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Are we regressing into savagery?

Global public opinion must align itself to fight acts against humanity, whether they are committed by terrorist groups like Daesh or the so-called champions of human rights

The images captured by mobile cameras flicker across the television screen, much in the manner of old Hollywood wild-west movies. The blue waves of the Mediterranean turn crimson with the blood of Egyptian workers in Libya, transforming the small screen into an inferno of bloody rivulets.

And yet again, as I sit a spectator to Daesh’s (self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) brand of brutality and ruthless violence, the question that begs an answer is: Have we regressed into the savages like those at the dawn of civilisation? Is the challenge of surviving this century, which has witnessed a new low in human barbarism, far greater than anticipated?

While German legend of Faust solicited favours with the devil in lieu of his soul, Daesh is not looking for any such pacts, fully aware of our voyeuristic taste for violence and its associated imagery.

French philosopher Denis Diderot saw the return of civilised people to barbarism as a much natural and easier progression than the other way round. The Islamic civilisation seems set on this trajectory of doom. From being a great and enlightened civilisation, that hugely contributed to the development of scientific knowledge and thought, to laying the foundations of a secular social structure based on equality, equal opportunity and non-discrimination on the basis of caste, colour and creed, to the very idea of coexistence with other faiths, the Muslim world’s fall from grace has been swift. The 21st century witnessed an accelerated descent into an intellectual, spiritual, moral and, more specifically, a religious morass. Daesh’s beliefs signal the return to the most appalling form of barbarism and savagery.

What is appalling is not only the cycle of violence, but also the fashion in which it manifests itself on television screens — images of helpless hostages, slaughtered like animals on azure idyllic beaches. Daesh is well aware of the fact that the world has seen way too much violence to bother about some more. Hence, it adopts extreme violence as its trademark.

The strategy is paying off, as we sit in our living rooms witnessing or are forced to witness, the most macabre scenes, sickened to our very guts yet as helpless as the victims. Managing a Hollywood-style dominance on airtime, Daesh, much like its victims, has slaughtered all the alternative narratives in the Muslim world, whether political or apolitical.

The scenes of violence no longer seek an audience in public squares, as in the times of Voltaire, but amidst the comfort of family living rooms, obliterating the space between criminals who kill innocent people and the innocent people within the confines of their homes — with many I must say, deriving sadistic pleasure watching the savagery unfold.

The US should be credited with the current state of affairs, opening the 21st century on a colonialist note, creating extremist groups in the face of the Soviet enemy in Afghanistan and the migration of its wars to other people and countries. And it was this war that came home to America on 9/11. The subsequent invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and multiple such camps across the country raised the bar for savagery and brutality, thus laying a strong foundation for the savagery of Daesh and the sectarian militias aligned against it. They did in public what the US chose to do in private.

The inhumanity perpetuated in Iraq catalysed a whole new culture of brutal torture and psychological warfare. The American soldiers who did not find people to kill in the streets of Baghdad, directed their fire towards cows or any other cattle as part of a military exercise. Do we even need to mention the organised siege of Iraq for 13 years that not only killed its people — men, women and children — but was also aimed at the systemic destruction of every shred of civilisation, culture and history, thus forcing into medieval retreat a proud and rich civilisation.

Huge volumes have been written about Nazi Germany, but Iraq most certainly would surpass those accounts both by the number of volumes and the degree of brutality, if at all its recent history was to be documented. The only thing that would change in the narrative would perhaps be the actors perpetuating the brutality, the baton having passed on from American soldiers to Daesh and the sectarian militias.

We have read about the Vietcong terrorists who cut-off heads, disemboweled and castrated victims, cut-off limbs and burned dozens of villages to exterminate countless innocent Vietnamese southerners. The same thing is happening in Iraq. Americans are not the only ones who have carried out these massacres. Israel has committed atrocities against the Palestinians, with its internal security agency Shin Bet practising torture. Iraqis themselves did just as well. We remember sectarian militias killing Gypsies on the pretext of exterminating evil. Then there was the Saddam Hussain regime’s execution of prostitutes, placing the decapitated heads on the doorsteps of their homes to serve as a lesson for others.

Is there any hope left as the human race seems to be changing in the wake of a terrible spiritual emptiness?

On October 26, 1932, Stalin, addressing a congregation of writers assembled in Maxim Gorky’s house, said: “We need human souls more than we need machines, tanks and aircraft.”

Yet, the size of military budgets of Arab nations and the arms transactions are overwhelming.

Man invented torture to gain superiority over other creatures. We are aware that Babylonian criminals were executed by stoning or being sawed into halves or through burning — a practice followed by Persians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans with equal aplomb. The ancient Greeks considered torture as a means of extracting truth, with Aristotle paying a heavy price. But looking at Daesh, one wonders if the Middle East has surpassed the cruellest regimes to redefine torture. History shows that regimes have either been discreet or justify acts that go against humanity through parallel narratives. The alibi of Iraq manufacturing weapons of mass destruction is a classic example, wherein destruction of that country was legitimised through fear psychosis and building public opinion in favour of an unjustified war and subsequent occupation.

But Daesh is not interested in any excuses. It is unapologetic about the slaughter of human beings. They are equally unapologetic about the savagery of their crimes. Aghast, I watch Muath Al Kaseasbeh being burnt. I have no explanations to give. I can only hope that the world and global public opinion aligns itself to fight such acts against humanity, whether they are committed by terrorist groups like Daesh or the so-called champions of human rights who play a different tune whenever it suits them — countries like the US.

Dr Shakir Noori is a journalist and professor in Media and Public Relations at Al Ghurair University, Dubai.

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