The video released yesterday depicting the Islamic State’s beheading of American journalist James Foley proves two things: the character of an immensely courageous man and the purely evil nature of the Islamic State.
Recording this brutal beheading, the jihadist group thinks it’s being strategic. Its leaders — who likely hold a number of other Western hostages, and appeared to show one of them in the video — hope the video will terrorize America into leaving them alone. They believe that when we see Foley’s death in a barren wilderness, we’ll cede them their empire of death. Tellingly, and simultaneous with the video’s release, Islamic State supporters began tweeting associated threats.
The video, entitled “A Message to America,” begins with President Obama’s announcement of military operations against ISIS. It then transitions to a sandy hilltop, where James Foley kneels before a man in black coveralls and a full black mask. Foley is wearing an orange jumpsuit and begins to read a forced message: He is made to tell us that “he died” the day that America intervened against the Islamic State. He’s made to blame his brother, a U.S. Air Force serviceman, and President Obama for his looming death. He’s made to state that he wishes he had “more time” and “the hope of freedom” (the Islamic State revels in teasing its prisoners with lost hope) to see his family again. Foley is made to say that he wishes he “wasn’t an American.”
Then, waving a knife, in a British accent dripping with hatred, the ISIS fanatic speaks.
He complains about American interference in Iraq. He claims that the Islamic State represents all Muslims and thus possesses inherent moral sovereignty.
He then beheads Mr. Foley.
We see Foley’s decapitated head sitting upon his handcuffed torso.
In the final scene, the murderer grasps the collar of another American, Steven Sotloff. He warns us that Sotloff’s life depends upon President Obama’s “next decision.”
The video fades to black. We’re encouraged to think on it. We must. Because although GCHQ and the NSA will now be scouring their archives for the killer’s voice, they’ll also be aware that this video warns of the Islamic State’s westward glance.
Nevertheless, the jihadists have made a grave mistake here.
Americans who want to see the gruesome video will see the courage of James Foley. They’ll bear witness to a man who, knowing he was about suffer a terrible fate, kept his voice firm in his final moments.
His death won’t be broadcast many places, but take my word for his final courage. As the terrorist moves his knife downwards, Foley grimaces but does not cry out. This, after all, is the man that he was, a man who faced great danger to bring knowledge to the world. After being imprisoned by Qaddafi loyalists for 44 days during the Libyan civil war, Foley returned to the country to finish his reporting. When asked why he did so, Foley offered a simple answer. “Why wouldn’t I go back? People had done so much for me back home. I was humbled, I felt indebted to them. [We] wanted to connect the dots; we wanted to finish that story.”
Foley did finish that story (the series about his captivity is here). We should always remember his life and his accomplishments. But we must also remember his moment of passing: facing down a murderer hiding behind a black mask.