[ by Charles Cameron — beheadings and the questions they raise ]
Tim Furnish, friend of this blog, had a piece titled Beheading in the Name of Islam in the Middle East Quarterly back in 2005, in which he wrote:
The February 2002 decapitation of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, true to its intention, horrified the Western audience. Chechen rebels, egged on by Islamist benefactors, had adopted the practice four years earlier, but the absence of widely broadcast videos limited the psychological impact of hostage decapitation. The Pearl murder and video catalyzed the resurgence of this historical Islamic practice. In Iraq, terrorists filmed the beheadings of Americans Nicholas Berg, Jack Hensley, and Eugene Armstrong. Other victims include Turks, an Egyptian, a Korean, Bulgarians, a British businessman, and a Nepalese. Scores of Iraqis, both Kurds and Arabs, have also fallen victim to Islamist terrorists’ knives. The new fad in terrorist brutality has extended to Saudi Arabia where Islamist terrorists murdered American businessman Paul Johnson, whose head was later discovered in a freezer in an Al-Qaeda hideout.
For myself, convinced as I am that perceived, preached or proclaimed divine endorsement for such killings plays a major role in facilitating them, the existence of what are overtly at least non-religious examples of the same brutal behavior are valuable, albeit humanly distressing, for the questions they raise:
is the brutal behavior in question a bestial aspect of human nature in general, and religion merely a thin veneer with which it sometimes conveniently clothes itself? or are sports in some way alternative modalities of group transcendence — and thus effectively religious in their essence?
Bryan Alexander, another friend, comments today on a related story at his gothic-themed blog, Infocult, under the heading When sports fans attack, Russian remix.