Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasbeh saved many lives. Serving against the Islamic State (ISIS), he helped prevent the slaughter of thousands of innocent men. He helped prevent the capture and sexual slavery of thousands of women. And he helped preserve the better future of thousands of children. His time on earth was well spent, struggling against a death cult.
Yet, by the way in which it has murdered him, the Islamic State has again made clear what choice it offers to the world: slavery or death. After flirting with the prospect of a prisoner trade, the Islamic State has released their latest snuff video to signal its hatred for compromise. It’s possible this video was filmed over a week ago, when “compromise” was still supposedly under discussion.
The video is Islamic State propaganda 101: technically slick, deliberately slow, and utterly sadistic. It begins with Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh, wearing an orange jumpsuit and with a black eye, describing the coalition against ISIS. With graphical overlays, IS emphasizes the coalition’s multinational quality. IS asserts that the coalition is a “crusader” army. Next, the video shows what the Islamic State claims are civilian casualties of coalition airstrikes. Lieutenant Kasasbeh is then filmed walking along a rubble-strewn street. His eyes raised to the sky, the lieutenant is surrounded by masked men in uniform — ISIS wants to portray itself as a functioning state — who are watching him silently. The lieutenant gazes at the rubble. Another overlay of purported airstrike footage is shown. The jihadist message is clear: This man is guilty of murder, and now he will face legitimate justice.
Then the horror begins. Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh is shown standing in a cage, his jumpsuit blotted with gasoline. One of the masked men readies a torch next to a line of gasoline. Then, in typical ISIS form (see my other assessments of IS propaganda here, here, and here), the camera repeatedly flashes back and forth between the torch and Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh. This sadism is deliberate: IS takes immense pleasure in the anticipation of brutal murder. Then the murderer lights the gasoline. Jihadist music playing in the background, and Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh is engulfed in flames. The Islamic State video does not edit out the lieutenant’s agony. Instead, it celebrates the grisly scene. As the lieutenant dies, the music rises in crescendo. The video concludes with bounty offers to anyone who murders another coalition pilot.
We must always remember Moaz al-Kasasbeh for the courage he showed in life, but we must also pay heed to the ideology that motivated such a terrible murder. For one, the video’s musical crescendo, increasing till the murder is carried out, isn’t accidental. Instead, it give a clear idea of the world that the Islamic State seeks to build — one in which individual humanity is subjugated to theological absolutism, where misery is the glorious marker of purity, and where only the “faithful” can hope to escape terror and death.
We must take note of the latest video installation in ISIS’s catalog of atrocities. Driven by its global mission of Salafi-Jihadism, the Islamic State is advancing across the world. It will not yield to our blind optimism. Be under no illusions: At the strategic level, our current efforts are failing. Moreover, the fanatics are advancing westward. Shrouded in self-assumed holiness, the Islamic State believes it will achieve global dominion.
The path we must take is hard but clear. Paying heed to the good life of Moaz al-Kasasbeh, we must finish his fight and rid the world of those who murdered him.