(RNS) The video released by the Islamic State of the immolation of Jordanian pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh reached new heights of horror in the self-proclaimed Caliphate. And it raises the troubling question: what will the Islamic State do for an encore?
First Lieutenant al-Kaseasbeh had been held by the Islamic State since his F-16 went down near the Islamic State’s capital Raqqa last December. Though the video of his grisly death was released this week, Lt. al-Kaseasbeh might have been killed weeks ago. In response, Jordan immediately executed two jihadist prisoners.
The Islamic State has made grim theater of its war crimes. The beheading of American photojournalist James Foley established its trademark imagery, with a stark desert setting, a masked, black-clad executioner, and Foley in an American-style orange prison jumpsuit. Since then the Islamic State has released a number of similar videos, the latest showing the murder of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.
But the shock value of the videos was wearing off. Public beheading is a common enough form of execution in that part of the world. The plaza where executions take place in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh is known locally as “chop-chop square.” And western coverage of the execution videos was fading after the initial outrage last summer. Perhaps the Islamic State leadership thought that the world was tuning out, seeing the same scene, the same message and the same ghastly outcome. So they kicked it up to a new level of dreadfulness.
Being burned alive in a cage was only one possible fate for Lt. al-Kaseasbeh. Last December, in a video addressed to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a veiled woman representing “Muslim mothers” argued that beheading was too humane for the Jordanian pilot. She recommended that al-Kaseasbeh be subjected to a traditional Ottoman method of execution called the Khazouk in which the victim is impaled with a thick spike hammered up his rectum and through the torso. She felt that this would deter other foreign pilots from flying missions against the Islamic State. And we may yet see the Khazouk on Youtube.
The ritualistic, slickly produced, highly publicized execution videos are only one layer of the brutality of life under the Islamic State. Stoning is another common method of execution, particularly against women who are accused of infidelity, blasphemy or other often concocted crimes. Homosexuals may be hanged, stoned or thrown off buildings. In one recent case, a gay man was thrown off a seven story building in Raqqa, and when he somehow survived the fall, his ISIS tormentors finished the job by stoning him.
This week, the United Nations reported on the Islamic State’s practice of crucifying children when it wasn’t convenient to simply bury them alive.
Captured women and even girls as young as 12 are used as sex slaves. Some commit suicide rather than continue to submit to the ongoing torture. Random violence, ethnic cleansing and forced conversions, fuel shortages and disease spread by unclean drinking water, are all daily facts of life for people under the control of the Caliphate.
The execution videos show us that the Islamic State is not ashamed of what they are doing. They are proud of it. They want the world to know about it. They see themselves as fulfilling a religious duty by slaughtering people in the most gruesome way possible. The images of Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh’s horrible death are not the last we will see from the Islamic State, and probably not the most shocking. We can only imagine what would happen if the Islamic State got their hands on an American pilot. And we wonder what would constitute a proportionate response.
(James S. Robbins is author of “The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero.” He wrote this editorial for USA Today.)