Almost 13 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al-Qaida, Americans retain the capacity to be shocked by an outrageous act of terrorism.
A video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley at the hands of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorists hit us with the force of a heavy blow Tuesday. Revolting. Disgusting. Savage. And let’s add at least one more, we are infuriated.
The brutal murder of Foley, a 40-year-old freelance journalist, stirs so many emotions, including the desire to do something, anything, to stop the Islamic State’s lethal march across Syria and Iraq.
We want justice for Foley, but we want it also for those terrorized by ISIS across the Middle East, a figure which numbers in the thousands.
Speaking Wednesday, President Barack Obama said of ISIS, “People like this ultimately fail. They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy. The world is shaped by people like Jim Foley and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.”
Obama went on to vow, “When people harm Americans, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.” That’s reassuring. However, our pursuit of justice won’t be fulfilled solely through a bombing campaign of the sort used recently to protect a religious sect in northern Iraq that was under threat from ISIS.
Likewise, invasion and occupation won’t put down the violent jihadist impulses of the region, embodied now by the black-robed figures who pledge allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; just ask the Bush administration, which taught us a deadly and expensive lesson in hubris 10 years ago.
“Foley’s murder evokes sad and painful memories of the videotaped murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl,” writes Jon Lee Anderson on The New Yorker’s website. “That execution — of an innocent man, chosen for victimhood merely because of his nationality and, perhaps, his religion (Pearl was Jewish) — set the pattern, and a new benchmark for terrorists. Since then, hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, many of them noncombatants, have been similarly murdered, their last moments videotaped, at the hands of extremists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.”
What’s needed across the Middle East is the emergence of a movement of reasonable people who will not tolerate the bloodshed, the beheadings, the second-class status for women, who will not tolerate those who call for the creation of an Islamic caliphate. Such a movement will snuff out the impulses of terrorists like ISIS. Otherwise, the outrageous acts of violence only intensify.
As Anderson put it, “Yesterday’s guerrillas have given way to terrorists, and now terrorists have given way to this new band, who are something like serial killers.”
Compare that description to the one of Foley offered by his mother, Diane Foley: “We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.”