04 February 2015

Bringing history to the present

By now pretty much everyone knows that ISIS has murdered Mu'âdh al-Kassâsbah, the Jordanian fighter pilot it had taken prisoner, by burning him alive.  There's not much I can add to the global outcry of fury and disgust over this horrifying act.  But it does call an observation to mind.

People often mention witch-burnings as an example of the barbarism of Europe during the Dark Ages when Christianity truly dominated society.  But the term "witch-burning" has become something of a cliché, a mere word tossed off without much thought being given to what it actually means or what it must actually have looked like.

Well, now we know what it looked like.  The video that shocked the planet this week showed us what happened fairly often in the public squares of European towns during the later Middle Ages -- happened fairly often over a period of generations.

It was public entertainment, too.  During the age of fervent religion, crowds of ordinary people would gather to watch that.  It was a show.  There seems to have been no crowd of ordinary people gathered to watch the murder of al-Kassâsbah.  Even ISIS men must have known that twenty-first century humans would have been sickened and outraged by the spectacle, perhaps to the point of being unable to restrain their reactions even under threat of punishment.  We are getting more civilized over time.

In the Kurdish music video parodying ISIS which I posted a while back, one of the lines was "bring history to the present".  I assume this was a reference to ISIS bringing back barbarous practices from the distant past, such as punishment by stoning or amputation or beheading, mass killing of "heretics", and the death penalty for homosexuality.  The ISIS regime that horrifies all civilized people today is pretty much just what a society based on actual Old Testament law or Sharî'ah law would look like.  In fact, back when those societies existed, this probably is what they looked like.  Unfortunately there were no video cameras back then, so we haven't been able to see such a society in all its glory.

Until ISIS came along to show us.

Updates:  Jordan is in shock over the horrific murder of its pilot -- and turning revenge-minded.

The often-divided Arab world is unified in anger and revulsion toward this atrocity.

10 Comments:

Blogger Ahab said...

Excellent point. It's encouraging that the world is morally evolving, even if that evolution is slow and halting. ISIS is harming its image in the long run, but I doubt that's of much comfort to its victims.

Religious people who pine for days of yore should remember the savagery of those times. And yet, I don't think many of them will make the connection between ISIS barbarism and the barbarism of the past.

04 February, 2015 05:05  
Blogger Jono said...

I agree with your post. However, now that we have bombs, rockets, napalm, heavy automatic guns, etc., does that make us more civilized and moral when we kill each other? Or just more efficient? The only reason I can see as to why our species is still here is that we are so prolific.

04 February, 2015 08:01  
Anonymous NickM said...

Have you seen the video?
Infidel,
I have. I have never in all my days (I'm 41) seen anything more horrific. At all, ever.

I hope the other guys in his squadron exact a terrible revenge.

Ahab,
I think it is abundantly clear that whilst clearly media-savvy don't do PR quite the same way others do.

04 February, 2015 08:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahab: They should. Religious extremists seem to be escalating their barbarity. Remember that the Taliban extremists who carried out the Peshawar school massacre burned some of the teachers alive, and Mohammad Abu Khedair was burned alive by Jewish extremists seven months ago. Those murders were not videotaped, but they happened.

Jono: Yes, we are. There is a huge difference between killing in the heat of battle -- which often means in self-defense -- and killing an immobilized prisoner of war in cold blood in a way deliberately intended to maximize suffering. Civilized countries do as much as they can to minimize innocent casualties during military operations -- as, for example, when Israel actually sent telephone warning messages to civilians in targeted areas of Gaza during the last conflict there, to give them a chance to evacuate. The Kurds are killing ISIS men who are fighting to conquer Kurdish territory and impose their blood-soaked "state" on it. No sane person would put that on even remotely the same moral level as what ISIS did to al-Kassasbeh.

Nick: No, I haven't watched it and I don't intend to. I doubt I could stand it. The still pictures I've seen were bad enough. I know what happened well enough.

Not just his squadron but his whole country are turning hungry for revenge -- see the updates to the post.

04 February, 2015 18:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

PS Jono: Humans actually aren't particularly prolific -- lots of mammals have litters of half-a-dozen at a time. The great increase in human numbers over the last couple of centuries stems from our use of technology to (a) ensure that almost all our offspring survive, and (b) vastly increase food production. And nowadays birth rates have fallen below replacement level almost everywhere except Sub-Saharan Africa.

04 February, 2015 19:21  
Blogger Jono said...

Infidel, just for the sake of argument (note: I agree with your point of view nearly always)the population of the U.S. is over twice what it was when I was born and nearly triple on a worldwide scale. The rate of increase has slowed, fortunately, and I do hope it continues to do so.
I do appreciate the fact that ISIS has now disgusted much of the Muslim world and that will help lead to its ultimate demise.

05 February, 2015 09:44  
Blogger Bob Conner said...

I read, somewhere amongst all the statistics about crime, anthropomorphic deaths, etc., that, relative to history, the world is a peaceful place.

I'm not sure the romance of living in the past is all that romantic after all.

At least not for me.

05 February, 2015 09:45  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jono: Yes, that reflects the earlier, higher birth rates (still nothing like as high as mammal species that have litters of half a dozen at a time). Once technology had so greatly reduced the rates of infant mortality and other forms of early death, obviously the population would grow until birth rates fell enough to compensate. For example, from 1950 to 2000 the birth rate in Mexico fell from around 7 children per woman to 2 per woman, and the population hasn't completely stopped growing yet due to the high proportion of the population which is young (in child-producing years) due to earlier high birth rates. Most of the world, with the exception of Sub-Saharan Africa, has followed the same trajectory.

Bob: That's true. As best we can measure it, the levels of death by violence have been slowly falling for millennia. Hunter-gatherer societies (relics of the way of life all humans lived before the dawn of agriculture) have staggering death rates from war and murder. So do chimpanzee groups. For some reason humans are just becoming steadily less accepting of killing and violence -- as my post emphasizes.

05 February, 2015 18:33  
Blogger uzza said...

One needn't go back to the middle ages to see such barbarisms. Public lynchings of blacks were common in the American South right up through the 1950s.

Civilization is a thin veneer that we can expect to peel off as overpopulation meets critical mass. Syria is a harbinger.

06 February, 2015 10:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

True, I've heard of people being burned to death by lynch mobs in the US. It doesn't really contradict my point, though -- the majority of people then wouldn't have found such acts tolerable, and practically no one would now.

Again, the age of dramatic population growth is coming to an end pretty much everywhere except Sub-Saharan Africa, which is already the most violent region in the world. I suppose a population-related crash is possible in China or India simply because those places are already so overpopulated. Elsewhere in the world I don't expect overpopulation to become an issue (it isn't really a factor in Syria).

06 February, 2015 16:40  

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