Losing Our Heads

By Ted Rall

INHUMAN, screamed the cover of the New York Post in reaction to the latest beheading video to come out of Iraq. “BUTCHERS,” added the late edition. But that’s too easy. The men who slit American engineer Jack Hensley’s throat are human beings. So let’s consider them, as fellow humans with strategy in mind, and look at how the current rash of tele-decapitations began. Muslim extremists have been sending us a message for more than a decade. That message can be summarized as “leave us alone.” Quit funding a right-wing Israeli government that drops American-made bombs on our Palestinian brothers. Stop arming corrupt, despised autocracies across the Muslim world—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, to name a few—so that we can overthrow them. Let us liberate ourselves. We’ll decide whether we prefer secular, modern societies like Turkey, medieval fundamentalists like the Taliban, or something in between. It’s our choice, not America’s.

Leaders of Al Qaeda and likeminded groups know that a polite letter to the editor, a boycott of American goods, or even a high-concept ad campaign wouldn’t convince the United States to pull out of the Middle East or Central Asia. Too much oil is at stake. And no other country or group of countries is powerful enough to make us do so. Terrorism, the time-honored tool of the disenfranchised and powerless, seems the only potential equalizer to those who seek to take us on.

From the standpoint of the jihadis, the retail approach—blowing up as many people as possible—has been a failure. Headlines were impressive but the big bombings’ practical effect on policy has been nil. Americans barely noticed when Osama & Co. blasted our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Two hundred twenty-four people died and over 5,000 were wounded, but just twelve were American. And East Africa is far, far away. President Bill Clinton fired off cruise missiles at Sudan and Afghanistan, and the editorial pages of American newspapers remained devoid of calls for reconsidering our involvement in the Arab world. September 11 did spark such a discussion, but it was immediately overwhelmed by a wave of righteous indignation that the Bushies channeled into wars against Afghanistan, Iraq and the American Constitution. The big question—should we be over there at all?—was not seriously asked or considered.

Pakistani militants stumbled upon a quintessential truth of marketing with the 2002 killing of kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl: personal tragedy plays to a bigger audience and moves them more deeply than mass murder. For the vast majority of Americans who neither live in New York nor lost a friend or relative, the horrors of September 11 were all the more abstract for their incomprehensible scale. Four hundred people died last year from secondhand smoke, but that’s just a statistic. You know Laci Peterson; you’ve seen and heard her laugh. Three thousand dead, the commercial center of the nation’s largest city vaporized—it’s too big, like some terrible disease or flood in China that kills vast numbers. But Pearl was real, individual, knowable—one guy, murdered, videotaped right to his grisly end. Four months after 9/11 and three after the invasion of Afghanistan, his gruesome murder finally forced the American public to pay attention to extremists’ message. “Maybe we shouldn’t be over there,” people started wondering.

Iraqi resistance groups took note. “What they do is behead Americans so they can get on the TV screens,” Bush says. He’s absolutely right. Cutting off the heads of a wide range of the “average folks” of the war situation—truck drivers, journalists, people who might be working to feed their families or might be war profiteers—gets past network censors the way images of dead Iraqi civilians can’t, and penetrates all the way to the horrified minds of viewers.

It’s impossible to imagine what people beheaded by the Iraqi insurgents went through during their final days. It’s painful to even try. “You are living with your executioner, who’s having pictures taken both before, during and after the beheading. That increases the horror,” says Daniel Gerould, author of Guillotine: Its Legend and Lore. Yet, as undeniably disgusting as these killings are, the Iraqis are conveying their message to us far more economically than we’re conveying our message to them.

Our response to their “leave us alone,” of course, is “no.” Beginning with the slaughter of the free-fire “Highway of Death” at the end of the Gulf War, continuing throughout the ‘90s with routine bombings of civilians and sanctions that blocked medicine that could have saved thousands and culminating with a 2003 invasion with a death toll well into the tens of thousands, the United States has been far more extravagant with expending Iraqi lives then Iraq’s beheaders have been with their targeting of individual Westerners. Just this week, Knight Ridder newspapers reported, the Iraqi Health Ministry—part of the Allawi puppet regime—announced that 3,487 Iraqis have been killed and 13,720 injured by American forces since April 5. “While most of the dead are believed to be civilians,” wrote Nancy Youssef, “the data include an unknown number of police and Iraqi national guardsmen. Many Iraqi deaths, especially of insurgents, are never reported, so the actual number of Iraqis killed in fighting could be significantly higher...Iraqi officials said the statistics proved that U.S. airstrikes intended for insurgents also were killing large numbers of innocent civilians.” Whatever our intentions, and in part thanks to our tactics, Iraqis are increasingly hostile to the U.S. “I think [we] lost the hearts and minds [of Iraqis] a long time ago,” says University of Michigan Shiite Islam specialist Juan Cole. Since July, meanwhile, cutting the heads off of about 20 foreigners has given the Iraqi resistance the results it wants: fewer Americans support the war or believe it’s worth the cost. Twenty versus three thousand—it’s rough calculus but easy arithmetic. n

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Steer Clear

The outbound right lane of Richmond Rd. will be blocked to the inner loop of New Circle Rd. is blocked thru Friday, October 1. Fayette Mall: Traffic patterns have shifted on W. Reynolds Rd. at the railroad bridge near Fayette Mall. God be with you. Westbound Reynolds Rd. traffic shifted to the new lanes under the bridge. Shillito Park Road is closed to traffic for 2-3 weeks and access to the park can be obtained through Monticello subdivision.

Eastbound traffic also shifted and is on the old roadway. Crews are building new lanes between Shillito Park Road and the Fayette Mall Road.

Chew On It

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government invites everyone to McConnell Springs for “History to Chew On.” Held on the first Thursday of every month from 6 - 8pm (October 7th) through the end of November.

Info 859/ 255.4073.

Get Ready To Rally

On October 3 The Lexington Center is hosting a “Support Our Troops & President Bush” rally in Triangle Park from 3 - 6pm. (It should be noted that it’s possible to support one and not the other, and since the rally is in a public space, signing a “loyalty oath” may not be required.)

Weeknight Parade

Several downtown streets will close from Midland to Mill St. at 7pm Monday, October 4, for the annual Fire Prevention Parade, which will proceed down Main St. from Midland to Mill.

Informed Votes

We don’t care how you vote (okay, we do), but more important, we care that you DO vote. Wednesdays, October 6th through October 27th, 4 to 5pm, the Carnegie Center will show you how.

The class will explore how citizens can make a more informed decision in the voting booth. The instructor will lead class members through activities to determine the characteristics and issue stances they personally seek in an elected official. Discover how to access candidate information, understand political language, watch a debate, and make sense of all those political advertisements. $10 registration fee.

Info, 859/ 254.4175 (Or, if you can’t make the class, watch The Daily Show, every night at 11, with a repeat the next evening at 7pm.)


Attend a community forum about the presidential election Wednesday, October 6th, 11am to 12:30pm. Student Center patio at UK, outside the Visitors Center.

United We Stand

Through October 23rd, the United Way of the Bluegrass is sponsoring Season of service. Season of Service will take place over six weeks and United Way encourages volunteers to give back to their communities through a variety of scheduled projects.

Info, 859/ 233.4461.

Troubled Waters

Water wars continue this week. Bluegrass FLOW held a press conference Tuesday at the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Center re. their request to the Attorney General for an investigation. The Coalition Against a Government Takeover has fired back with a volley of PR citing FLOW’s political origins and financial connections.

To submit an advocacy/activism activity or event for Quickies, email, or

To submit an advocacy/activism activity or event for Quickies, email, or