"How can we not imagine someone we love in the hands of these
madmen? How can we not picture our husbands or wives, sons or
daughters, trembling and crying and pleading and weeping and
suffering such hideous psychological, and then physical, pain?
When I think of these beheadings my hands clench and unclench, my
teeth grind, and my brain spins around in circles. I want to
scream "Stop it!" at the top of my lungs - like a kindly
kindergarten teacher pushed over the edge by her charges' smirking
bad behavior. Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! These beheadings make me
feel as though our most precious possession, our civilization, is
under direct attack.
But beheadings have a long history, in the West as in the East, and
not just in the name of terrorism. There are at least two famous
beheadings in the Bible. David cut off Goliath's head after he was
dead, and Herod had John the Baptist's head cut off while he was
Man's inhumanity doesn't stop with the Bible. The guillotine,
created to be a "humane" method of execution, comes to mind. So does
the Coliseum of ancient Rome, the Inquisition, Vlad the Impaler, and
the Tower of London. Remember Mary, Queen of Scots?
And today we have Saudi Arabia, which has already given us Osama bin
Laden, al-Qaida and 9/11. On Fridays there, they cut off the hands
and feet of thieves and the heads of murderers, homosexuals and
those who practice "witchcraft," among other offenses. According to
Amnesty International, the Saudis have executed 1,409 men and women
between 1980 and November 2002, "and the real figure may be much
In Afghanistan, during the Taliban days, they held public beheadings
on Fridays in a stadium in Kabul. On an Islamic Web site called
Haimza, which claims it is "linking the Muslim community together on-
line," Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips explains why Friday is the
"We were instructed (by the Prophet) to carry out the cutting of
hands or heads, stoning people to death, lashing, etc. in public,
and the greatest gatherings of Muslims, excluding the two Eids and
Hajj, is on Fridays," he says. "It was the practice of the Prophet
to gather as many people from the community to witness the
implementation of the Islamic law."
Philips goes on to say that in Saudi Arabia, beheadings are a
deterrent to crime: "The number of murders which are committed in
Saudi Arabia in a year are less than the number of murders which are
committed in New York City in a week."
This is faulty reasoning. For the low crime rate in Saudi Arabia to
be attributable solely to the brutality of its justice system, you'd
have to first flood it with guns. Then see what happens.
The death penalty in any form is brutal, dehumanizing and
coarsening - look at our behavior at Abu Ghraib. It has proven so
unsuccessful as a deterrent against violent crime that most nations
have given it up.
Violence just breeds more violence. As a case in point, consider a
Reuters story out of Afghanistan last week: "Afghan soldiers
beheaded four Taliban fighters after guerrillas cut off the heads of
an Afghan interpreter for U.S.-led forces and an Afghan soldier."
Many Muslim leaders have suddenly become shocked, shocked, by the
recent terrorist beheadings. They fear a backlash, especially
against Muslims living in Europe.
According to a story last week in USA Today, Imam Mohamad Adam El-
Sheikh, co-founder and chief cleric at the Dar Al Hijrah mosque in
Falls Church, Va. says, "Beheadings are not mentioned in the Koran
at all. According to Islamic penal law, killers will be sentenced to
death, but the means of execution are not mentioned... Whoever did
(the beheadings), we don't condone this. They are not following
Islam. They are following their own whims."
Some suggest that terrorist beheadings are symbolic: the brutal
killing of one American is a symbol of killing all Americans.
"These radical Islamists see such acts as the ultimate symbols of
power over an enemy: horrific and utterly unambiguous examples of
ruthlessness," wrote Daniel J. Wakin in The New York Times last week.
Just after 9/11, we made jokes about bombing Afghanistan and Iraq
back to the Stone Age. Instead, it looks as if we just bombed
ourselves back there and took the whole world with us."