Let's not follow the IS playbook


Yes, the recently published "Islamic Stat" video of the burning to death of Jordanian fighter pilot Muaz al-Kawasbeh was horrific. It was very hard to watch. Just terrible.

In their reporting, many media suggested that this was the most gruesome of its kind so far. CNN called it the "most brutal yet"; German journalists found similar words. Sascha Lehnartz, for example, at welt.despoke of an IS strategy of "continuos escalation." I am sure, the video was similarly described in other countries.

However, I think we ought to take a step back here. Of course the IS intended the video to be an escalation. But is it really? Are we really agreeing that the burning to death of al-Kawasbeh is more gruesome than the mass executions that the IS has perpetrated and filmed? More terrible than the stonings to death of several women? More brutal than the murder of allegedly gay men by throwing them off of high buildings? Are these images really more gruesome than the decapitation videos that the IS has produced? Decapitations that sometimes take minutes?? 

I am asking these rhetorical questions because in my opinion it is impossible for the IS to become more brutal than it has already proven itself to be. The escalation we are talking about here really only pertains to the technical savvyness of the videos and to the ever more skillful addressing of the target audience. This can and should be described and analyzed. 

But do we really want to be taking part in the ranking of the brutality of methods of murder? I, for one, don't think that we should. 

Of course it is conceivable that the IS will try rattle us again and again. Quite possibly they will succeed. They might kill people with methods we wouldn't have thought of. Methods which may seem like taken out of a horror movie. 

But let us at least not follow their playbook in this one respect: Let us not rank murder methods for brutality. As far as I am concerned, my disgust of the IS killing machine couldn't possibly be any bigger than it already is. 

NB: This is a slightly edited version from my German blog post about this topic here at ZEIT ONLINE. 

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