“Watch the video,” The Five’s Greg Gutfeld tells the American public, in reference to ISIS’ video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley. For Gutfeld, watching the video is a justified act because it can arouse a better understanding of the terror ISIS pledges against our country.
I can’t help but wonder, however, if watching a barbarous assassination of an innocuous life is the best way to gain a better understanding of the terror ISIS pledges against our country. Aren’t the images and reports enough? Or do I really need to watch a terrorist decapitate a fellow American, one whom I’ve never met, in order to understand ISIS’ barbarity?
Is it the only way to come to grips with the severity of the situation?
One thing is sure: Such a video can never be unseen.
I once read a blog on the subject of pornography and sex slavery that I think provides insight into what we might be doing when we watch a video like the James Foley beheading. The blog’s title was something along the lines of, “Want to stop sex trafficking? Stop watching porn.” The thrust of the blog was that pornographers vigorously record every click one makes on their websites. It also detailed the fact that most pornographic videos include women forced against their wills (sex slaves), and so the idea is that when you watch these inappropriate videos, you support sex trafficking.
I tend to wonder if ISIS has the same mentality for their beheading videos. I wonder what their videographers think when they see countless clicks from American states. And I wonder what the opposite would mean. Between having thousands of hits versus not having any hits, I wonder which scenario would encourage them to consider making another video.
This of course isn’t to say that not watching the video would solve the problem, only to say that watching the video might embolden it.
The truth is, I’m not sure the American public should have to, as Greg says, “watch the video” to understand that ISIS is a barbaric organization thirsty for American blood. Is it unreasonable to say that the act should be reserved for our National Security officials? These individuals can verify the legitimacy of the video and report that information to the public and our governing officials. Isn’t this why these security organizations exist?
Watching these kinds of videos might counteract why we elect these kinds of officials at all.
As much as I think about it, I don’t know what advantage my watching of the beheading videos would accomplish. I can only think of disadvantages. I think of Foley’s mom and dad, for example, who have to go to bed at night knowing that a video of their son’s brutal death is floating, like a child’s lost balloon, in the skies of the internet. I think of Foley’s final legacy, where he is forced to repeat anti-American propaganda at the hands of his murderers, something he was obviously forced to do. And I think of how clicking “play” in the safety of my living room might be interpreted in the treacherous deserts of Iraq.
Some might agree with Greg in saying that watching the video will help us understand the lethal brutality of ISIS, I’m just wondering how it might be viewed from the other side.
With all of this said, some important questions arise concerning what we as the American public should view or not view when it comes to similar situations. The 9/11 attacks and the Holocaust are some good examples, but I’m also thinking of things like the Boston Bombing, the images of the Malaysian airplane that was shot down in Ukraine, which included dead bodies, or even the fatal Nascar accident that took the life of Kevin Ward, Jr. The latter example isn’t a terrorist attack, but some of the same questions can be asked concerning the video.
In light of these questions, I wanted to articulate some thoughts concerning the subject:
First, the video footage of the Twin Towers collapsing was an important moment in the history of our country. While I understand that censoring the video today can be a respectful gesture to the families that lost loved ones in the attack (think if you lost a father, mother, spouse, or child and had to watch that scene over and over again every year on 9/11), I also fear that such censorship might keep much of our younger generation ignorant of the significance of that day. Whatever your thoughts, it’s certainly an emotional memory.
Second, there is a big difference between watching concrete collapse, even if we know there are living people suffering in it, than explicitly watching a man burn to death in the building. To take this further, I think that showing said video with the man’s identity posted at the bottom of the screen begins to cross questionable lines. And if that man was forced to read a monologue that obviously goes against his beliefs while another man tortures him, and if this was done to try and viralize the event, I think even more lines would be crossed in the active participation of watching such a video.
This is why the news will show the collapse of the World Trade Centers, but it won’t show the beheading of James Foley. There is a significant difference between the two.
Third, it’s important for Americans to be fully aware of the evil that resides in our world, and sometimes this means seeing things that we would otherwise not want to see. I have personally seen Holocaust images that I can never unsee, for example, mostly in museums designed to educate people on the event. Some of these have been beneficial in helping me pop the bubble I live in and secure a healthy understanding of the real evil in our world.
Perhaps the main question that every person needs to ask before viewing an image or watching a video like the James Foley beheading is this:
“Why am I watching this?”
This is to say, what is your motivation for watching the video or observing the still image? Is it to be educated or to scratch some kind of ungodly itch? I believe that we ought to be cautious with these particular beheading videos, because some believe that ISIS wants to use them to garner worldwide popularity. Thus, googling the video might only encourage their sinister minds to recreate the situation with another hostage, which has actually recently happened. In this, we might actually be promoting the death of James Foley, which is the opposite of what any good American would want to do.
Maybe the guiding philosophy for such events should be to “dwell,” as Paul writes, “on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, [and] whatever is of good repute” (Phil 4:8). I’m just not sure watching these ISIS videos falls into any of these categories.