A piece of today. Of my professional life.
I get an alert from a colleague in US about a new video that has surfaced. It is supposedly portraying the group Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki fighters having captured what they claim to be an Al-Quds (Palestinian pro-government militia) child soldier in Handarat near the city of Aleppo, and my colleague notifies me about the graphic nature of the video. But after having had to sit through almost the entire official material coming out of ISIS for the last 18 months, I don’t reflect much about the notification.
Now remember, in an increasingly expanding sphere of researchers, activists, journalists and think-tanks, with true knowledge about the media propaganda of armed violent groups and organisations in Syria, there is a need to stay updated and informed in order to keep up with the production and distribution of important knowledge concerning these issues that I basically devote my professional life to understand. Therefor it is natural for me to consume this material. Not because I want to, but because I have reached a position where I feel I have to in order to have professional opinions about it.
In any case, I sit down by the computer. The video is not yet “all over the internet”, but rather obscure and hard to find if you don’t know what you are doing. It surfaced this morning online and it will not take long until it is though. Unfortunately.
The link title suggest it is a matter of a beheading. Knowing that the group Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki is not significantly affiliated with major/rich insurgency groups, atleast not to the extent of having a large media wing behind it continously producing media propaganda, I expect an amateur footage video, similar to other gruesome mobile-phone videos filmed by ISIS fighters on the field, which I have worked with before. Sometimes they show fire exchange, sometimes they show spontaneous beheadings or torture of captives. Having went through so much mediated violence, I believe I am prepared for yet another of these videos.
But I soon realise that I am not. The just surfaced video entails a shaky camera, filming men chanting next to a parked pick-up truck. On the back of the car I see some fighters sitting closely together. One of them has a young boy, looks about 10-12 years old, in his lap. The man is holding him on the forehead. The boy appears relatively calm, almost as if he doesn’t understand what is going on. He tries to communicate silently, moving his hand and whisper something, looking around for someone to notice him. The man’s grip around his forehead gets more firm. Another man yell to the boy. The chanting around the car continues. The position of the boy, and the way he is treated, reminds more of a stray animal than a combat enemy. In an already horrific context, this is even more chilling.
Off camera more men have now gathered and join the crowd. All of a sudden, the vehicle is emptied as all jump off and stands behind the car, next to the person filming. Except for the little boy and the man holding him, who ties the hands behind the boys back and push him down on the stomach. Standing on top of him, the man, who looks about 25 years old, proudly accepts the chant of the crowd. He doesn’t look angry. He doesn’t look convinced, something that I am used to see among executioners in these groups. He simply appears as believing he is naturally chosen for doing what he is about to do. And the chills now start in my body as I watch him proceed.
I am sorry to say this. But those of you who are yet to understand the cruelty and unimaginable horror taking place in Syria, and don’t want to know, you have the option of stop reading now.
Because what unfolds is among the most horrific things I have ever seen. And as it includes a child victim, there is a special sense of fear shivering within me. The dehumanisation of the tiny little boy. The almost pornographic excitement in the eyes of the executioner. The demons leaving the boys body as he is brutally deprived of dignity and rest of his life.
The man does not hesitate, not for a single moment, as he first makes the lying boy watch to his right where the huge knife has been placed. A few seconds go by. Then harshly lifts his head, picks up the knife and in the most brutal of ways, slowly behead the boy. It takes too many seconds. Painfully long seconds. The scream immediately stops. The ground beneath turns read.
I turn my head. I cannot bear the sound. The images. The overwhelming disgust within me. What I see is unforgivable. It is something beyond cruelty and it is beyond what my soul could ever be prepared for.
And then, the silence.
The video is ended. I find myself crouching in the chair. Stiff and pale.
Did this just happen?
I regret to say, it did. And I regret to say it will happen again. In this world, where I sit in a chair and watch, while men, women and children over there are the ones who experience this. Yet I complain.
Slowly I gather myself. Process what I witnessed. Dealing with it as I have had to learn. And then I feel better.
But there are always things you wish you had not seen. But above all, and even more, prayed they never happened.
(BBC wrote about the video an hour ago here)