David Ignatius: The hooded face of evil

Oklahoman Published: August 24, 2014
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The propagandists of the Islamic State must have imagined that their brutal video of the beheading of journalist James Foley would intimidate and terrorize the world. But people aren’t built that way, not in Muslim countries or anywhere else. When they see sadistic, uncivilized behavior, they are disgusted — and angry.

President Obama spoke with special precision and moral clarity in reacting to the video’s release Wednesday. The Islamic State, he said, “speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.”

The videotaped beheading was a sign of the Islamic State’s weakness, not its strength. “People like this ultimately fail,” Obama explained. “They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.” He spoke, as a president must, about the consequences of killing U.S. civilians: “We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.”

The life and death of Osama bin Laden illustrate why the terrorist strategy is destined to fail — if civilized nations maintain their will. Obama authorized the mission that pursued the al-Qaida leader to his lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But in the months before his death, bin Laden knew he had failed.

Documents taken from his hideout show that in his final days, bin Laden was haunted by the mistakes al-Qaida had made. The organization’s wanton killing had appalled and alienated Muslims, to the point that bin Laden wondered if the group should rebrand itself as a less toxic force. He even suggested 10 alternative names that might sound better to the world’s ears.

Bin Laden reflected in a draft letter about “miscalculations” and “unnecessary civilian casualties” that were hurting the jihadist cause. “Making these mistakes is a great issue,” he said, noting that taking “Muslim blood” had resulted in “the alienation of most of the nation (of Islam).” Local al-Qaida leaders should “apologize and be held responsible for what happened.”

This week’s macabre executioner, robed in black, traces his jihadist lineage to the very people bin Laden was condemning, the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq. Call their successor ISIL, or ISIS, or the Islamic State — the group has chosen to debase itself with the most extreme and bloodthirsty version of Muslim revolt. Its actions and boasts are a kind of jihadist fantasy, celebrating the pornographic violence of religious killing with beheadings and crucifixions and genocidal assaults on Shiite Muslims, Yazidis, Christians and dissenting Sunnis.

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