Muadh al-Kasasbeh was captured in December. Earlier this week he was burned alive and it was taped for 22 minutes. I remember in the 2006 Lebanon War, watching the Arabic media, even while in Beirut, even while in the war, was shocking to me. They showed severed children in screaming parents’ arms. They showed people running and screaming and bloodied. Those things would hit me in a profound, transformative way. As a shielded upperclass Lebanese-American visiting Beirut only for the summers, my engagement with wartime was solely academic or politically theoretical in nature. But the television in my grandmother’s living room would bring the consequences of the distant bombs I felt right into my consciousness. It made me a better human being to understand that people were being hurt. It, even if fleetingly, evoked a connection to the situation. Not even being in the city itself could do that. There are millions of microcosmic worlds in the Middle East. Mine, at least until then, had nothing to do with war. The news, though, brought the war outside into my head.
Now, Fox News has been the only website that embedded the ISIS video which shows a Jordanian pilot burning alive. In December, the 26-year-old Jordanian pilot crashed in Syria. He was a First Lieutenant participating in a U.S.-led bombing mission targeting the Islamic State (ISIS) when his jet went down. One part of me understands that showing a terrorist’s propaganda serves only to spread their message. On the other hand, though, it is important for the West to internalize the complexity of this fight going on so far away. The fact that the pilot was from the same region, from the same religion, from the same far away place drives home the point that it is not crazy Muslims who are burning people. It is crazy people burning Muslims in the name of a politicized version of Islam born through decades of poverty and tyranny. Al-Kasasbeh was probably brutally murdered in this way precisely because he was a Muslim. To ISIS, a traitor. An interesting story coming from hostages is that their ISIS captors were said to not even have a Quran among them. Even I have a mini Quran on my wrist and I am, at best, spiritually Muslim.
In a more domestic line of thinking, I believe Fox has an agenda to spike ratings and stand out by galvanizing its republican base. That fuels the side of me that thinks showing this video is for the wrong reason. I think the media throughout the world has a responsibility to start parsing out and analyzing these acts of brutality–whether Paris or within the region itself. Why did Muadh al-Kasasbeh, a Muslim Jordanian, become a fighter pilot fighting ISIS and how did the ISIS fighter who lit that final flame get to the place where he thought that was ok? It sounds a lot like criminals versus non-criminals, not Muslims versus everyone else. What were the differences in childhoods, legal environments and communities between these two people? Is there a way to logistically trace their access to jobs or food or legal respite throughout their lives? That is the type of research media outlets need to conduct because that is what the American public is ready for. It is obviously not the reason of religion alone which fuels ISIS. So, is Fox News educating us when they show this video? It all depends on what you already know. If you know very little, then all you are is shocked, scared and upset. I have a feeling that Fox News knows that its viewers know very little.