Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

The Question of ‘Terror Selfies’

(Photo courtesy Find James Foley)

Yesterday, Islamic State barbarians decapitated an American prisoner, the courageous journalist James Wright Foley. In the video message recording Foley’s execution, his murderers threaten to kill captive journalist Stephen Sotloff if American intervention in Iraq does not end.

This was not ISIS’s first execution of civilians — far from it.  ISIS’s tumbril is packed, and the group revels in death propaganda, a terror tactic that even al-Qaeda disavowed for PR reasons. Still, the shockwaves of Foley’s murder have reached our shores in ways that the murder of a Yazidi or Kurd could not. As Mike Morrill points out, it represents “ISIL’s first terrorist attack against the United States.”

Experts have written reams on the strategic implications of the killing, and I have little to add to that discussion. For what it’s worth, I incline to the Max Boot solution: Annihilate ISIS.

Rather than expound on that subject, I note with interest that ISIS’s self-documented depravity has rekindled a long-running debate in the political world about the propriety of sharing extremely graphic pictures of violence. It’s a more complicated moral calculus than it appears on the surface. Ryan Slauer has written about an analogous issue for this site, and his article is worth a read to grasp the contours of the argument.

One side argues that the “terror selfies” should be shared widely with a mature audience. In so doing, the argument goes, the men in black hoods are unmasked for what they are: representatives of evil who must be opposed by those who value life and liberal, open society.

Ian Tuttle makes the case over at National Review:

Jihadists’ photographs and videos raise no such questions. This is not journalistic material created by embedded reporters; editorial boards do not have to sift through motives. These radicals are themselves choosing to publicize their vilest deeds. Media outlets should give them prime place — not because it serves the Islamic State’s purposes (though they may think it does), but because it serves ours. Crucified men, beheaded children — the evidence of evil is incontestable.

The other side argues that graphic photos and videos are more often used as voyeuristic click bait than educational material. This does a disservice to the victim and wounds his or her surviving family. They also argue that disseminating this material does the bidding of terrorists who aim to recruit their fellow savages and instill, well, terror in the public.

David Frum summarizes the case nicely:

I think the anti-‘s have the better argument for the reasons they lay out and for an additional reason as well. While images of depravity “call every just bone in our body to action,” to borrow Slauer’s wording, the emotional trigger of a gruesome photograph is unnecessary to come to the right decision about action. We can be bold in proclaiming the truth without rewarding the Islamic State, for example by avoiding the word “died” and using the culpatory word “murdered” instead; by banging the drum and making it clear that ISIS is a wicked group operating from wicked motives toward wicked ends.

If we do this, the American people and the international community will rally around to find a solution, no photos necessary. Because we’re the good guys.

M. Blake Seitz is Editor-At-Large of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE

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