Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, America, compassion, death, dying, humanity, Iraq, ISIS, Islam, Islamic State, jihadists, man, Martyrdom, men, Muslims, Rhona Burns, sainthood, saints, Syria, virgins, woman, women
It is difficult to avoid thinking of death these days. I sit in Jerusalem, hearing about the armies of the Islamic State (IS), seeing films, listening to what they have to say for themselves.
I am thinking of death, and of time. And more than I am used to, I am thinking of geography. How far are they from where I am now? How far are their beliefs?
I know it is close, and I find myself thinking of death. Not my own death, as one tends not to, but of death in general. About what it must mean to these people I just saw in pictures, waiting for “their heads to be cut off with knives”, as the murderous “soldiers of the caliphates” have just promised them, in a language I don’t speak.
In the pictures I see only men. They wear weapons, and they say that they despise “America”, as they are using America’s ethos of justice to justify their deeds. They talk of the “oppressed” and of good ways of conduct. They want to be “true”, “faithful”. They fight tyranny, they say.
They are not ashamed of themselves. They do not think of death.
I hear their promises of “beautiful virgins” waiting for them, these men with weapons, who do not drink Alcohol and are prepared to die for this Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, their Caliph, their ultimate death.
And in all the pictures I see there are no women.
In a film I just watched about what’s going on, the only woman I see is a glimpse, a fragment of a second. It is when the men of the “Islamic State” wander around with their vehicle in the streets of a town in Syria, and they stop by a man, standing with his wife. As much as I can tell the woman is covered with black cloth. I can hardly see anything, because the camera doesn’t focus on her figure. One of the IS men, asks the man to approach to the car. He blesses him, as Muslims are accustomed to do, and asks the man to tell his wife to change the veil’s color. He doesn’t give any reason for this “request”, but nonetheless the man agrees immediately. No argument. Perhaps it is the gun the IS man is displaying near his shoulder, the top of which peeps from beneath the frame.
Then the car and the camera inside it, to which we are attached of course, carry on.
The IS man now explains to the camera-man that there is no reason for a woman to be “displayed” – “she is not a product”, he says.
I suppose he thinks himself very clever in saying something like that. Perhaps he thinks that this is the language to use when talking to a camera-crew, making a film intended to be distributed around the western world. This “woman is no product” slogan sounds very close to common feminist views, trying to fight the way women function in society, and to change the ways women are (still) regarded as “products”, as “aesthetic objects”, and to strengthen and advance ideas of true human-equality of men and women . But of course the difference is that these feminist views are intended for the benefit of women, that is- the benefit of human beings, while this IS man’s “protection” of the woman’s body is intended for the sake of God.
In God’s land, in the land of the Sharia incarnated in the IS, there is no “woman”. In fact there is no “man” either. There are only Shahids and Jihadists, martyrs and saints.
Indeed, there is no death. Only “glorified death” –which only means something when put on display in front of a cheering crowd, and which doesn’t leave anything at all for the dying.
Even at the very end, after all the fighting is over, there are no women, no men – only “beautiful virgins”, and sainthood.
Indeed, as George Orwell once wrote: “No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid.” (Reflections on Ghandi). Sainthood is something human beings must avoid if they want to remain human beings.
But the Islamic State doesn’t leave any place for humans in it. It is indeed the state of Islam. Not of the Muslim people, not of Muslim women and men.
In this emerging “state of God”, there is only room for saints. And that is why there is no place for death – true, gruesome death; because saints don’t die, they are always martyred. And when there’s no death, when there are no human beings to die, there is no horror, no sadness, no compassion.