Early in every war I can think of, it is deemed necessary that each side demonise their perceived enemy. IIt is each side’s way of demonstrating that God and right are on our side. God is, it seems - and always has been - amazingly flexible during the early weeks of most wars.
Unsurprisingly therefore Isis has and will continue to be demonised. Sadly and wrongly this demonisation has spread and now wrongly and dangerously has been used by Australian bigots, and racists to demonise the greater Australian Muslim community.
The barbaric act of beheading hostages by ISIS fighters has been used to illustrate the sheer evil of our enemy. President Obama clearly thinks that beheading is an act of evil and said so in a tweet on hearing of the death of the American hostage James Foley “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and what they do every single day.”
I wonder how many Australians have asked ourselves the question: is beheading so evil a method of execution assuming that execution as a punishment is acceptable (to the author it is not). A second question may also be asked: was beheading always evil or is there a historic context in which it was seen as a far lesser horror?
Clearly as a form of execution beheading has a long history; in fact for almost two thousand years it was considered to be the quickest and most humane form of execution leading to the almost instantaneous death of the prisoner. The Greeks and the Romans considered beheading as a less dishonourable and less painful form of execution than other methods in use at the time. The Roman Empire used beheading for its own citizens ... whilst crucifying others.
Beheading was widely used in Europe and Asia until the 20th century, but now is confined to Saudi Arabia, Iran and a couple of Gulf States. One man was reportedly beheaded in Iran in 2003 – the first for many years. It remains a lawful method in Qatar and Yemen, although no executions by this method have been reported for some time as I can see from what I admit was quick reseach.
Beheading continued in Britain up to 1747 and was the standard method in Norway until 1905, Sweden 1903 and was used for some classes of prisoners in France (up until the introduction of the guillotine in 1792) and in Germany up to 1938 when Hitler replaced the axe with a form of guillotine.
Nor should we assume that is ISIS alone in the Muslim world in beheading those who are found guilty of breaking the law. Beheading is not only permitted by the Koran it is described as being a preferred method “Koran 8:12 — “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
In this new war against terror we have as a nation allied ourselves with Saudi Arabia ... a country that continues to behead both men and women. How is it that an ISIS fighter beheading a western hostage is held to be more horrific than a Saudi Swordsman welding a sword in a car park in Riyadh, Khobar or Medina? Saudi Arabia uses public beheading as the punishment for murder, rape, drug trafficking, sodomy, armed robbery, apostasy and certain other offences. 2007 was the record year for executions with 153 men and three women executed.
In 1977 the Saudi’s executed a Princess for adultery by shooting her; her lover was beheaded in a car park in Jeddah. In 1980, the affair became the subject of one of the most notorious television programs ever aired, the docudrama ‘Death of a Princess’. This film’s airing in Britain in 1980 led Riyadh to expel the British ambassador, and cost £200 million of lost revenue for the UK from cancelled orders and product boycotts by the Saudis.
Where I ask were President Obama and the thousands of Western men and women who have so recently denounced ISIS for beheading its enemies when our allies did exactly the same, in 2011? In 2011 Amnesty International was a voice in the wilderness when it denounced the Saudi execution of Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar for sorcery and witchcraft or earlier this year when the Saudis beheaded a man for the same offence.
I cannot help but conclude the difference between Saudi Arabia and ISIS is smaller than most in Washington and Canberra would like to admit. And that beheading isn’t so much a cause belli and more a cause belie (Belie to lie, encompass to deceive to allege falsely to fill with lies).
*Bazzabee is known to the Editor