully, accurately and calmly as I could, for anyone who did want to know but didn't want to see for themselves. The very last thing I would say is anyone should watch it; as others who have done said, including the likes of Jeremy Bowen, it is without exaggeration among the most horrific things I have ever seen, if not the most horrific.
That's why it's not enough to just write Muadh al-Kasasbeh was burned alive and leave it at that. To view what Islamic State did (as an aside, calling groups what they call themselves, regardless of their delusions of grandeur, is not to confer legitimacy on them) is not to be complicit in it. I didn't feel rage, as I did watching the previous video of the mass beheading of Syrians, which was precisely what they wanted me to feel but was at their disgusting arrogance, how it distilled the sickening narcissism of all murderers. No, I rather felt horror, sorrow and pity for their victim and all their victims. This is why it is nonsensical to say videos of their crimes are "superfluous and risk distracting us". No, they are documenting their own downfall. By such chronicling they will be known and judged. No one who doesn't want to see it has to, and no one should be judged for doing so.