A terror group that’s too radical, too ruthless for al Qaeda is certainly not one to be trifled with. Theirs was a marriage of convenience that ended in divorce earlier this year.
By that time, the Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIS), had already embarked on a malevolent manoeuvre to redraw the map of West Asia. And to win the battle of competitive jihad against a rival with a head start, it had to cross the Rubicon to a path of unrivalled savagery.
When ISIS decapitated British aid worker David Haines recently, the group was announcing to the world — for the third time in a month — that the point of terrorism is spectacle, and its purpose to strike fear into the hearts of opponents to win political concessions.
Beheading has a gruesome allure, especially in modern civilisation, and the footage showing the horror of death in graphic detail is widely consumed.
It’s certainly fatuous to suppose that Islam has nothing to do with this guillotining fetish. But if you have to blame the orgy of violence on one book, then Lewis Carrolls’ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is as good a contender as the Quran.
After all, ISIS aspires to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under the political control of its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, and representatives of the last such Islamic State matched the Queen of Hearts’ penchant for chopping off heads.
In 1389, according to several chronicles, after vanquishing the Christian Serbs in the battle of Kosovo, the Ottoman army beheaded the rival king and scores of prisoners.
At the battle of Varna in 1444, the Turkish state decapitated King Ladislaus of Hungary and “put his head at the tip of a long pike … and brandished it toward the Poles and Hungarians.
In 1456, the sultan allowed the grand mufti of the empire to personally decapitate King Stephen of Bosnia and his sons — even though they had surrendered. Seven decades later, the empire ordered the guillotining of 2,000 Hungarian prisoners.
In the early nineteenth century, even the British lost their heads before the Ottoman scimitar. An 1807 voyage to Egypt resulted in “a few hundred spiked British heads left rotting in the sun outside Rosetta.”
Terrorism is propaganda by the deed and fear is a uniquely effective weapon.
There’s a method in the ISIS’ madness and it’s working, for now.