By Mark Steyn
A few days ago, James Foley was beheaded by an ISIS jihadist, apparently British by upbringing and passport, if not in his primary identity. The decapitation of an American by an outfit he'd previously dismissed as the "jayvees" of jihad was sufficiently serious for President Obama to postpone his tee time, although not to any useful effect. Aside from the fake, tinny chumminess (all "Jim" this, "Jim that, just as for Ambassador Stevens it was all "Chris" this, "Chris that") the commander-in-chief reserves for the victims of an enemy he assured us was on the run, Obama's remarks were fatuous even by his own recent standards, and did not long delay his arrival at the links. As his courtiers at The New York Times assured us with touching if unwitting accuracy:
Obama, Outraged Over Beheading, Vows to Stay on Course
While he stays on the course at the Vineyard Golf Club, the rest of us have to make do with the pabulum of his prompter:
One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.
As I was driving back from Quebec to New Hampshire today, I heard a host on CJAD express agreement with the President on this. And why not? It demands nothing of one. It makes ISIS sound like a social faux pas: one thing we can all agree on is that no one wears white after Labor Day or saws your head off after the year 2000.
Unfortunately, it's not true. Thousands of people apparently enjoy decapitation, and certainly more than did in the late 20th century, and certainly far more British, Dutch, German, Belgian, and other European nationals than have done since medieval times. And many more citizens of western nations with no particular desire to behead anyone themselves nevertheless enjoy it as a spectator sport. Prissily declaring that something "has no place" is all too typical of Obama, a man who seems to think the 18th hole is the moral high ground. But what the has-no-place posturing boils down to is: its place is more secure than ever and he's not going to do a thing about it.
My book, The Face Of The Tiger, takes its title from something I wrote twelve years ago - after another beheading, of another American journalist. It is deeply depressing a decade and more on to find all the delusional boilerplate virtually unchanged - not least the assurance that this is nothing to do with Islam, thereby absolving all those hundreds of millions of alleged "moderate Muslims" from the obligation to do anything about it. Twelve years ago I wrote:
Three weeks ago, Robert Fisk, the Middle East Correspondent of Britain's Independent, offered a familiar argument to Pearl's kidnappers: killing the American would be "a major blunder, an own goal of the worst kind", "the best way of ensuring that the suffering" – of Kashmiris, Afghans, Palestinians, whatever – "goes unrecorded". Others peddled a similar line: if you release Daniel, he'll be able to tell your story, get your message out.Somehow we keep missing the point: the story did get out; the severed head is the message.
And that was before so-called "social media". Today the severed heads are still the message, and they're promoted very effectively through Twitter and Facebook and YouTube. It took seven minutes for Mr Foley's British executioner to kill him, but it still went "viral". Isis use social media like celebrities do - to increase their cool. Michelle Obama and the other bigshots who signed on to "#BringBackOurGirls" (how'd that work out?) use social media to advertise our passivity - to remind the world that we don't pursue strategy, merely strike attitudes.
Here's part of what I had to say about that first post-9/11 decapitation - back when it was still novel, in that day before yesterday when the sight of headless schoolgirls dead on the ground was not yet "trending":
There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
THE SMILE on the face of the tiger is the video recording of the death of Daniel Pearl. What an accomplished production it sounds. According to Pakistani authorities, somewhere between five and eight persons were present to choreograph and record the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter. They wanted to get it right, and, from their point of view, they did. The Arab News describes the video thus:
As he finishes the statement, a hand appears from behind and grabs his head, while another hand appears and with a sharp-edged weapon cuts his throat.
In an artistic touch, the camera zooms in for a close-up of Pearl's severed head. See? He is an American and a Jew. We hit the jackpot! And then we cut his head off. A pity the filthy Hollywood infidels have closed their Oscar nominations, or we'd be a sure thing for Best Foreign Short.Three weeks ago, Robert Fisk, the Middle East Correspondent of Britain's Independent, offered a familiar argument to Pearl's kidnappers: killing the American would be "a major blunder, an own goal of the worst kind", "the best way of ensuring that the suffering" – of Kashmiris, Afghans, Palestinians, whatever – "goes unrecorded". Others peddled a similar line: if you release Daniel, he'll be able to tell your story, get your message out.Somehow we keep missing the point: the story did get out; the severed head is the message. By now, the tape has been duplicated, and re-duplicated, and copies are circulating through the bazaars and madrassahs. Apparently, it's even for sale on the Internet. It's a recruitment video – join the jihad, meet interesting people, and behead them – and a training video, too: this is how you do it – the statement, the knife, the defilement of the corpse. But in a more profound sense it's a boast, an act of self-congratulation, a pat on the back for a job well done: the smile on the face of the tiger.Daniel Pearl reckoned he could ride the tiger: he was promised a meeting with an Islamofascist bigwig, so he got in a car with intermediaries he thought he knew. George Jonas wrote a brilliant column the other day on the delusions of those who think they can "establish a 'dialogue' with fanatics" or, as some of Pearl's friends put it, "bridge the misconceptions". The "misconception", presumably, is that these men are ruthless, violent, depraved. As surely we know by now, the only misconception is that that's a misconception.Pearl thought he had won their trust, that they had accepted him as a honest broker, recognized his genuine sympathy for Muslim suffering, were willing to treat with him as one human being to another. But in the end they saw none of that: to them, he was an American, a Jew, a trophy. So they set a trap. According to one witness in a Karachi court, Omar Sheikh boasted two days beforehand that they were about to seize someone who was "anti-Islam and a Jew". By the time Robert Fisk issued his plea for mercy on February 4th, Pearl was already dead.In Saturday's Independent, Fisk reflected on the death of the man described as his friend: "But why was he killed? Because he was a Westerner, a 'Kaffir'? Because he was an American? Or because he was a journalist?" Anyone spot the missing category? It's the one Omar Sheikh used, and the one acknowledged by Daniel Pearl in his last words: "Yes, I am a Jew…" Fisk can't bring himself to use the word in the entire column. Full disclosure: after noodling incoherently around possible reasons for the murder, Fisk settles on a "shameful, unethical headline" over an "article by Mark Steyn" in Pearl's own Wall Street Journal. It was about Fisk's bloody beating by an Afghan mob in Pakistan last December, after which he said that, in their shoes, "I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find." It's not their fault, he insisted, their "brutality is entirely the product of others". As Fisk sees it, the mob who attacked him were "truly innocent of any crime except being the victim of the world". In The Wall Street Journal, I called this "Fiskal responsibility – it's always the Great Satan's fault."Insofar as there's any connection between the mugging of this vain buffoon and the murder of Daniel Pearl, it's this: History repeats itself, but, in this instance, the usual order – tragedy's recapitulation as farce – has been reversed. Is it too much to hope that militant Islam's apologists might finally put an end to their own "misconceptions"? Islam is not "the victim of the world", but the victim of itself. Omar Sheikh is a British public schoolboy, a graduate of the London School of Economics, and, like Osama and Mohammed Atta, a monument to the peculiar burdens of a non-deprived childhood in the Muslim world. Give 'em an e-mail address and they use it for kidnap notes. Give 'em a camcorder and they make a snuff video.Let's assume that all the chips fell the jihadis' way, that they recruited enough volunteers to be able to kidnap and decapitate every single Jew in Palestine. Then what? Muslims would still be, as Pakistan's General Musharraf told a conference the other day, "the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward, the most unhealthy, the most unenlightened, the most deprived, and the weakest of all the human race." Who would "the victim of the world" blame next? The evidence of the Sudan, Nigeria, and other parts of Africa suggests that, when there are no Jews to hand, the Islamofascists happily make do with killing Christians. In Kashmir, it's the Hindus' fault. There's always someone.
The above is from my book, The Face Of The Tiger. I concluded with a bit of advice to General Musharraf:
He can try to ride the tiger, or resolve to kill it and hang it in his trophy room.
But that applies to us, too. For thirteen years, we have shied away from directly confronting the ideology, preferring to disrupt only its symptoms - bomb plots, and airline attacks. And in that thirteen years the ideology has metastasized within the cocoon of western denial - so that the men barely out of short trousers on 9/11 now flock to fight for an organization that Obama assures us "has no place in the 21st century". If the evasive pap spouted by the President the other day is the best the west can do, then we will lose.