Everyone who saw the image of Islamic militants beheading an American contractor in Iraq has reacted with understandable horror. Few things are more brutal than the cold-blooded murder by masked thugs, and the chosen method of execution was particularly grisly.
Americans are in shock and mourning, made all the worse by the detailed media descriptions of the victim. Nicolas Berg, a 26-year-old contractor from the Philadelphia suburbs, was by all accounts a fine and generous young man with a special gift for electronics. He wasn’t in Iraq to do any fighting, but he wanted to be part of the rebuilding. He had previously traveled to Africa, where he helped development efforts there.
It’s so sad to consider that the dead in Iraq are not just numbers, but real human beings, with careers, families, aspirations and dreams. To see such a promising life taken so brutally and senselessly is to bring home the troubling reality of war. It also brings home the disturbing cruelty of some of America’s opponents.
A masked man in the video statement, before the execution, made these remarks: “Nation of Islam, is there any excuse left to sit idly by? And how can free Muslims sleep soundly as they see Islam being slaughtered, honor bleeding, photographs of shame and reports of satanic degradation of the people of Islam, men and women, in Abu Ghraib prison?”
It’s not clear how the execution of an innocent man is in any way retribution for the abuses at the American-run Iraqi prison. Then again, expecting sense out of these fanatics — who, of course, do not represent Islam as a whole — is nonsensical. From a broader standpoint, this murder achieves the opposite of what its supporters ostensibly want. The masked men say they want the United States out of Iraq, but the killing of Berg is certain only to harden American resolve.
Furthermore, the Abu Ghraib scandal, which focused on the detestable abuses American soldiers perpetrated on Iraqi prisoners at the prison, was arguably softening U.S. domestic support for the Iraq war.
Now, the images of humiliated Iraqi prisoners fade into the background as the far more ghastly image of the Berg killing comes to the fore. The result: a shifting focus on the brutality of America’s opponents and away from the abuses of some American soldiers. That, surely, doesn’t advance the interests of those who want the United States out of Iraq.
But, really, this is not about geopolitics.
The murder of Berg was an act of barbarity, plain and simple. It’s another reason to hope and work for a swift and peaceful resolution to the Iraq imbroglio.