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Video Of Jordanian Pilot's Death As Horrific As It Was Symbolic


I have watched the video of Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh's death at the hands of ISIS. I don't recommend your doing it. It is not easy viewing. We're going to discuss it a bit right now, and if you don't wish to hear the discussion, now's a good time to leave us for four minutes or so. The beginning shows Jordan's king in the presence of Americans - President Obama, Charlie Rose. Later, scenes of buildings reduced to rubble presented as coalition airstrikes. It shows bodies of injured adults and children corpses, and for each one, the screen is consumed by a graphic of fire, symbolizing the flames that killed or injured them. Lieutenant Kaseasbeh is then consumed by a real fire, presented as a fitting revenge. He's buried in rubble, as are the victims of the coalition strikes in this video. When we first saw ISIS videos, we turned to Dawn Perlmutter of the Symbol Intelligence Group. She studies the symbolism of such things, and she joins us once again. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: This is a far better production - I mean, just looking at it as a piece of video. It's much more sophisticated than anything we saw before out of ISIS.

PERLMUTTER: Correct. It also is different from the beheading videos in that it shows the actual murder. The beheading videos would cut to black and then show the body. This one shows a ritual killing.

SIEGEL: You say ritual killing. I have read that the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad include a saying cited by Saudi cleric yesterday that God alone has the right to punish by fire. Even Saudi where they behead convicted criminals - immolation is not a punishment.

PERLMUTTER: It may not be exempted in Islam, but it's very prevalent in this area of the world. In Iraq there's been hundreds of women that have been ritually killed in the same manner. The Pakistani school killings - there were - 140 children were murdered. They literally set the teacher on fire in front of the kids. The Islamic State has adopted these types of primal, ritual events.

SIEGEL: As we've heard today in Jordan, it's thought that this video just went too far - that this has actually unified the people of Jordan against the Islamic State. Do you think it's possible that this time ISIS has just overdone it?

PERLMUTTER: No, unfortunately, I do not think that. I think the video is very effective for their target audience. I think that it's essentially a recruitment video that they want to provoke attacks so that it can become this cycle of reciprocal violence. Then they can show more dead children and say that they're the victims and turn it all around. But I think the most disturbing thing other than the ritual murder was the images of the rewards for the pilots at the end of the video.

SIEGEL: Yes, at the end it says here are the other crusader pilots, meaning Jordanians, presumably, who fly with the coalition forces. It shows pictures and names and offers a reward for anyone who would kill them.

PERLMUTTER: Yes. That's extremely disturbing. First of all, how did they get the intelligence? How did they get those pictures? They have name, rank. They are trying to be provocative.

SIEGEL: I suppose one could say that a bombing is louder than a video no matter what. But there does seem to be something asymmetric about the kind of messages coming out of ISIS and whatever any government would ever do. I mean, that is not a video that I could ever imagine an organized state promulgating on the web. Can governments actually compete with this sort of thing?

PERLMUTTER: We can compete with this, but we have to understand that this is information warfare. When they first captured the Lieutenant, they actually tweeted out, hashtag, suggest a way to kill the Jordanian pilot pig. I mean, they turn everything into a reality show, and they know how to appeal to perspective recruits. And we're not counteracting in the same way.

SIEGEL: Well, Doctor Perlmutter, thank you very much for talking with us.

PERLMUTTER: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Dawn Perlmutter who is director of the Symbol Intelligence Group based in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.