A Seductive Brutality

A psychologist might argue differently, but it is difficult for a lapsed historian like myself not to see a seductive brutality at work in the attempts of Isis and other extremist groups to eliminate everyone who thinks or believes differently from themselves. A BBC World Service news item last night recounting how people had been lined up on a river bank then shot in the head and pushed into the river was horrible enough. Learning that it had been videoed and the video published on the web was more horrible still. Isn’t it enough that we should behave outrageously without then publicizing the outrage?

Perhaps that is a key to what is happening. Those who are weak or feel inferior acquire a false sense of power from association with extremist groups. The more brutal the behaviour of such groups, the more the sense of power increases; and it doesn’t really matter who or what the target is. Killing a child or an unarmed woman still provides the thrill of omnipotence; and if the killing can be dressed up in the language of religious zeal or political necessity, the hand that pulls the trigger can not only sleep easy o’ nights but glory in the act of murder.

You notice I speak of extremist groups, but the sad fact is that nation states can be seduced by the same kind of brutality and can perpetrate the same kind of horrors. At the moment the eyes of the West are on Gaza and Israel, Syria and Iraq, while the sufferings of African and Asia have slipped from our gaze. The attempted extermination of Christians has raised barely a murmur save among fellow Christians. Could it be that we too are seduced by the very brutality we see in others, not wanting to admit the full horror and shame of what is going on? We no longer speak of genocide but ‘ethnic cleansing’. We no longer condemn violence outright but merely seek to limit it what is ‘proportional’. Moral weakness is the deadliest kind, and it shows itself in the language we use. Have we in the West, somewhere along the line, lost our soul?

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