The Beheading of American Nick Berg in Iraq

by | May 13, 2004

The slaughtering of Nick Berg is one small step for terrorists and a major leap for the West’s encounter with Jihadism. The videotape, posted on the Ansar website, is one of many horrifying acts perpetrated by the followers of Osama bin Laden. It has also become a significant benchmark in the West’s media reporting. The […]

The slaughtering of Nick Berg is one small step for terrorists and a major leap for the West’s encounter with Jihadism. The videotape, posted on the Ansar website, is one of many horrifying acts perpetrated by the followers of Osama bin Laden. It has also become a significant benchmark in the West’s media reporting.

The Abu Ghraib disaster, the behavior of few bad apples within the U.S. armed forces, triggered this major development that will influence the way citizens look at al-Qaeda’s war on Americans. September 11 brought Mohammad Atta into the collective memory of this country and the international community, but May 11 will keep Abu Musab al Zarqawi in that same memory as one of the most cruel enemies of innocent civilians anywhere. The terrorist fugitive’s name is the title of the horrendous video showing Berg’s beheading.

Nick Berg’s life was simple. Out of Philadelphia, he sought a job in a liberated Iraq, or so he thought. He trusted his government, and trusted the politicians of his country. He traveled to help Iraqis and establish a personal link with Iraq’s civil society. But he was obstructing the spread of Jihad. He became a lonely Kafir (infidel), and found himself on the wrong side of dar el Harb (the war zone as conceived by the Islamists). And as such, he was slaughtered by the long sword of al Zarqawi. The pictures of his murder will circle the world — and they deserve to overshadow the Abu Ghraib photos.

In the American detention center that grabbed world attention and ignited a self-whipping crusade in the U.S., men were shown naked, piled up and humiliated. But because American is a free and democratic society, such acts of humiliation and abuse are abhorrent to American people everywhere and come to be quickly judged and condemned. This is because Americans value life and live in an open society which exposes its own injustices. The rights of detainees are sacred in America, even if these detainees are terrorists and have taken innocent lives.

At the Abu Ghraib of jihad, however, innocents are slaughtered at will at the discretion of unholy warriors. In the al Zarqawi “detention centers,” there are no laws, there are no codes, and there is no humanity; only a cult of death exists that demands the slaughter of innocents and perpetuates itself without justice or reflection.

Unfortunately, some among us may have fuelled the blood fiesta that was shown on the website. While Abu Ghraib has now become another way in which terrorists can legitimize killing innocent people, some voices from this end of the world re-perpetrate this horrid logic, excessively assessing the so-called impact of the Iraqi soldiers abuse by their guards and declaring that the “reactions will be violent and bloody.” In other words, they morally legitimized these bloody acts by seeing them as mere responses, not actions that are in line with an ideologyof of death and hatred. So when the slaughter of Berg took place and was posted online, these same voices rushed to establish a moral equality between Abu Ghraib and the savage beheading of an innocent young man. But no such equality exists.

To start with, the assessment that all people in the Middle East misunderstood America and despised its image as result of the photos was wrong. At a media summit at the State Department last Friday, and while Secretary Rumsfeld was under heavy shelling in Congress, U.S. officials learned from two dozen Arab and Mideast media people that “many opinions in many segments had different concerns in the region.”

Those who are anti-American – including al-Qaeda sympathizers – will take the pictures to the zenith of exploiting hatred. One Mideast participant told the Foreign policy officers “if you tell those radicals that the Arab world will react violently, the Jihadists will react on behalf of Arabs and Muslims, but without their consent.” Many participants, from different religious and ethnic background, warned U.S. officials not to give the terrorists meat for their diet.

In reality, many people in the Middle East understand that American values vanished in the Abu Ghraib detention center, but that this does not reflect the U.S. initiative in the greater Middle East. Apart from al Jazeera and the Jihadi web sites, the people of Iraq generally felt embarrassed for the US.

For Kurds, mainstream Shiites and democratic Sunnis, it remained clear: the weakening of the U.S. role would be a catalyst for the return of Baathism and the surge of Wahhabism. For them, Abu Ghraib is a passage in a much wider chapter: the transition to sovereignty. Iraqis understood that, but the carriers of petite politics on these shores did not and refuse to. By developing a crisis of so-called immorality in the American military, leftists try to make the American public believe in a widespread systemic problem that is being responded to by Jihadists.

But the beheading of Nick Berg cannot be understood as something that America caused. Abu Musab al Zarqawi ordered the kidnappings of Americans and others months ago. Before and after Fallujah’s last episode, the terrorists resorted to “collect” the victims. On one of their audio websites, they called them “assembled sheep” (Tajmeeh al khawareef) who were to be “sacrificed” at will.

Thus, whether Abu Ghraib happened or not, al-Qaeda was building its human ammunition depot. Berg’s ordeal was not a direct result of Abu Ghraib. Al-Qaeda does not care when prisoners are mistreated. For them, the big picture is to weaken and humiliate the U.S. and to prevent the rise of an Arab democracy. This is why al Zarqawi stops at nothing to create chaos and fear in the region so as to undermine American efforts. But the Western Left ignores this dynamic and, as a result, steps into al-Qaeda’s trap – and helps to cause additional bloodshed in Iraq.

Cartoons by Cox and Forkum.

Walid Phares is a Professor of Middle East Studies and Religious Conflict and a Terrorism expert with MSNBC. Visit his website at

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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