Sit down. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, and focus. For fifteen seconds, countdown in your head: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand. Did it feel indeterminately long? Did the seconds tick past with a slowness you had not anticipated? Were you bored?
Your name is Daniel Pearl. Nick Berg. Owen Armstrong. Jack Hensley. Kenneth Bigley. Paul Johnson, Jr. Aasiya Zubair, New York. Lee Rigby, London. The list goes on for miles. You have been beheaded.
For fifteen seconds after the heart abruptly halts beating, you are left with conscious awareness as your brain burns the last remnants of its oxygen. Basic biology. There are external, common, and internal carotid arteries in the human neck, a detail the average person is unaware of when considering speed of time to bleed out when the throat is simply slit. Simply cutting the most topical artery produces the first heavy arterial bleed, but not the fastest. Once the internal carotid is hit, it still can take two minutes to bleed to death from an unchecked flow. Two minutes. One hundred and twenty seconds. In-depth research has shown that even once the head is disconnected from the body, an electroencephalogram, or EEG, continues to show brain activity and mental awareness on the Hertz level associated with consciousness and cognition for four or more seconds. Eyes blink, mouths gasp, and the brain continues to attempt to decipher what has happened, probably in utter confusion. The neck is full of nerve endings, constantly sending signals to the brain, a fatty layer, tissue, muscle, ligaments, tendons, veins, arteries, and, of course, solid bone.
Writers are told extensively to avoid writing in the first person. It detracts from the quality of our work, we are told, and gives it a somewhat juvenile taste. But there are times when even the best journalistic rules are meant to be broken. I watched the videos of the beheadings when they were first released, starting in 2002 with Daniel Pearl, the journalist. However, a decade is a long time, and many changes are wrought in our thinking and reactions, and so, before putting finger to keyboard, as it were, I returned to the grainy footage of the brutal executions.
In Daniel Pearl’s video, he is shown clearly parroting words forced upon him by his captors before being beheaded. Your heart cannot help but break for this proud man, a family man, a musician, a wordsmith. The horror of the actual beheading is somewhat dulled by the way the propaganda film has been spliced, so although my heart stuttered in my chest, and my fingers itched for vengeance, I moved on. It was Nick Berg’s video that gripped me the hardest. Watching the video, where, for four minutes prior to his gruesome, heartless murder, he sits, bound and clearly drugged – most likely with the strong opiates rampantly available in the Middle East - while the cowardly masked men behind him spout imbecilic and undoubtedly puerile hatred in Arabic. For four minutes, I watch Nick. He appears dazed, drugged, and has surely been dragged from his prison for an untold number of such propaganda garbage. His legs twitch. His shoulders sway. He is alive. Knowing what is to come, my all-too-human brain begins to rebel. An advertisement for a video about the top-ten dangerous dogs catches my eye, and I find my mind begin to consider which ten they consider dangerous. Catching myself, I nudge my own dog with my foot, and he turns expectantly hoping for a cookie. Not out of boredom, no. A desperate distraction borne of premature horror. I have, after all, seen this before. And then, then they are upon him, dragging him up by his hair, and the screams begin to ring out. As usual for these murders, a knife is used, and it takes time to complete the process. His mouth opens, and blood bubbles out. His killer laboriously saws through layers of tissue and muscles. And still his screams go on. And with eyes filled with tears, and throat choked with rage, I watch Nick Berg die.
When it’s over, I spend a moment blank-faced staring at the appropriately gathering thunder clouds outside. And then, on a sigh, and with a brush of fingers to remind myself I am protected, here, in my home, I watch the video again.
Americans have a fairly serious case of head-in-sand disease. Not only do they not want to admit there is evil in the world, evil so filthy and vile it would, let’s say, behead a man with a dull buck knife, but they recoil from the evidence. No, the public cries, you cannot show proof of the craven, sadistic killers who would cut a bloody swath across our nation if given half a chance. No pictures, no overly-graphic words in print, and certainly no videos. Heaven forbid Americans be faced with the truth.
On September 11, 2001, a pair of commercial airliners hijacked by self-important, crazed terrorists crashed into the Twin Towers in New York, murdering 2,977 souls. The souls of the 19 terrorists do not hold enough value to be added to the final tally, in my book, also, they are soulless. And yet, people seem to forget those in the Towers did not all immediately die. No, there was no merciful sudden and unexpected cessation of life for countless Americans on that day. There are many ways to die in a combination explosion-fire-collapse, and for some, the searing heat of the flames and the horror of burning to death led them to throw themselves from windows for what they clearly prayed would be a quicker end. Imagine, if not yourself, your husband, wife, mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, or son, trapped, terrified, and praying for mercy while certain of death. And some Americans demand mercy and understanding for the perpetrators, while countless more refuse to bear witness to reality.
We all want to spare our children from pain, whether real or imagined. No sane person enjoys exposing an innocent mind to depravity and horror. And yet, a serious mistake is being made in the annals of American history. Beheadings, and other evidence of the evils being perpetrated in the name of Islam, are not only not being shown but are carefully and methodically removed from the internet. According to Einstein, blind belief in authority, such as government, is truth’s most ferocious enemy. “You don’t need to see that,” the administration soothes, “Don’t worry your pretty little head,” a woman is minimized in so many words. When the Boston Phoenix dared to publish a photograph and give a link to the beheading of Nick Berg, they were suffocated under an ocean of outrage. And yet it is our prerogative, no, our inalienable right, no, our duty, to see the truth of our enemy’s actions. Images from and footage of beheadings should be displayed by the national media.
The American people as a whole need a reminder. We do not invade foreign countries hoping to dip greedy hands into pockets of oil. Navy SEALs do not carry out countless unknown missions and raids on terrorists because they have nothing better to do. These Islamic insurgents, these terrorists, are lower than pond scum. They are lower than mycoplasma genitalium, a parasitic bacterium found in the bladder of primates and known to science as one of the smallest living organisms on earth. But actions speak louder than words, and in the videos, which can sometimes be tracked down on sites such as Live Leaks, you, yes, you, can see their actions in full color detail.
To those detractors who claim the videos of beheadings are nothing but extravagant theater, it can only be said they are suffering from the most severe form of head-in-sand disease, advanced to faecal encephalopathy (if you don’t know what that means, you can look it up). As a Biology major, and someone with years of emergency medicine experience, I assure you, the videos are quite real. Conspiracy sites howling about a lack of Hollywood-level theatrical gore, attire (Really? He’s wearing orange? Well, of course he couldn’t have been beheaded, orange is, of course, a natural repellant of large knives and crazy men.), chairs, and audio track are simply trying to comfort themselves. Driven by an asinine desire to proclaim, no, the boogeyman is not real, they spout their proclamations as loudly and vehemently as possible. It is, after all, a natural human response: the monsters are not real, we pray, there is no killer in the closet or under the bed.
Sadly, the boogeyman is real. There is a killer in the closet. Maybe not your personal closet, but there is, in far too many American closets, a pile of apathy and a sort of willful nescience. A refusal to open their eyes and admit there are those both within and without our borders who wish us harm – a refusal which does no good other than to stunt our defense and deprive our military of incredibly well-earned gratitude. By refusing to show what some deem disturbing or offensive real-life footage on the television – while, ironically, displaying all kinds of Hollywood-generated perversities and violence simultaneously – we are dishonoring the memories of our dead. Not only those tortured, mutilated, dismembered, and beheaded, but also those murdered by Islamic jihadists in general. Consider the 1983 suicide bombings of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, or the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings against the United States Air Force. Consider 9-11. Consider Benghazi.
Sit down. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, and focus. This time, imagine the most mind-blowing, body-wracking, explosive agony in the world. It may last for four seconds, seven seconds, fifteen seconds, or more. You’re being beheaded by terrorists who hate America. And when footage of your murder reaches the States, who will do you the honor of bearing witness to the atrocity of your murder? The boogeyman is real, and he flies under the sword of Islam. America can deny his existence no longer.
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