What’s Kassig’s Beheading Tells Us

In life, Peter Kassig sacrificed to alleviate the suffering of strangers. In death, he rendered proof to a sacred creed of courage: “Surrender is not a Ranger word.”

Concluding their latest video, released yesterday, a man who appears to be “Jihadi John” of the Islamic State mocks the former U.S. Army Ranger, Mr. Kassig with this taunt: “doesn’t have much to say.” Peter’s decapitated head is then shown at the feet of Jihadi John. This is the Islamic State’s holy humor.

Nevertheless, Kassig’s silence says much about this fine man. It suggests that he denied his murderers the pleasure of a kneeled submission. With this act of courage, he perhaps lessened the terrible pain of his family.

We must pay heed to this latest atrocity because it is yet another grisly testament to the threat we face. In keeping with previous Islamic State (IS) videos, this latest is overlaid by jihadist soundtracks, and its high production expenditures are obvious, including slow-motion shots, multiple camera angles, and extensive editing. At one point, a line of IS fighters — each grasping a captive from the Syrian military — proceeds toward a box of knives. Each fighter grabs a knife and keeps walking. Next, the prisoners are shown on their knees, gazing at the camera with blank stares. The terrorists twirl their knives perversely. Then, the masked coward, Jihadi John, rants. The captives are slowly beheaded. The videographers make particular effort to emphasize their pain.

In its pure grotesqueness, this video illuminates the Islamic State’s agenda. First on its list is the recruitment of more jihadists; the staged murder is persuasive propaganda to those who fetishize death. As I’ve noted before, IS videos are systematically designed to attract to the jihadist cause a particular minority of young, angry, socially disconnected Muslims. This latest installment in the videography of evil implies that IS intends to escalate its terrorism.

But there’s more here than meets the eye. What’s also notable is that Jihadi John’s eyes are shown in a close-up during the beheadings. This shows that IS is aware that this man’s identity is known to Western intelligence services. The mask now serves not to disguise his identity but to add to the lore of the masked jihadist: It proffers the idea that Jihadi John could be anyone and that the Islamic State is truly a global organization.

Beyond creating propaganda, the video editors also seek to deter coalition military action. By informing Western leaders that the Islamic State will soon “begin to slaughter your people on your streets,” Jihadi John aims to instill so much fear that we will retreat. This warning flows alongside the “global” strategic narrative that IS leader, al-Baghdadi, offered last week.

Finally, by suggesting that the video was recorded in the Syrian village of Dabiq, IS makes two further points: It controls territory less than ten miles from Turkey’s border, and it sees this as an absolute war (Dabiq holds great significance for jihadists for its assumed theological importance for the Islamic judgment day).

Some continue to claim that the Islamic State threat is exaggerated for scaremongering purposes. The truth — proved in the hundreds of Europeans and others (Australians, for example) now fighting for the Islamic State — is that IS has both the capacity and the intent to export murder.

This most recent video should compel us to two actions: We must expediently hunt down Jihadi John, and we must conduct our own insurgency against the Islamic State.

Tom Rogan, based in Washington, D.C., is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and a contributor to The McLaughlin Group. He holds the Tony Blankley Chair at the Steamboat Institute and tweets @TomRtweets.