When Shakespeare summed up human failings, he could be devastating. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." was not written to flatter us, but rather to confirm that we are all beasts, and many of us monstrous beasts. I thought of this recently as I examined a dozen atrocity photos shared I.S.I.S. warriors in Syria, who were not content with executing captives, but felt the need to go further. They decided to cut off their heads and make a display of the gory trophies.
An I.S.I.S. selfie posted on TWITTER. Head-hunting shots flatter the beast.
He was born in the Netherlands, but his heart burned for an ISIL homeland.
The idea here is the killing of the "near enemy" or impure Muslims. The
killing of the "distant enemy" we impure Westerners, can wait for now.
SELFIES FROM SYRIA
Consider the two men in the photos, one a passport holder from the Netherlands and the other from Australia. Don't let the beards fool you. Not long ago these fellows were living on our side of the divide, sitting in a food court at some generic shopping mall, cheap baseball caps on their heads, munching on junk food. You would not have given them a second glance, and they found that infuriating. With these photos they spit in your salad, do they not? 2013 was declared the Year of the Selfie, so what did thousands of angry Muslim youth do? They flew to a war zone beyond American military supervision, where they could trump one of the most odious forms of narcissist Western expressionism - the Selfie. (Even the Obama's employ the SELFIE gimmick without any hint of irony.) Now we have the head-hunting selfie. Bravo fellows!
The Australian press made a big deal out of the fact
that this immigrant, Mohamed Elomar, abused their passport,
not to mention Aussie hospitality. It's easy to be offended, and
many are these days, but harder to act.
There is nothing new in this of course. My ancestors were warrior Celts of the West European forests and river valleys. They were tribesmen who took heads whenever they felt the urge to publicize their fearsome courage. They also successfully resisted the military power of the Roman Empire - less so the cultural intrusions which they considered a spiritual pollution. The declaration of a new I.S.I.L. "caliphate" in territories which were reallocate by the Imperial British and the Imperial French, is a startling new reality. The wheel of history is turning. We will get used to radical Islam, or we won't. In the Hollywood war fantasy - ALIENS - Corporal Hicks, the sturdy Colonial Marine decides on Armageddon. "We'll nuke 'em from orbit. It's the only way to be sure." Real life solutions are a bit trickier. We cannot ever nuke our home world. Nuclear warheads are not an option for all the obvious reasons, but where is that antibiotic, the magic bullet, capable of flushing the homicidal beasts who infect our pluralistic societies?
A reconstruction of broken limestone statuary excavated in France -
a Celt hero figure, circa 300 BC, displays head trophies for all eternity.
Roman Legionnaires smashed it to bits, fearing its power to incite resistance.
If you are interested in the significance of head trophies, there is a mass of archeological evidence and art history which documents its function. The only thing at all humorous about the atrocities we have seen committed (recently) in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, (and even more so in Mexico) is that the bearded beasts really think they have invented something new, when in fact they are reverting to something very ancient. Head hunting has never completely disappeared from our world, any more than have cannibalism or even the plague. As disgusting as the war-porn has become, it could get worse. So far at least we haven't witnessed full-reversion to the bloody ape, although recent African conflicts drew us very close indeed. The Neanderthal would crack the human skull open to access the sweet brain. So far the Islamic Jihadists have refrained, but consumption of human flesh was witnessed in at least three recent war zones in sub-Saharan Africa. The beasts are stirring.
A stone head grasped by the hand of a Chieftain. In a fusion of sorts,
the Greco - Roman form of expression (sculpture in stone) was used to
immortalize Celt values - the Hero-Warrior displaying his trophies.
What is really ironic about the Islamic use of the ancient head-hunting motif, is that it has kindled interest in comparable Celtic symbolism in Western Europe, particularly in those countries where the hyper-vigilant police jump on any display of Nazi regalia, even when it appears in non-authentic, stylized form. There is a huge European sub--culture now collecting, re-interpreting and sharing pagan symbolism, and much of it informs their political idealism. For some, aggressive images on a T-shirt or a banner are a manifesto, and the sword or gun pose is too cliche. A severed head, held high, is an arresting image which cannot be ignored. One can safely predict that when the next European war breaks out, possibly in the 'balkanized' Balkans, the display of head trophies will finally return to European warfare... shared of course on Facebook and Twitter.