On Friday 26 September British MPs voted by 524 votes to 43 to back UK government plans to bomb Islamic State (IS) on account of its ‘staggering brutality’.
A week earlier the wife of the British taxi driver held hostage by Islamic State had appealed to his captors to find it in their hearts to release him. Alan Henning remains on IS’s death row, facing the possibility of execution following the televised beheading oftwo Americans and one British citizen.
A few days after her appeal, Islamic State sent Barbara Henning a recording of her husband pleading for his life. Since she had only recently entered a heartfelt plea for mercy on his behalf, the IS response seems peculiarly heartless.
But if there is a staggering absence where you’d expect their hearts to grow, what is it that has led to such heartlessness among IS militants?
The staggering brutality of the West, is their answer; inflicted on (Sunni) Muslims everywhere to such an extent that their own form of staggering brutality is the only course of action left open to them.
But the West has been brutal to non-Western peoples for far more than a hundred years, promoting or suppressing them in its own interests, and not counting the cost (to them) – all this without often prompting such brutality in return.
On this account, the particular character of Islamic State remains unaccounted for.
Neither does the region’s natural environment offer a credible explanation. The desert sun was equally relentless seven thousand years ago as it shone down on ‘the cradleof civilisation’ in the territory now occupied by Islamic State. Likewise, the brutal heat ofthe midday sun may account for crucifixion as an ancient method of execution, but it does not explain why IS has only now set about resurrecting it.
Neither imperial history nor the forces of nature can explain the ‘staggering brutality’ of IS.