The Islamic State has come yet again into the world’s attention through brutal means. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot who was captured by militants, was shown to have been burned alive while caged. The video included a message to the anti-Islamic State coalition to stand down or face a continuation of similar executions. Nations reacted to this video with condemnation, but Jordan took a stronger approach.
The killing of al-Kasabeh did not anger just his immediate family or the government, but much of the country. His execution brought out the frustration held by the general public with the terrorist group and its actions. The Jordanian government in response executed two prisoners, Sajida al-Rishawi and Zaid Karbouli, who were in prison on terror related crimes. Al-Rishawi was part of the negotiations between Jordan and the Islamic State in relation to freeing al-Kasabeh and a second captive. However the two were linked with al-Qaeda rather than directly to the Islamic State
While the execution of the two prisoners sent out a stern message that the government was willing to act, it also brings up mixed concerns on future developments.
The two prisoners were already sentenced to death before the negotiations, but have become a tool for the government to use in times of response. Threats made by the Islamic State and similar executions could also motivate governments to carry out similar revenge actions. While the family of al-Kasabeh and the Jordanian government have experience an unimaginable loss in such a barbaric act, revenge is not the best route to take at this time.
For the government to use terrorists in these situations to deter militant groups, it sets a deadly precedent. Militants are typically made to be expendable and have been used as martyrs to further causes and ideologies. There is not that same emotion or bond when a terrorist is killed off compared to an innocent life. This isn’t to say that one life is worth less, but that the soldiers in the Islamic State are dehumanized, replaceable, and serve to further a cause. They are martyred.
The public and government’s fury is a motivation to take action, and the expediting of death sentences is not a trend worth following. The public should not end up deciding the fate of those in prison, but should remain to those part of the justice system. Public outrage should be addressed but public sentiment as a major deciding factor risks circumventing the justice system and unfairly punishing persons.
There is also the concern that the executions made other militant groups more aware of Jordan and its possible actions. The two prisoners are more-so linked to al-Qaeda than they are with the Islamic State. This brings al-Qaeda and other militant groups that have captured members into the conflict. Rather than it being a two-sided battle, Jordan risks too much attention being brought to it. There is a large target on its back if Jordan is not able to adequately respond, and the rushed executions regardless will stir up negative emotions among radical group leaders and lone wolves.
The Islamic State fuels itself on these kinds of reactions. It is being taken seriously and attacked, and uses martyrs to promote their goals of a “truly Islamic state.” It’s religiosity is being used as a morphine, and keeps moving despite losses. And its losses and gains are being imbedded in its social media campaign in order to recruit more followers. It’s a deadly cycle that is difficult to break.
The Jordanian government can stand resolute in the face of extremism and threats while delivering their definition of justice. While the loss of al-Kasabeh is deeply tragic and horrific news to hear of, it requires a clear mind and a solid plan rather than quick action. Sole militaristic responses may vanquish the enemy, but it leaves the ideology in tact.
The coalition seeking to destroy the Islamic State also need to address the overwhelming amount of issues that have contributed to the chaos. There needs to be a dedication to improving regional stability and setting up a strong, stable, and benevolent government to prevent those in need from making the difficult decision to join militant groups. There are people in dire economic need, and allure of fighting for the faith while winning spoils can woo almost any person.
Jordan is standing up to extremism and is listening to the calls of its people. It will not accept the violent behavior and misuse of Islam by these radicals taking advantage of a region in shambles. However, keeping a clear and focused mind is crucial to success. The death penalty should not be prescribed lightly nor with haste, as I and other human rights groups advocate against any use of capital punishment. Revenge is a fire that is dangerous to play with and should be taken seriously. Do not let it consume and dictate lives, but do stand up to protect and help those who are victim to the brutality and torture of the “Islamic State.”
Photo Credit: Mad World