In the final moments before an ISIS executioner beheaded the American journalist Steven Sotloff, the masked man offered up, in an English accent, a message to his viewers: “We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.”
Beheading an American hostage—and a bound, kneeling one at that—hardly seems likely to keep the United States out of the Middle East. Indeed, ISIS leaders couldn’t have made the prospect of American airstrikes more likely if they had sent a video to President Obama begging him to drop more bombs.
What was the point of these videos? Propaganda, perhaps. But consider this: in many of the videos,
the cameraman narrated the moments before the blast with palpable excitement, panting and exclaiming as the explosion neared. It’s impossible to watch without concluding that those guys were enjoying what they did—that they were getting off on it. Videotaping a mass murder is not politics; it’s pornography.
One of the most spectacular Al Qaeda bombings came in October of 2005, when a suicide bomber drove a cement mixer filled with TNT into the Sheraton Hotel. The blast set off a dirty mushroom cloud that rose more than a hundred feet into the night sky. I was living in a house down the street, a half mile away, and the waves from the explosion rocked the walls of the house. The truck’s radiator landed in the back yard, still smoking.