It so happens that this week, it's been my duty to watch many gruesome hours of ISIS propaganda. With the latest sacrilege and bloodletting at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, it is safe to say that all of us have had a belly full of it.
The whole point of it seems to be to induce despair. The butchers of the Islamic State do these things as a demonstration of their will, not to prove their courage. It is the will to dominate. The message is that Allah's hatred will pursue the non-believer to any sanctuary.
Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is a wildly overrated mess of a film. Still, it did contain a gripping monologue by Brando's Col. Kurtz, in which he describes how he became enamored of the use of "moral horror" by Communist terror squads, who cruelly had maimed the children of a certain village:
“And then I realized they were stronger than me, because they could stand it. These were not monsters. These were men, trained cadres — these men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who have children, who are filled with love — but they had the strength — the strength! — to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly.”
As apologists for Islam are wont to point out (in their folly and their failure to comprehend religion), the "Greater Jihad" of Muslim tradition is the interior, spiritual jihad that purifies the self. It is prior to the outward, Lesser Jihad. Suicide bombers on the West Bank routinely partake of ritual cleansing in advance of their "martyrdom operations." Many ISIS productions feature interspersed shots of black-clad soldiers lifting their children lovingly, and slashing the throats of their helpless, orange-clad hostages.
These acts of depraved murder are an outward demonstration that the follower of ISIS has conquered all his interior restraint and has, in that moment, been emptied of everything but the wrath of his god. In the eyes of the adorers of Jihad, it is not just a sign of the rule of Islam over the non-Muslim which is to come, but also a sign of the present rule of Allah's will in the heart of the executioner. (The mask splits a bit when we hear of the dependence on powerful stimulants; that raging will is not fully natural but must be induced chemically, something which Peter Hitchens is right in saying has received too little attention.)
It is evident that these fanatics represent a very special sort of problem for the West, one which vastly overshadows the somnambulant official ramblings about "lone wolf tactics." To reference a much better (though also not great) movie, Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, there is a sequence in the beginning which shows a meagerly-equipped, skinny adolescent boy scrambling over some rocks, serving as a scout for the mujahedeen of Mogadishu. He stops in the middle of his hard trek and pulls out his prayer mat, one of his only material possessions, and dutifully prays to Mecca, before continuing on to deliver his report on the movement of American forces. The scene is powerful. One gets the sense that Scott understands, and is trying to communicate in that scene, Col. Ardant du Picq's dictum that, "In war, the moral is to the material as three is to one."
The choice of this particular target for the latest Muslim atrocity isn't surprising. The symbolism is plain, even crude — your religion is dying before you. Ours lives in our hearts.
This sort of thing will not make the French people put down their cell phones and return to their Churches. That's the problem. The jihadists know it, and are rubbing Europe's nose in it. Who knows how it will work out, at least in the short run? We can hope, and not without evidentiary basis, that part of the Western-wide populist revolt lies rooted in a rejection of the false emollients, offered languidly from bureaucratic officialdom, concerning the Jihad, its grounding in Islamic doctrine, and its antiquity upon the earth.
Rev. Jacques Hamel, martyr of the Church of Christ, requiescat in pace.