A Brief Analysis of the ISIS Problem Post-Burning Video

“ISIS Burns Jordanian Pilot Alive” has been a major headline in the news during the last two days. It’s such a major story that the news articles of the Jordanian executions of Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli have been swallowed by the ISIS burning. For example, we have this Fox News article about the Jordan executions, but about 75% of the article is about the fiery death of Muath al-Kaseasbeh. This phenomenon also occurs in the Washington Times, NPR, and the Huffington Post. Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli are merely footnotes beneath the graphic images of Muath al-Kaseasbeh being burned alive. And as much as I hate to say this (because people are dying), rightfully so.

Let me sum up exactly what’s going on here: ISIS is a non-state group committing atrocities and terror attacks. They attack both civilians and government forces. Because they are not a legitimate state — they do not hold a monopoly of violence over a specific group of people — they are accurately classified as criminals, which (theoretically) leaves them bereft of any protections afforded to soldiers offered by the Geneva Convention, should they be captured or otherwise.

This also means it’s ultimately up to Iraq and Syria’s domestic police forces to deal with ISIS. But because they are seemingly and understandably incapable of arresting ISIS members and quelling the group, the issue stands before the international community. Perhaps controversially, terrorism as a crime has in recent years been brought into the purview of universal jurisdiction, meaning every member state of the United Nations has a duty to stop terrorism anywhere it occurs. Like I said, this is controversial — at least in the US — because this duty interferes with Congress’ ability to decide where we send our troops. But globally, universal jurisdiction gives everyone the right to violate a state’s sovereignty in order to stop terrorism.

This is the same justification Israel uses when it violates another state’s sovereignty to arrest Nazi war criminals. Genocide is a crime with universal jurisdiction.

My argument is because universal jurisdiction exists and covers terrorism, and because Syria and Iraq are not equipped to stop ISIS, it’s everyone’s duty to use force to stop them. I’m very liberal, and I’m against state-on-state war because of the risk of civilian casualties and structural violence, but these are vicious yet common thugs who believe they’re unstoppable. And they’re the ones killing civilians and destroying lives through violence and structural violence. If liberalism means protecting the innocent at all costs, then destroying ISIS to protect the innocent is worth the risk to our armed forces members.

Thankfully, it appears the entire world (except the UAE, which cowered in fear after ISIS burned the Jordanian pilot alive. Shame on the UAE) is using every legal weapon in its arsenal, real and metaphorical, to condemn ISIS. Thankfully, my argument is not needed as much as I make it out to be. For example, even in the US, both the Republican and Democratic sides are slowly coming together to support using force against ISIS.

This might be an emotional response

I have to admit that I’m extremely frustrated with the terror organization wreaking havoc in my former backyard. Indeed, watching the video of ISIS burning the pilot really got to me, even though it shouldn’t have.

A major focus of my research has been on self-immolation (people who willingly set themselves on fire to compel a society or government to take action against an injustice). A part of this research includes sifting through suicide letters and watching videos of people self-immolating. Naturally, because I’ve grown numb to the images of self-immolations, I thought I had the emotional strength to get through the ISIS video. I’ve seen this kind of shit 488 times now. So what’s the difference here?

There’s a lot of difference.

If you wish to watch it yourself, LeakSource is one place that has it posted. But it’s not an easy video.

I’m used to seeing people willingly set themselves on fire. In this case, on the other hand, he was essentially burned at the stake, unable to flee from the flames. Even if he could have run away, his clothes were soaked in petrol. There’s no escaping that kind of inferno.

What’s next?

I’d imagine in 10 years we’ll be holding tribunes for ex-ISIS members captured hiding in Malaysia. In analyzing the trials, the media will draw comparisons to the Rwandan Genocide. While ISIS isn’t killing one ethnic group indiscriminately, I think the comparisons will be made to the rapid acceleration of barbarity. In other words, ISIS is doomed to destruction. The only question is whether or not the US will help guide that destruction, or if we’ll stand idly by, a la Bill Clinton 1994.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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