While criticism over “comedienne” Kathy Griffin’s outrageous photo, holding in hand the bloodied and severed head of President Donald Trump, was warranted, some additional observations need to be made.
On Feb. 21, 2002, Americans awoke to an Internet horror – a video of a most gruesome act – the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. On assignment in Pakistan, he was kidnapped Jan. 23 by a militant Muslim group. Not until May 16 was his severed head and decomposed body – dismembered into 10 pieces – found in a shallow grave. Five years later, an architect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, now in custody in Guantanamo, claimed he personally executed Pearl.
In 2004, another gruesome beheading video of an American, this time in Iraq, was posted. The victim was U.S. government contractor Nicholas Berg. His executioner was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the “Prince of al-Qaida in Iraq” who would later be credited with founding ISIS. Zarqawi would not live long enough to see his terrorist group’s early successes as he was killed in 2006 in a U.S. airstrike. Ironically, the last vision he had in this life was of U.S. soldiers rushing in to identify his body immediately after the attack. However, he quickly succumbed to his wounds. One hopes the first person greeting Zarqawi “on the other side” was Nicholas Berg, providing him directions to the Netherworld.
Clearly, execution by means of beheading is an act totally anathema to Western culture – but not so for Islam’s. The practice goes back to the days of the Prophet Muhammad. He embraced it after the Banu Qurayza Jews surrendered to him without a fight in A.D. 627. Reportedly beheaded were between 500-900 men and children (those not yet reaching puberty were spared), an exercise in which Muhammad personally participated.
Since Muhammad’s days, little has changed from Islam’s perspective about the appropriateness of beheadings and severing various body parts as punishment for one’s transgressions under Shariah.
A 2010 Arabic television interview with an official executioner was most telling as to how such a gruesome practice is so casually accepted in Islamic culture.
Abdallah al-Bishi was a Saudi state executioner who did it all – beheadings and cutting off hands and legs on opposite sides of the body of the accused – “for the benefit of Allah.” He arrived late for his live interview as a pending execution had delayed him. Queried by two males and one female interviewer, neither Bishi nor his questioners appeared uneasy about their subject matter.
A blogger, obviously from a Western culture who had watched the interview, accurately summed up this observation, noting, “What I find so disturbing about this is the casual demeanor of everyone. … They are talking to this guy as if he is a gardener and they want to know … how he goes about landscaping or pruning rose bushes. The woman is almost smiling as if he’s a rock star. He talks about his job like it’s any old 9 to 5 … they see nothing wrong with it.”
Compassion appeared not to be Bishi’s strong suit, acknowledging he even had to execute friends. It did not bother him as “whoever commits an offense brings it upon himself.” Nor was he bothered by having to execute women. For him, there was no difference for “an execution is an execution.” Asked if a break in between executions was ever necessary, he indicated no, adding, “Three, four, five or six, there is nothing to it. It’s entirely normal.”
The female interviewer asked, as if she found it humorous, “We’ve heard that one day, you were executing several people, and the sword broke. Is that true? Tell us that story, please.” Bishi nonchalantly and simply responded, “It was the handle that came off. Not the blade.”
Apparently, Bishi’s greatest pride was that his eldest son, “Allah be praised … is about to be appointed to the position (of official executioner) in Riyadh.”
Since the videos of the executions of Pearl and Berg appeared, the Internet has borne witness to beheadings of many more victims, most by ISIS. But it remains difficult to believe any possibility exists, as Griffin’s photo would suggest, we have reached the point in our society today where we accept such brutality as the norm – just because Muslim nations do so.
That such an act would provide even the hint of any rational basis for humor is outrageous. Yet that exactly is what Griffin’s photo op suggests.
After suffering an enormous initial backlash, Griffin quickly and appropriately offered an apology. However, it was half-hearted as she went on to play the victim role, claiming the “bully” she sought to demean “broke” her. She asserted Trump would now remain a target of her future attempts at humor.
While comics are known to push the envelope concerning socially acceptable humor, most are held in check by a sense of common decency. Griffin was not. She failed to recognize such decency extends not only to the intended victim but should extend to potential unintended victims as well. Here again she failed.
As such, Griffin’s action was not only an insult to the office of the president, it was also an insult to the families of Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg and others who have suffered the trauma of losing a loved one to such barbarism.
The social acceptance comedy bar on serious matters has been significantly lowered in 21st century America. This has been underscored by Trump critics playing the assassination card. Whether comments by the entertainer Madonna giving thought to “blowing up” the White House or performances of the ongoing and poorly disguised Trump version of “Julius Caesar” in New York City’s Central Park, irresponsible messages suggesting violence against our president are despicable acts in and of themselves. Such diatribe becomes a green light for “crazies” to act – evidenced by today’s shooting at a Republican Party baseball practice by Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson in Alexandria, Virginia. (The diatribe continues as one journalist already blames shooting victim House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., for getting shot due to a bill he introduced to relax restrictions on interstate firearm sales.)
That Griffin would seek to lower the bar even further, outrageously promoting the brutal beheading norm accepted by another culture as acceptable by ours, totally ignoring victim families’ sensitivities as well, is unconscionable.