In 2013, the UN reported that 7,818 civilians were killed in Iraq, up from an estimated 4,594 in 2012. Also in 2013, according to separate figures, over 6 Iraqi civilians were murdered per day in car and suicide bombings. The groups responsible for the overwhelming majority of these deaths were ISIS and their affiliates, a fact about which they openly boast in their media outlets. Although retrieving estimates for the number of their victims in Syria during the same period is a more difficult task, we know that the Iraq figures are only a baseline.
What nearly all of the victims of these attacks share in common is their religion: Islam. More specifically, most of them are Shi`i, and most of the attacks occurred in Shi`i neighborhoods, particularly in and around Baghdad. Any sane person knows better than to travel to Baghdad on a Thursday or Friday if they can avoid it, because that’s always when the most attacks occur. It’s just common knowledge there.
Of course it’s not just people: ISIS has been on a spree of detonating bulldozing mosques (see the title graphic for one of many examples), bulldozing shrines, and leveling other sacred places, including the purported grave sites of at least two Biblical prophets.
How the media plays it
From current accounts in the media, however, you’d never know it. In fact, when discussing the atrocious murder of photojournalist James Wright, today on Fox News Channel, co-host Andrea Tantaros went so far as to declare,
They’ve been doing this for hundreds and hundreds of years. If you study the history of Islam, our ship captains were getting murdered. The French had to tip us off. I mean these were the days of Thomas Jefferson. They’ve been doing the same thing. This isn’t a surprise. You can’t solve it with a dialogue. You can’t solve it with a summit. You solve it with a bullet to the head. It’s the only thing these people understand. And all we’ve heard from this president is a case to heap praise on this religion, as if to appease them.
In other words, ISIS is all Muslims, and all Muslims are ISIS. Were it not for the last sentence, one could almost give her the benefit of the doubt and speculate that she was, perhaps, only referring to violent groups like ISIS who terrorize the innocent under the guise of religion, rather than Islam as a whole. Her final remark, however, made it clear that was not the case. “This religion” means Islam—all of it. “These people” means Muslims—all of us—not ISIS, specifically. And the only way to “solve” the problem of Islam? “A bullet to the head.”
The problem with Tantaros’ words is not that she said them. Obviously, Fox News Channel is not known for its rational or nuanced approach to any issue, let alone anything remotely related to the religion of Islam. The larger issue is that she is not alone in her thinking. Catholic Online, for instance, published a story today—accompanied with gruesome photos to drive home the point—entitled, “Why do Muslims like beheading so much?” (“In the modern age, there are swift and almost bloodless ways to kill, which makes the use of beheading subject to question.” Good to know?)
The answer, says the anonymous writer for Catholic Online, is “because they believe they have a mandate to do so, granted by the Quran,” (no, we don’t) and that there are “Several scriptural passages in the Quran [which] mention decapitation of those captured in battle or as a punishment for alleged crimes” (no, there aren’t).
In fact, the only verse in the Quran which, in some translations indicates “beheading,” does not actually say “beheading” at all. Rather, a precise rendering of the Arabic into English reads: “Then your Lord revealed to the angels, ‘I am with you, so make firm the people who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of the people who disbelieve, so strike them above their necks and strike from them their fingertips’” (8:12). Here, God is telling none other than the angels to “strike above their necks” (hit the polytheists on their heads). Notably, our scholars agree that this verse was revealed specifically during, and in regards to, the Battle of Badr. It is not, then, a general or unrestricted legal indicator, or a legal indicator of any kind at all, for that matter.
More specifically, there are exactly zero passages in the Quran that mention beheading—let alone beheading of “those captured in battle,” or “as a punishment for alleged” (or real) “crimes.”
For the record, what does the Quran say about corporal punishment?
There are three types of corporal punishment mentioned in the Quran, which also carry legal implications. In no particular order, one is beating and/or lashes (or flogging), another is amputation, and finally there is execution and/or crucifixion. One more type of sanctioned corporal (capital) punishment within the religion, death by stoning, is found not in the Quran, but within our written collections of what are reported to be the transmitted sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his pure family). In the case of the Shi`ah, these also include the words and actions of his twelve appointed successors, the Imams (peace be upon them all).
It is worth noting that, at least within Shi`i jurisprudence, the legal conditions and forms of evidence required to carry out any of these punishments are virtually impossible to satisfy.
For instance, in order to meet the requisite criteria for amputation (of digits, not of the entire hand, in Shi`i law) for the crime of theft, the accused must have picked or broken a lock to gain entry, must not be poor or needy, must not have committed the crime in a time of drought or famine, must be living in a just society rather than one in which corruption is the norm, and conviction requires that at least two witnesses testify to have seen the act, and that these witnesses be well known within the community for being just, truthful, and morally upright. There are additional criteria as well, but what I have mentioned is more than enough to prove my point.
Another famous punishment, as mentioned, is death by stoning. This is the prescribed punishnment in some instances of adultery. As with theft, however, the crime itself is all but impossible to prove. In this case, four witnesses are required, all known to be of unimpugnable reputation, who have simultaneously and specifically witnessed the actual physical act of vaginal penetration. Alternatively, the accused would have be required to testify against themselves, before a judge, on four separate occasions. I am personally aware of only one recorded instance in all of Islamic history where this criteria has been met.
These types of serious corporal or capital punishments exist almost entirely for the sole purpose of demonstrating how wicked, shameful, and socially destructive is the crime in question. Although it is theoretically possible for their conditions to be met, it is practically all but impossible. Regarding even lashing or flogging, ask anyone serving time in prison if they would rather lose years of their life behind bars, or if they would prefer to receive 40 or even 80 lashes and be done with their punishment. I guarantee they will pick flogging every time. (Also, see this, for what it’s worth.)
It also bears mentioning, particularly in the case of the Catholic Online article, that perhaps the last people to be engaged in hand wringing about any group’s penchant for beheading and other acts of barbarity are the ones who famously brought us the Inquisition. Likewise, it would be easy to respond by pointing out many more instances of what are, in some instances, precisely the same punishments in the Bible. Then again, since I am not a Catholic theologian—and as such, do not possess the requisite knowledge to interpret or understand the legal implications of these Biblical passages—I don’t go around making pronouncements about them.
Conflating ISIS with their victims is an act of criminal negligence
Returning to the central issue, it says a disappointing amount that anyone, let alone someone with large viewing audience or online readership, would confuse ISIS with Islam, or be so willfully ignorant of actual Islamic law, its sources, and conditions, before engaging in criticism of it. It is no different than were I to say, because the various incarnations of the IRA engaged in “kneecapping” as a form of punishment, that this comes from the Bible or is somehow sanctioned scripturally or otherwise by the Church in Rome.
What is most offensive about the conflation of ISIS with Islam, however, is that Muslims have been, and continue to be, the primary victims of ISIS terrorism. Indeed, the Shi`ah as a whole have been the vitim of nearly 1,400 years of unrelenting and unidirectional pogroms and campaigns of terror and violence at the hands of Sunni zealots, to the extent that this unceasing persecution has played a major role in shaping our entire sense of religious identity. Confusing us with ISIS is as patently offensive as it is obtuse, and morally equivalent to confusing the murderer with his victim, the rapist with the raped, the oppressor with the oppressed. And to add insult to injury, it gives credence to ISIS’ biggest lie: that they are Muslim.
Still, rather than work to educate the public on the difference between ISIS terrorism and the religion of Islam, or on the many different schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam, popular mass media outlets seem more or less content to willingly allow the public to remain so ignorant that even Sikhs—who, no, are not Muslim—get attacked every so often by Muslim-haters. Either they know that nuanced analysis doesn’t sell, or they have no faith in the basic intelligence of their viewer- or readership to grasp the subject matter itself. As a result, many in the West are left to believe that they are the prime target of groups like ISIS, when that could not be further from the truth. Muslims are their main target and their main victims, and the Shi`ah, in particular, are those with the greatest interest in wiping out the terrorism that has endlessly victimized them in various forms for well over a thousand years.
In a final—and perhaps the ultimate—act of pouring salt on the wound, a chorus of voices in the mass media always repeat the same profoundly ignorant question: Why aren’t Muslims condemning ISIS? Where are the voices of Muslim leaders speaking out against terrorism?
A better question is why should the the biggest victims of terrorism be required to speak out against it? Did CNN, MSNBC, or FNC, ever demand that the families of 9/11 victims (who, yes, even included Muslims) speak out against al-Qa`idah, lest they be forever forced to bear a share of the attackers’ moral burden? When a Christian terrorist blows up a reproductive health clinic, or a man of the cloth molests dozens of children, does ABC or CBS ask: why all the silence from priests (with the clear implication that they must at least tacitly approve of such crimes)?
More to the point, has the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Post recently demanded to know where are all the voices of Christian or Yazidi leadersihp condemning their own genocide at the hands of ISIS in Iraq, because they have been confused with their executioners? Why, then, are the majority Muslim—and specifically Shi`i—victims of ISIS required, as a whole or by way of their “leaders,” expected to condemn their attackers, simply to placate audiences too globally illiterate to know that they are the primary victims in the first place?
A better question, indeed, is why we should even need to explain any of this because Western media has nurtured an audience too ignorant to do the minimal research necessary to figure it out on their own? Truly, it beggars belief.