Thursday 23 September 2004

The nature of the enemy.

Laban Tall doesn't think people should watch or even link to the video of Eugene Armstrong being decapitated.

Exactly the same could be said of child pornography or rape videos. Why should a snuff video be different ? And the arguments against them are the same. These videos are made to be consumed. Given the difficulty of cutting supply, you must cut demand.

This is more than just a snuff video, though, isn't it? It's a statement of intent and an illustration of character.

I won't be going to look at the video, because I am already well aware that we are fighting a war against brutal, sadistic barbarians, so I don't need to see it demonstrated. But the Western world is full of people who still haven't got the message, who think that our enemies are ... well, they wouldn't even use the word "enemies". As James Woods put it:

A lot of my friends in Hollywood have actually said things like "Let's melt their hearts with hugs and love." It honestly doesn't work. So I respect people's sweetness for believing that you can melt the heart of Osama bin Laden with a hug, but you can't. The only solution to Osama bin Laden is a fucking 88-millimeter shell through his forehead.

The more we hide the true nature of the enemy, the less we challenge the Huggers. And they need to be challenged, because there's no way we can lose this war through military inferiority but every chance of losing it through public resistance. Gradually, people who used to want to appease terrorists are coming round to James Woods's point of view: witness the Israeli Left. The reason they're changing their minds is that they're coming face-to-face with what the enemy are really like.

Jonah Goldberg wrote about this in the wake of 9/11.

Well, I want to be disturbed. I say: Let's bring back the horror. Let's remind people what started this whole mess. Stop bathing us in the sentimentality of Sept. 11 babies being born and start reminding us why these newborns are without fathers in the first place.

... those things not actively remembered are easily forgotten. This is especially true of the moral lessons of history because there are people intensely interested in rewriting the moral history of America so that we are always the villains of the tale. The Founding Fathers are called greedy white racists, for example, because as a society we stopped reminding ourselves why they were the architects of the last best hope for mankind. This allowed those who want to make America the focus of evil in the modern world to work unopposed. And now what was once a point of consensus for most Americans is an ideological dispute.

Well, if the moral lesson of the Holocaust can only be kept alive through five decades of grisly footage, perhaps the U.S. could use a few more months of reminders about the morality of this war.


The images of people leaping to their deaths from the World Trade Center were carried around the world for weeks. Many have cited and credited these images with rallying world opinion to our cause. When visiting the United States, Hamid Karzai, the interim president of Afghanistan, singled out those images as the essence of the evil we face. By the evening of Sept. 11, the only place Americans could see these morally compelling images was foreign television. It is a rare thing in the history of humanity that the galvanizing images for a nation's war are more likely to be seen by the enemy than its own citizens.

A rare thing, and a bad thing.


Gary said...

There's a counter-argument to that, though, which is that the rise of what are effectively online snuff films has created a brand new propaganda channel for terrorism. Headline such as "1m net users download decapitation video" pretty much guarantee copycats.

I'm not convinced that such viewing will necessarily fuel revulsion, either: from what I've seen on the net, the sort of people who are linking to and talking about the video are treating it as another goatse or tubgirl (for crying out loud don't go looking for those pics if you're fortunate enough not to have seen them already. Trust me on that one), the "ooh! Look at the gross video!" thing that fuels sales of Bizarre magazine and hits to

I'm sure there are some people who *will* find the footage upsetting and will be affected by it, but there's many, many more people who see it as a twisted form of entertainment in much the same way they'll look at bizarre fetish sites or photos of motorcyclists' faces after a head-on with a bollard.

I suspect my faith in human nature isn't as strong as yours, which is ironic given your post about paranoia the other day.

Squander Two said...

As I've said before, I have total faith in human nature. But I think you & I are using the phrase to mean different things.

Seriously, though, it's odd that that's what you pick up from my post: a belief that people are basically nice. Quite the opposite: the world is full of murderous scum, which is exactly why this sort of video should be readily available: it helps us to identify and recognise what human nature is really like and what measures civilisation needs to take to suppress it. Same goes for the people you mention who think the video is in some way fun: knowing that so many such people exist is invaluable information, which tells us all sorts of things about the degradation of our society and the decline of morality. I'd rather we know about the problem so we can attempt to solve it than that we bury our heads in the sand.

My point is: the beheading happened. It still happened, no matter who watches the video. Lots of useful idiots are at pains to see the terrorists' point. Those people are still morally repugnant, no matter who watches the video, but its being available forces them to confront the reality of their theories. Lots of people among us think the video is entertaining. Those people are still amoral perverts, no matter whether they see the video, but its being available enables us to identify the rotten elements in our own society.

Squander Two said...

Remember a few years back that scandal about the video of state executions that was released? Massive public outcry that something so disgusting could be allowed to be sold, and lots of shops stopped stocking it. Its producers were an anti-death penalty organisation, who made the entirely reasonable point that the majority of British people support the reintroduction of the death penalty, yet those same people think that executions are so disgusting that they want any images of them banned. I'm a firm believer that people should see the consequences of their actions. If the death penalty were reintroduced in the UK, I believe every execution should be televised, so that people are forced to look at what they voted for.

Same principle here.

Gary said...

I think you're being a little naive about the sort of people who buy/watch this kind of stuff. Your typical Daily Mail hang-and-flog-em type isn't the same person who's going to rush out to HMV and buy a DVD of public executions, so it's not going to have any effect on changing perceptions at all. Same with the useful idiots: they're not going to watch the beheading footage.

I've mentioned Bizarre already: to my knowledge, it's the only UK magazine that published the uncensored shots of the horrific Russian air show crash. Severed heads, bloody limbs, headless corpses... and bought entirely by FHM types who pore through the telephone sex line ads later. It's a completely different audience, and those are the people who'd watch your televised executions.

Gary said...

Oh, and as for the DVD not being an exercise in voyeurism, Amazon knows best:

Squander Two said...

> "I think you're being a little naive about the sort of people who buy/watch this kind of stuff."

What, you mean the way I described them as degraded, immoral perverts, rotten elements of society? I know full well what people are like, I just disagree with you about the best way to deal with them.

> "Your typical Daily Mail hang-and-flog-em type isn't the same person who's going to rush out to HMV and buy a DVD of public executions, so it's not going to have any effect on changing perceptions at all."

Just to clarify: they don't need to watch it to have their opinions changed. The Executions video did have an effect on people, simply by causing such controversy in the first place. It highlighted the hypocrisy of most of the people in this country who support a policy that they find so disgusting they don't think anyone should see it. (Oh, and I'd have executions televised as the first item on every news bulletin. Make them a bit trickier to avoid.)

It's a similar thing with this video. So far, in Britain, we thankfully haven't had to get very close to Islamist terrorism. I think that'll change, probably soon, but, for now, it's very easy for people to think about the terrorists entirely theoretically without letting any reality intrude. It doesn't matter whether a Guardianista sees the video (though I'd rather they did); it matters that some of the people with whom they're arguing see it. When you read yet another piece about how the terrorists have been forced into what are really quite reasonable methods of airing their legitimate political demands, your reaction to that will be very different depending on whether you've seen what's being apologised for, but even just knowing that the video's out there and being voyeuristically enjoyed by people you think of as immoral scum is enough to make the apologetics seem that much more deranged.

And I think, when we do get a big attack in the UK (inevitable as long as Blunkett keeps cracking down on civilians instead of terrorists), you'll see a lot of attitudes change. It's harder to find a video of a gruesome murder enjoyable when the murderers are the same guys who killed your girlfriend. Puts it in a new light.

Finally, I return your attention to the Israeli Left. All the footage you mention from the Russian air crash -- severed heads, mangled corpses, etc -- was available on a daily basis in the Israeli press. The result wasn't hordes of masturbatory fantasists slavering over the sight of dead Jews (though I know there were plenty of them); the result was that the Israeli Left decided that they'd given peace a chance for quite long enough, that it wasn't working, and that the best thing to do with an enemy is to defeat it.

As for the cunts who did enjoy the footage of the suicide bombers' victims, I for one am happier (or less angry, at least) knowing they're out there and having some idea of who they are. There's no point going through life deluded that people are nice; it's important to have reminders of what they're really like.

What's your view on footage of 9/11? If video of one murder is bad, then presumably video of 3000 is worse? And, even though it wasn't the murderers who did the filming, it was intended, just like this latest video, to be viewed. We know for a fact that there are people who enjoy the footage. I don't think that's a reason to suppress it.