On the death of Nick Berg and what the real problem is that caused it.

The big news yesterday was the video of the death of Nick Berg at the hands of hooded men claiming to be part of al Qaeda which was posted to a website associated with that terrorist group. Descriptions of Nick’s graphic beheading have been all over the news media since the video was released, not to mention the blogosphere, and the number one thing people have searched for here at SEB in the past 24 hours is links to the video itself. Up until this entry I didn’t have any links to sites hosting the video, but if you feel the need to see it then over at Wizbang they have an entry up with links to the video as well as an ongoing debate in the comments on the appropriateness of providing said links. The argument over whether the guys at Wizbang should have linked to the video is silly in my mind as the video is already out there on the Net and anyone who really wants to see it won’t have to search too hard to find a copy of it someplace. Whether or not you should watch the video is a choice only you can make, but if you have any doubts then my advice is to avoid it as it’s probably more disturbing than you imagine.

As for myself, I decided to watch it, but not out of morbid curiosity. My decision was based on the need to understand first hand what others had seen so I had a proper frame of reference to judge their reactions by. I didn’t want anyone trying to claim that I couldn’t understand the emotions they were feeling because I hadn’t seen the video. I had a pretty good idea of what the video would be like from the various written accounts of it I’ve read and I’m pretty good at keeping my emotions in check over things of this nature, but the video still had quite an emotional effect on me. Unlike many other people, however, the emotion I experienced was despair.

I already had a good idea of how a lot of people were going to react to the video regardless of whether they had seen it and checking around the blogosphere my suspicions seem to have been borne out. Those of a Conservative mindset are loudly proclaiming their anger and outrage not only at the perpetrators of this crime, but at their favorite targets such as The Liberal Media™ and anyone who isn’t expressing a similar emotional response (read: Liberals in general). Those of a more Liberal mindset either aren’t talking about the story all that much or seem to be trying to claim it’s a direct result of the Bush administration or a American foreign policy in general. Both sides point at the other and prattle on about what’s wrong with their way of looking at the whole situation. The reality is that all sides of the debate have at least some kernels of truth in their grasp, but none of them have a lock on the truth as a whole and too many people want to over-simplify things to suit their particular viewpoints.

Many Conservatives want to say that Nick Berg’s death makes the Abu Ghraib scandal pale in comparison, but the truth is that at least two Iraqi prisoners died as a result of the activities at Abu Ghraib. Simply because they weren’t beheaded nor had their deaths broadcast from a website doesn’t in any way make their deaths any less of a crime than Nick Berg’s. Many Liberals want to lay the blame for Berg’s death on the Bush administration as a direct result of the Abu Ghraib scandal which they feel the Bush administration encouraged. The truth is that there is no evidence that anyone involved in the Bush administration knew about the conditions developing at Abu Ghraib nor directly or indirectly gave permission or instructions for the activities that took place. So while it may be arguable that Nick Berg’s death is directly a result of the scandal that doesn’t mean the blame for it is in part or in whole the fault of the Bush administration itself.

These are just two examples of the sort of arguments flying back and forth and all of the different arguments fail to consider what I feel is probably the real crux of the problem: Our tendency toward Tribalism.

Tribalism has been a part of human nature since the beginning and it pervades much of our thinking on every kind of human relationship. Simply put it’s the “Us vs. Them” mentality that at one time in our history was a very beneficial way to view the world when competing over limited resources and struggling to survive day to day. It was an effective tool and thus it became ingrained in our nature and still affects how we think of ourselves in relation to others to this very day. By and large this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it often manifests itself in relatively harmless forms such as declaring ourselves to be Red Wings fans or Linux enthusiasts and so on. Even though being a member of either of those two examples is in no way a matter of survival it doesn’t stop us from feeling like a part of the group and committed to supporting its causes or ambitions. We take ridiculous amounts of pride in whatever successes our “tribe” manages to accomplish even if we had nothing to do with that success (e.g. winning the Stanley Cup) and when a member of the tribe somehow screws things up the sense of betrayal and anger is very real (e.g. Cubs fan Steve Bartman, the most hated man in Chicago). Modern professional sports wouldn’t earn anywhere near what it does if not for tribalism. It’s a useful tool for uniting people behind all manner of causes and organizations both silly and serious by creating an emotional investment and impetus to action for the members of the “tribe.”

It’s not all good, though. The downside to tribalism comes in the form of conflict when two or more “tribes” with opposing goals clash. The partisan bickering that takes place in politics between Democrats and Republicans is a perfect example of the negative aspects of tribalism. It can result in things such as legislative grid lock where nothing gets accomplished as well as plenty of political back stabbing. Too often emotional tribalism ends up replacing rational discourse as a means of solving problems. Rather than honestly considering the implications of a particular solution to a particular problem we’ll fall back on “towing the party line” which, depending on who’s leading the tribe, can be a very dangerous shortcut to take. Tribalism and the “Us vs. Them” mentality is reinforced by all aspects of society such as governments (I Pledge Allegiance…), religions (Thou shalt have no other God before me…), political groups, sports teams, video game console makers, shoe companies, fast food restaurants, TV networks, and so on. You could sit here all day just listing off the different groups, organizations, companies and such that promote tribalism. When you mix in the fact that in today’s world everyone is often a part of many different tribes which may share closely aligned goals the influence that can be brought to bear on the thinking of members can ramp up quickly. When taken to its extremes the mentality of “Us vs. Them” can then result in the unthinkable becoming not only possible, but acceptable.

It’s that extreme version of tribalism that made Nick Berg’s beheading and it’s subsequent broadcast on the Internet not only possible, but morally acceptable to the people who participated in it. It’s the same line of thinking that made the death of 600 Muslims at the hands of Christian militiamen in Nigeria not only possible, but morally acceptable to the people who participated in it. It’s the same sort of thinking that made the Holocaust not only possible, but morally acceptable to the people who participated in it. It’s the same sort of thinking behind groups such as the KKK, the Branch Davidians, the Black Panthers, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Nazi’s, the neo-Confederates, the Westboro Baptist Church, the Jewish Defense League, Volksfront, among many more. It’s exactly the line of thinking used by individuals such as Timothy McVeigh, Bernhard Goetz, James Kopp and countless suicide bombers.

Looking around at the various responses folks have written to Nick Berg’s death it’s easy to see this same thinking in use. Azygos’ comment and Wolfe’s comment (among many others) on Wizbang, Kiril Kundurazieff’s blog entry, D-Coy’s blog entry, Tom’s blog entry, and the comments of Ken right here on SEB just to list a few. By and large for a lot of these people this is just a way of blowing off some steam from what is in all reality a very emotionally disturbing event, but for some folks the logic of Us vs. Them would justify acts as bad, or worse, than what inspired their anger in the first place. The futility of this line of thinking is exemplified by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. First one side kills a bunch of people in self-righteous indignation then the other side exacts deadly retribution which prompts the first group to exact revenge for the retribution which prompts the other side to kill more people to “discourage” continued attacks which ends up only providing the first side with more fuel for the fire and the cycle continues on and on while both sides claim that the other side is “evil” and that God is on their side and that the other guys started it anyway so there. It’s almost as if no one is able to take a step back and see that both sides are making similar claims as their opponents. Folks are describing the people who killed Nick Berg as being Evil and Satanic. The people who killed Nick Berg describe Americans as Evil and Satanic. Both sides feel that God is on their side and will send the opposition to Hell for their crimes. Both sides try to paint the other as being less-than-human animals worthy of nothing but being put out of their misery.

This is why I felt despair after watching the horrific video of Nick Berg’s death. Unlike so many others I didn’t see Evil Personified in the people who killed Nick anymore than I saw it in Timothy McVeigh. It doesn’t take a supernatural evil for people to act like this. All it takes is a cause and a willingness to give in to the Us vs. Them mentality and that’s a hell of a lot scarier than the thought of Old Scratch at work. Look throughout history and it becomes clear that all manner of atrocities can be traced to this one way of thinking about other people. Us = Good versus Them = Evil. The real problem is that there are so many societies in the world today where this sort of extremist thinking is condoned and encouraged and so many individuals out there who would have it no other way. In the past before mass communication and global travel this was less of an issue as the damage these people could cause was limited to themselves and their neighbors, but this hasn’t been the case for a very long time now. Western society, while far from perfect, is ahead of the game compared to many other societies in this regard which is why it’s so damaging when we fuck up on things like Abu Ghraib. How can we convince these other societies that rising above tribalism and the Us vs. Them mentality is to everyone’s benefit when things like Abu Ghraib show that we’re just as capable of using that line of thinking to justify our actions as the societies we’re trying to elevate? On top of that it doesn’t help when our leaders use Us vs. Them rhetoric constantly when rattling their sabers.

Tribalism is ingrained in human nature for better or for worse and that’s not in itself a bad thing, but unless we can manage to keep it from going to extremes in ourselves and help others to do the same then I see no end to all the bloody and horrific conflicts or the brutal deaths of folks like Nick Berg.

86 thoughts on “On the death of Nick Berg and what the real problem is that caused it.

  1. I wish I had your gift of the spoken word.  A post I made recently, I feel, brings up this same thinking.  I was dismayed to hear about Nicholas Berg and the torture of the Iraqi prisoners.  I was not, however, surprised by it.  It’s human nature, and as you point out, that tribalism, that prompts and justifies and perpetuates such acts.  I worry now about what atrocity on our part is going to show up as a retaliation for Nick Berg.  I soooo want to crawl under a rock.

  2. I mentioned once, here, that I accidentally saw a clip of a guy being beheaded. I had access to Nicholas Berg’s film since early yesterday and finally decided to watch as much of it as I could (I don’t even understand why I felt I needed to see it), and did watch it up to the actual murder scene.

    Before, after I saw the other clip, it would rise in my consciousness, when my mind was idle, such as before I went to sleep and I would lay awake for hours trying to forget it. It stayed with me for weeks.

    I know that I’m a pussy when it comes to things like this and I don’t feel that anyone needs to see the clip. If you’re secretly a snuff film lover, you may crave seeing it, but take it from me, once you’ve seen one beheading, you’ve seen one more than you needed to see.

  3. Good piece of writing though Les. Sorry, I forgot to mention that.

    Pink Floyd said it nicely too:

    Us And Them

    Us and Them
    And after all we’re only ordinary men
    Me, and you
    God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do
    Forward he cried from the rear
    and the front rank died
    And the General sat, as the lines on the map
    moved from side to side
    Black and Blue
    And who knows which is which and who is who
    Up and Down
    And in the end it’s only round and round and round
    Haven’t you heard it’s a battle of words
    the poster bearer cried
    Listen son, said the man with the gun
    There’s room for you inside
    Down and Out
    It can’t be helped but there’s a lot of it about
    With, without
    And who’ll deny that’s what the fightings all about
    Get out of the way, it’s a busy day
    And I’ve got things on my mind
    For want of the price of tea and a slice
    The old man died

  4. I’m just going to stop posting anything in my blog but “yeah, what Les said” from now on.


  5. Reading the comments you linked to depresses me. I wish someone would invent a device that could just wipe everyone’s brain. Start on a clean slate.

    It’s never going to end. If Bush gets kicked out the right will be enraged. If Bush stays the left will be enraged.

    It’s never going to end. We will stay in Iraq, and then move to the next country.

    It’s never going to end. Israel will fight Palestine will fight Israel.

    It’s never going to end, and that depresses me.

  6. Tribalism you call it. Red Team Blue Team I call It. It is innate. Security is raised by commonality, hence tribaling. Power is gained by oppression, hence contest. Human -  not the better side but we all have our bad side to take a photo from. History? Not really unless ones need for self import makes it that in their mind.

    Red Team Blue Team Future

  7. And here I was worried that I wasn’t getting what I wanted to say across at the end. Thanks for the compliments.

    Etan, I find the whole thought of this somewhat depressing at times as well and yet I still hold onto a sense of optimism. Education is our best hope. We’ll never be free of all our failings, but we can learn to live with them.

  8. Sorry man, all I can see here is a cheap moral relativism, the notion that violence begets violence and that in any conflict both sides are morally equal and equally culpable.

    You have also elided a major point: the fact is that all the people who favored the war (the “right” I guess you’d call us) you are accusing of tribalism are also, for the most part, people who loudly decried what happened to those Iraqi prisoners, expressed loathing and outrage and disgust and shame, calling for prosecution. this has been the norm, not the exception.

    The moral distinction I and so many, many others draw, the difference between our “tribe” and theirs (to use your terminology) is that those people are proud of what they did, feel it was justified, and we are disgusted by both: we merely recognize that the brutal slaying of this innocent man was done for the specific and malicious purpose of frightening Americans.

    There is a certain moral bankruptcy,  not to mention intellectual shallowness, to looking at two sides and rather instinctively deciding both are equal. “Tribalism” is not our problem here; most who favor our actions in Iraq (as K certainly do) are more than willing to be friends with Iraqis, Muslims, Arabs in general. The reverse is not true for the terrorists who murdered Nick Berg. If you can’t tell the difference, and how very profound that difference is, it’s hard to fathom even trying to discuss this, becuase you don’t really even understand the pro-war side’s position.

    This, sadly, seems to be the normal case when discussing these things.

  9. Dean, it looks like there was a typo in your original message. Just to clarify, you meant to say “most who favor our actions in Iraq (as *I* certainly do)”?

  10. The moral distinction I and so many, many others draw, the difference between our “tribe” and theirs (to use your terminology) is that those people are proud of what they did, feel it was justified, and we are disgusted by both: we merely recognize that the brutal slaying of this innocent man was done for the specific and malicious purpose of frightening Americans.
    Or how about this?  The fact that due to their cultural beliefs, most Iraqis probably feel that what WE did in the prisons was a lot more heinous than a simple beheading.  That the deliberate slow beating to death of prisoners and the extreme humiliation inflicted on them was done for the specific and malicious purpose of frightening Iraqis.  Some of “those people” (what a telling phrase!) may well celebrate their one blow against the overwhelming invader; I’m sure the majority are equally horrified by the barbaric actions on both sides.

    Dean, all you’re proving is that you can’t see any side of an issue other than your own.  You may want to call that shallow and “cheap moral relativism,” but I call it understanding more of the world than your own little corner.  Your position is a great example of subtle, pernicious tribalism, and it seems to be endemic of the right.

    “Tribalism” is not our problem here; most who favor our actions in Iraq (as K certainly do) are more than willing to be friends with Iraqis, Muslims, Arabs in general. The reverse is not true for the terrorists who murdered Nick Berg.
    “Some of my best friends are Arabs” ??  Come on.

    And I really doubt that the soldiers who abused the Iraqi prisoners are “more than willing to be friends” with them.  Maybe as long as those friends toe the Republican party line.  Or do they think this is the kind of thing you DO to friends, like in a fraternity?

  11. Dean, thanks for presenting us with a beautiful illustration of the point I was trying to make.

    I’m not claiming that the morality on both sides of this issue are equally valid as you seem to think I am. In fact I went out of my way to specifically avoid making value statements about either side’s morality on the issue because it really is beside the point. The problem goes beyond the question of whether their morality is inferior to ours to how our societies teach us to think of our relationships with others and how we should deal with the inevitable conflicts that competing ideas will cause.

    If the only solution we can come up with for dealing with these conflicts is to wipe out those societies that we feel are inferior to us then I fear for the future of mankind. Not just because there are people out there like the ones who killed Nick berg, but because the thinking they used to rationalize their actions is not something that any of us are above or immune to.

  12. “Many Conservatives want to say that Nick Berg’s death makes the Abu Ghraib scandal pale in comparison, but the truth is that at least two Iraqi prisoners died as a result of the activities at Abu Ghraib. Simply because they weren’t beheaded nor had their deaths broadcast from a website doesn’t in any way make their deaths any less of a crime than Nick Berg’s.” NOT VALID - THE PRISONERS WERE IN THAT FACILITY FOR REASONS THAT WE CAN SURMISE,BUT NICK WAS NOT POLITICAL,WAS ATTACKED AS AN INNOCENT BYSTANDER. Changes the common denominator completely.

  13. Cheers, Les.  I think your assessment is right on the money.

    And there are always—members—within a tribe that are teetering on the edge of madness.  It’s not culturally limited, or racially limited.  That doesn’t mean that the entire tribe is insane, but it can sure make it look that way, sometimes.

    the difference between our “tribe” and theirs (to use your terminology) is that those people are proud of what they did

    Right.  I must have seen some different photos.  In the photos I saw, the guard holding the leash didn’t exactly look like she was overwhelmed with a personal feeling of shame.  In fact, a lot of those guards looked pretty—proud—of what they were doing.

    I don’t condone what happened at Abu Ghraib, but I’m not surprised in the slightest.

    You want to see tribalism at its most vicious and stupid level—go to a prison.  Any prison.  It’s already one of the most extreme “us vs. them” situations that you can encounter—throw in a little war-time inspired contempt for an entire ethnic group, sprinkle liberally with a complete lack of discipline, and bake until photos are released

    voila!  Abu Ghraib


    There is some debate on whether the majority of people held Abu Ghraib were anything other than innocent bystanders themselves:

    The report, which CNN obtained Monday, brought what it called “serious violations of international humanitarian law” to the attention of U.S. and British authorities.

    It quotes intelligence officers who estimate that between 70 percent and 90 percent of those imprisoned “had been arrested by mistake,” often in cases in which soldiers used excessive force in the process.—Red Cross: Treatment of Iraqis ‘tantamount to torture’ - CNN.com

    Can you tell me with confidence that the two Iraqis who died as a result of their treatment were definitely bad guys and not one of the folks arrested by mistake?

    Sure, there are differences in the how and why of the deaths, but an innocent death is still an innocent death regardless of the reasons behind it.

  15. I watched the vid of Nick Berg; call it morbid curiosity.

    I watched it twice, felt sick in my stomach, and cried. Then I thought of some things I’d do to those bastards (but not really) if I were in the same room as them.

    Not a very productive thought. I now know I don’t need to see shit like that again.

  16. Watched it - I give it two thumbs down. Very poor quality and the money shot is obscured! Amateurs!

    Hate me if you will but I think the guy was a dumbfuck for being over there.

    PS. Yes I am a bastard.

  17. Spocko, I think most of us would appreciate if you didn’t shove your fucking insensitivity down our throats.  I know you’re watching a movie, but it’s a fucking human being that you’re watching, having his fucking head cut off.

    I haven’t watched the video yet, and I’m not sure if I ever plan to do so.  I don’t derive entertainment from the killing of other people.  I don’t care if he was warned a billion times - nobody actually deserves that.  So quite frankly, your reaction disgusts me.  I don’t hate you, but neither do I understand how you could be so fucking callous.

    Back on the subject of the prisoner abuse versus the beheading: Les, you are absolutely right.  The problem that humanity has is our constant need to retaliate without thinking about it.  I do think that the beheading (if you even want to get THAT specific over something not even worth discussion) was worse in comparison, but that isn’t worth shit anyway.

    As for you, Dean, you might be surprised to hear that one DAY after the beheading video was made public, there was a story going around about how Middle Eastern Muslims were condemning the act itself.  I don’t fucking care if they bombed an orphanage (which, by the way, we did to them) - it’s all wrong.  It’s all fucking wrong.

    Nothing here in this situation is justified.  We should have never invaded Iraq without the evidence with which to do so.  They shouldn’t be bombing us.  We shouldn’t be abusing them.  They shouldn’t be beheading us in front of fucking cameras.

    It’s all fucking WRONG.  What the fuck is wrong with this world when we take pleasure in torturing people?  And both fucking sides are doing it.  I know they made this video to scare us… but shit, if we’re still over there because they keep inciting us, what the fuck does that say about us?  Fuck politics.  Fuck these respective societal arguements.  It’s all fucking war, and neither side is backing down or showing any sign of remorse for the revenge that they’re taking.

    What a big fucking mess.

  18. There is a very distinct difference between what was done to Nick Berg, and the deaths of the prisoners in U.S. custody. Not that those deaths aren’t as tragic, but the pepetrators are NOT heroes to any significant part of our society (I would have said none, but there are always a few sick fucks out there), but the murderers of Nick Berg are seen as heroes by a significant portion of their society (not all by any means, but likely in the hundreds of thousands if not over a million), and even worse are not condemned by the majority that do not see them as heroes.

  19. Les, you continue to amaze me.

    My cousin, who still works for NIMA—but not in analysis, sent me this recently. Most of the quote is his take on the consequences of still being tribal and not dealing with it.

    One of the few benefits of being in DOD is access to the Early Bird News. The following is the full article by Seymour Hersh about the disaster in Iraqi prisons.

    I thought I would offer [my rant] from the perspective of a former map maker and history major:

    I can see where the Viet Nam analogy comes from, especially seeing marines shooting around concrete at enemies not in uniform and the whole urban warfare setting. It is surreal. Western arrogance is alive and well.

    But this reminds me of Lebanon and how fractious this country was made after borders were drawn after WW II and the inability of the winners to understand that lines on a map do not make a country. And once an outside group enters (The Palastinian) after being kicked out of another country (Syria) how volatile the situation becomes once the thin balance of tribes and religion are altered.

    After WW II the maps of the middle east and also Africa were redrawn as colonialism began to ebb. Iraq had its borders drawn by the British and expanded to include a much larger territory to include the Kurds in the north and the rural Shias south of Baghdad. Hussein ruled by decree and was brutal to the Shias primarily because of his fear of them [rising] and creating a state like the Shias in Iran did, once the Shah fled. (A total intelligence failure on our part) So he took on Iran and the US backed him, even though he was a very bad man, because Iran held hostages for 444 days. After the fall of the Soviet Union (another intelligence failure which makes this Iraq mess part of the peace dividend) Hussein began mischief outside his British drawn borders.

    Toppling Hussein, regardless of the flimsy pretext was easy, but to think that all the factions in Iraq would magically unite under one flag is not an intelligence failure but a failure to understand that part of the world and to read a history book.

    I have long believed that the Kurds got a raw deal, but it is what it is.

    I wish I knew enough history and possessed the insight to understand when and how we moved to the modern form of tribalism.

    Urbanization and, probing scholarship and, for lack of a better term, enlightenment were probably contributing facors. Was the move unique to western Europe or was something similar occuring in Africa and the near east when Islam was preserving ancient knowledge and doing good things with algebra and astronomy?

  20. Once again Les you remind me why I come back to this site again and again, you have an insight that I admire, and a way of telling it how you see it that is very clear.

    Nothing I can really add to the debate, except to agree that despair would be top of my list of emotions when contemplating current world events.

  21. Les,
        You make a good point about Tribalism and the “us vs. them” methodology that has produced much ugliness througout human history. Your only comment that I disagree with is “…no evidence that anyone involved in the Bush administration knew about the conditions developing at Abu Ghraib nor directly or indirectly gave permission or instructions..”. Although for now it is largely circumstantial, there seems to me to be many indications that torture has become official US policy. David Neiwert at his weblog Orcinus has some amazing facts about three major players in the Abu Ghraib abuses, Stephen Cambone, General Jerry Boykin & General Peter Schoomaker.

  22. Nice to see some stuff on politics again. I know you don’t run a ‘political blog’ as such, Les, but I simply couldn’t relate much to most of your tech topics of the last few days.

    > Right. I must have seen some different photos.
    > In the photos I saw, the guard holding the
    > leash didn’t exactly look like she was
    > overwhelmed with a personal feeling of shame.
    > In fact, a lot of those guards looked pretty -
    > proud—of what they were doing.

    The NYT had an editorial (yesterday I believe) that compared the look of those pictures to those of old southern lynchings. The Iraqis, just as the blacks of those days, were held to be beneath contempt, so harming them was nothign to be ashamed of.

    The heaps of naked bodies do remind one of hunting trophies, don’t they?

  23. Valhalla said - There is a very distinct difference between what was done to Nick Berg, and the deaths of the prisoners in U.S. custody.
    What would the big difference be, other than the method of murder or torture? Would it be different primarily because THEY chose to reveal the execution as a form of protest and WE use the Geneva convention’s mandates only when they suit our aims - An example being government lawyers arguing that releasing additional photos and videos of coalition force’s abuses would violate a Geneva Convention stricture against presenting images of prisoners that could be construed as degrading, according to Rumsfeld?
    Not that those deaths aren’t as tragic, but the perpetrators are NOT heroes to any significant part of our society (I would have said none, but there are always a few sick fucks out there)…
    I would guess that millions of Americans see our torture and humiliation of Iraqis as nothing more than venting and harmless hazing. I would go as far as to say that far too many Americans looked at the pictures we’ve been allowed to see so far and decided the prisoners deserved their abuses in some way. I would even say that millions of Americans are supportive of these abusers because they represented America’s authority and might.
    …but the murderers of Nick Berg are seen as heroes by a significant portion of their society (not all by any means, but likely in the hundreds of thousands if not over a million), and even worse are not condemned by the majority that do not see them as heroes.
    We are an invading force which did so without United Nations support. Can you not imagine how many there could despise us, knowing also that we placed Hussein in power in the first place? Can you not imagine how a violently occupied country and it’s neighbors could view an overwhelming force using uranium tipped munitions, stealth bombers and sweeping armies of kidnappers as evil and profane?

    Maybe THEY aren’t as supportive of this beheading as you seem to think.
    Arab Street Erupts in Rage Over Beheading Video
    (2004-05-11)—The so-called ‘Arab Street’ erupted in rage and grief today, as devoted Muslims crowded into public squares by the hundreds of thousands, in dozens of cities, to denounce the brutal videotaped beheading of American Nicholas Berg by Muslim extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda.

    “This is an outrageous, disgusting and obscene act of evil done in the name of our peaceful religion and in our own backyard,” said one unnamed Muslim cleric in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “We mourn with Mr. Berg’s family at this horrible loss. We renounce not only this act of violence, but all acts of terror.”

    The governments of all Arab League nations made a joint statement condemning the slaughter of Mr. Berg, and committing $100 billion toward the elimination of Al Qaeda and other Muslim terror groups.

    “We pledge money, troops and intelligence resources in an all-out effort to end this scourge,” the Arab league statement declared. “We apologize for our past failures to rein-in or arrest extremists in our ranks. As of today, we are turning the tables on the terrorists. Now, it’s their turn to be afraid.”


    Is it possible the murder of Nicholas Berg is seen differently simply because he is an American citizen?  It is up to US to demonstrate how we would like THEM to treat US by acting responsibly ourselves.

  24. Brock,

    Obviously you need to better research your sources. Scrappleface is parody, that is not a real story.

  25. Is it possible the murder of Nicholas Berg is seen differently simply because he is an American citizen? It is up to US to demonstrate how we would like THEM to treat US by acting responsibly ourselves.
    Brock, will you marry me?  We don’t have to have sex or anything.  I just want to be able to show you off with pride.

  26. Guess what Valhalla - I discovered my own mistake before I read your response, rushed back here to post a retraction and am now eating an ONION, raw, in penance. I apologize, as well, and am now franticly searching for valid press to represent Arab rejection of Berg’s beheading as an acceptable, heroic response.

    GeekMom, you may not want me now. I’m far too gullible apparently, and I’m prone to wade in without looking around first. If we got married, you’d likely be pregnant within a month. It’s better, I think, if we just admire each other from afar.

  27. The BBC’s Have Your Say, (as it’s name suggests) has a good cross-section of comments, including from Arabic/Muslim people.

    Here at:
    Have Your Say

  28. Brock, there’s no fear of my GETTING pregnant; it’s far too late for that.  (But we’re taking applications for non-god-father for August …)

    But after that raw onion, yeah, I think the admiration from afar is a better idea. 

  29. Valhalla, maybe these articles will better balance your apparent view of how they (and we) percieve this event, directly or indirectly.

    Disgust Over Beheading Video

    Date Posted: Thursday, May 13, 2004
    BAGHDAD, May 13 (MASNET & News Agencies)

    …The execution triggered condemnation and excuses on the streets of Baghdad on Wednesday.

    “From what we have seen, it was a natural reaction to the human rights violations at Abu Ghraib. What the Americans are doing now is terrible,” said one woman, a 45-year-old dentist.

    But house painter Ali Abu Nabi, 29, said: “He was a human being and he came to Iraq on a mission to help Iraqis.”

    Most Baghdad residents condemned Berg’s beheading, as many added that his death was just the latest atrocity in a cycle of violence that is driving them to despair, reports Reuters news agency.

    “The Americans killed hundreds in Falluja in retaliation for the mutilation of the four Americans and now those people are killing an American in retaliation for the torture of prisoners,” said Arkan Mohammad, a cleric at Baghdad University.

    “Someone has to do something to stop the cycle of violence from going on and on.”

    Even in the Baghdad Sunni Muslim stronghold of Adhamiya, where there is fierce opposition to the occupation, many residents were appalled by the decapitation of Berg, the news agency reports.

    “We denounce this act. No one can accept the killing of another human being in this horrible way,” said Yassir Saleh, a 30-year-old barber. But he too pointed to a tide of violence that has swept the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

    “Sometimes I really can’t understand the logic of what is happening, all the violence that I could have never imagined would take place in my country,” he said.

    Many Iraqis say they oppose the U.S.-led occupation but also despise insurgents whose suicide attacks, mortar strikes and bomb blasts have killed far more Iraqis than Americans, reports Reuters.

    Issa al-Khalidi, a 65-year-old pensioner sitting in one of the oldest coffeehouses in Adhamiya, also condemned the killing, but looked around nervously as he did.

    “It’s a brutal, inhuman act. As Muslims our religion prohibits us from committing such acts,” he said.

    “People with their own interpretations of Islam are coming to this country and killing left and right, and the Americans are just providing them with the pretext to do so.”

    But some of the city’s poorer residents said they supported the killing, arguing it was acceptable retribution for the abuses the U.S. military had committed in Iraq, reports Reuters.

    “This is the price they have to pay for what they have done,” said 33-year-old Omar Khateb, a laborer. “It was done according to Islamic Sharia, and the Americans should know that there is a price they will pay for the atrocities they commit.”


    Then there’s the possibility that we are easily bored and crave news that lifts us up (or at least shows us as innocent victims) and allows us to look better than the opposition. The Berg beheading, coming on the heels of Abu Ghraib, is fortuitious for us in that it causes us to refocus on who our enemies really are and the enemies could NEVER be ourselves. A handful of low ranking soldiers (somehow) acting alone have nothing on six terrorists acting with the full authority of a Muslim holy war, at least not to an American patriot.


    Waiting for ‘Torture Fatigue’

    By Bill Berkowitz


    May 12, 2004

    Two weeks after photos depicting torture in Abu Ghraib prison became public, the right-wing media machine is telling America to get over it, already. According to the conservatives, the inhumane treatment of detainees is turning into a scandal because the liberal media are prolonging the attention, allowing lefty “Bush-haters” to politicize and capitalize on the affair. And all this hand-wringing will only hurt the troops in Iraq.

    “We need to move on to something else … get on with the war on terror,” former Senator Bob Dole recently told MSNBC on May 11. Dole complained that recent polls were unfavorable to President Bush because he was being hammered in the media by all this prisoner abuse stuff. And that, claims Glenn Reynolds of the conservative web log Instapundit, is the aim of the coverage: “If all this coverage is leaving you demoralized, and hopeless, and depressed, let me suggest that this isn’t an accident � it’s the goal.”

    Dole and Reynolds are part of a growing chorus of conservative supporters of Bush’s war with Iraq trying to convince the American public that it has seen and heard enough about the t-word.

    Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) led the rightwing counter-offensive on Wednesday at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing:

    “First of all, I regret I wasn’t here on Friday. I was unable to be here. But maybe it’s better that I wasn’t because as I watch this outrage that everyone seems to have about the treatment of these prisoners I have to say and I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.

    “The idea that these prisoners, they’re not there for traffic violations. If they’re in cell block 1A or 1B, these prisoners, they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents, and many of them probably have American blood probably on their hands and here we’re so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.”

    Inhofe’s claim is, of course, ridiculous. According to a February 2004 International Red Cross report, “Certain CF military intelligence officers told the ICRC that in their estimate between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.”

    Others have preferred to blame the messenger, i.e. the media. In a recent piece, conservative columnist Dennis Prager played the “liberal media” card, arguing that the key reason for the “massive attention the news media have been giving to the stripping and humiliation of Iraqi male prisoners,” is “the political bias of the news reporting.”

    The Mudville Gazette attacked Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh for his groundbreaking stories in The New Yorker magazine. According to the Gazette, Hersh has a problem telling the truth and “has embarked on a televised disinformation campaign.”

    During an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “O’Reilly Factor,” claims the Gazette, Hersh tried “to sow additional confusion in a public already stunned into incomprehension by the graphic photos he helped make famous worldwide.” The Gazette claims that Hersh’s effort “relies on two main points, neither of which is completely factual: 1) the Army did nothing, and 2) it’s the superior’s fault, not the troops. Point one is a lie. Point two is true, but there’s a level where it becomes ludicrous. Given that point one is a lie, that level is low.”

    But the Gazette’s position is actually an improvement on some of the other reactions on the right to the scandal. When the story first broke, some conservative commentators questioned the need for the U.S. to apologize. After all, terrorists never issue apologies. Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto told his audience that he didn’t “remember hearing anyone say the deviants who strung up those four American contractors in Fallujah should apologize.”

    Cavuto instead blamed the world’s America-bashers for publishing the photos: “Why should it be surprising that the world would prefer to trump pictures of American soldiers abusing prisoners over American soldiers helping kids and curing the sick? No, it’s far easier to say ‘screw you,’ than simply ‘thank you.’”

    Former Republican Party operative Rich Galen who recently returned from Iraq was furious at the public outcry because “the prisoners at Abu Ghraib … were trying to kill me and others like me. And if they succeeded in doing that, they were going to come over there and try to kill you.”

    Then there are those who blame the “Left.” Right-wing columnist David Limbaugh claims that the “Left” sees the torture scandal as a way of fulfilling its “dream of destroying George Bush.” According to Limbaugh, “the Left’s hysteria over the abuse illustrates how differently they view the enemy, and how much they misapprehend the motives and mindset of conservatives and President Bush. It underscores just how detrimental it would be to American security if they recaptured the White House during this critical, white-hot phase of the War on Terror.”

    That the right-wing media machine has swung into action is not surprising. The more important question is whether these relentless attacks will gain credence? Will they succeed in changing the subject, as the Bush administration so desperately wants?

    Or will the 24/7 media coverage, the slow bleed of details, and the possibility of more photos and perhaps videos, result in “Torture Fatigue?”…


  30. Yeah, I forgot about that “bun in the oven”, GeekMom. Congrats and best wishes, by the way.

    Don’t worry, it wasn’t a real onion but a parody of one and I’m not a real man, but a parody of one.

    Still, I’m pretty damn cute. You’d better get some of this while you can!

  31. ive typed my opinion any where i can because the killing of nick berg brings only one word to mind-digust. how could any human being bring on such hatred, pain and evil to another human being such as nick berg? it sickens me everytime i think about it. i will pray for nick berg and his family. i will also pray for nick berg’s killers. where theyre going theyll need it.

  32. I didn’t watch the video, but I did cry. I also cried when I saw handprints of Iraqi children that were scratching frantically against a cement wall where a U.S. bomb was dropped and it caused this water storage place to explode and it boiled the children to death. I love what you wrote about Tribalism, it’s great!

  33. Oh yeah…I was just thinking, isn’t there beheadings and the lopping off of body parts of people in Saudi Arabia? Hey, and aren’t they the people that actually attacked us? I meam weren’t most of the terrorists on the planes Saudi’s? …or am I mistaken? Maybe we should have attacked Saudi Arabia. What are we still in Iraq anyway. No WMD’s, We got the “evil” ruler. Maybe we should leave now. I paid $8,000 in taxes this year. I know a large % will go to the war. More people die in America from spousal abuse and drunk drivers, can we use my money for that instead? Maybe I may be naive but this war seems really weird. It doesn’t make any sense and it’s so expensive in human lives and dollars. Plus what about all the veterans who’s lives are messed up and all the innocent dead Iraqui men, women and children? Are we causing the terror? Why did we put a base on their holy land in Saudi Arabia? Why do they hate us? The Crusades? How far back does this go? Let the Iraqi’s deal with their own problems at this point. We have done enough for them already. This is truly tribalism as you say. Maybe some day when the Alien Lizard people come to attack and eat us (remember V) we will form the Human Tribe and live as brothers. Religion is so messed up, just another way to define your tribe in a more extreme way and to separate your tribe form the next.

  34. The beheading of Nick Berg shows me that we need to go after Osama and his motley crew even more steadfastly.  The horrors at Abu Ghraib are no justification for this atrocity. 

    Most Republicans have looked at this event as a reason to be more vigilant in Iraq.  Iraq is the reason that we did not concentrate on Al Qaeda, our real enemy.  The only imminent threat from Iraq came after we attacked them.  Now we cannot let Iraq fall into the hands of religious fundamentalists, and we have no choice, but to stay there.  Thank you George Bush for your rash, idiotic decision making.

  35. The horrors at Abu Ghraib are no justification for this atrocity.

    Whoever wins in the long run gets to call what was and what wasn’t a war crime.

    I agree, however, that the US doesn’t even have the option to redefine victory and bail out of Iraq until they have installed a government that is willing and able to pursue pro-US policies. Otherwise, the next Gulf War may be between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

  36. Why don’t some of you flag-waving cry babies do a quick google on “Lynching in America” and see some of your daddy and granddaddy’s handy work. You’ll see grinning yokels in Alabama, Mississippi, etc., circa 1950-60 stringing up black men after they were thoroughly brutalized. The TRUTH of the matter is you are no more “humane” than these A-rabs you now want nuked. I call these beheadings and trade center attacks KARMA.

  37. ” Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris.

    Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die. . . .

    No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
    as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
    it tolls for thee.” (John Donne, Meditation XVII, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624)
    nuff said

  38. Pretty strange he was hanging out with that Moussaoui terrorist dude so that he could use his e-mail and then he ends up dead in Iraq - what the fuck? FBI says coincidence, sounds fishy to me.

  39. i certainly don’t disagree with the most eloquent resident writer of this site.  for me however, i have a much simpler explanation of why this happened.  i had absolutely no desire to watch the film because i don’t believe i should watch someone else’s tragic last moments.  however, after a friend watched because she thought it would be cool, then called so disturbed and needed advice how to get over it, i felt i should watch so i wouldn’t be talking to her in a position of ignorance. 

    i must admit i thought that beheading meant a large sword and a swift blow.  we’ve all seen that in movies, right?  i figured i’d watch until the sword came out, then stop.  i must admit i had one morbid curiosity:  did he know he was about to be executed and if so, how could he sit still?  so i watched to find out the answer to this question without seeing the killing.
    i don’t know if the copy i saw was the only one, but the one i saw had the sound delayed behind the video action.  therefore i began to have a horrifying reaction to nick’s cries and i froze in horror and just kept watching, not snapping out of it until the video stopped.  of course i was horrified over the killing of an innocent young man, as anyone would be.  but shortly after, when i was desperately trying to make sense of what i saw, i started to realize that it was the actual way in which he was killed that was disturbing me.
    obviously the killers have a political motive.  obviously one has to be a psychopath to kill someone in this fashion.  obviously the killing cannot possibly be justified and the ending of a life at the young age of 26 is absolutely horrifying, no matter the method.  i didn’t think i needed to puzzle out anymore the “why” of what happened…but as i’ve been thinking of little else this day i’ve come to realize what was really going through my mind during those horrifying moments.
    i have no desire to describe to others the gruesome details of the killing, yet i’m challenged to make my point without doing so.  so here comes a disclaimer for anyone trying to stay away from the really gory details.  anyone who has ever worked or grown up on a farm would immediately recognize what happened to nick berg.  yes he was murdered, killed, beheaded…but the important label for me is this poor young man was SLAUGHTERED.  hog tied and slaughtered, just like any animal that this sick freak killer has killed to turn into food for himself or others.  there was no ceremonial sword killing, this young man was tied and his head was removed using a large knife while he was alive…just like so many pigs or goats or sheep that are consumed around the world.
    ok, here’s the reason for being so disrespectful to this young fellow by going into detail:  i believe the root cause of why he was killed is very simple indeed:  he was killed like an animal because to those people, that’s exactly what he was.  the militants believe that americans are animals.  we americans would call the killers animals.  i would never call the killers animals, for no animal kills for politics; their actions were absolutely and exclusively human.
    i live in the metro detroit area, a portion of which has the largest arab american population in the US.  i can’t abide bigots and i’m very sensitive to biggoted comments.  i rail at the constant comments about blacks from my fellow whites. but the comments about arabs, pronounced “A-rabs” in this town, are much worse.  arabs or arab americans are described not just as unpleasant, but with the same disdain one might use to complain about raccoons getting into their garbage:  as vermin.
    both sides, east and west, think of each other as animals and too much of each society believes that animals do not deserve even so much as a notion of respect.  just today i read about a group of soliders who got drunk and went carousing for fun.  they choose to grab a litter of newborn kittens and drag them behind motorbikes and burn them alive for their brand of fun.  too many people believe that animals exist only for our use, whatever the means being just fine.  nick berg was vermin to the killers, to be used for their political gain.  he was killed with the same cold efficiency as the killer would use to slaughter any other animal.  when people start thinking of others as animals, anything can happen.  i believe that this attitude is the primary cause for so many people to participate and tolerate the holocaust.  time and again this happens around the globe.
    i share the same sense of depression and foreboding dread other posters feel about the future being a repeat of the recent past with no end in sight.  i truly believe this planet will not change until humans accept their proper place in the animal kingdom and start having respect for living things.  poor nick berg is just a stark example because of the sheer lack of reason for it all. 

  40. Alfert, thanks for those very eloquent remarks.  I admit to some curiosity myself about the video, but I know I would have nightmares for the rest of my life if I saw it (I’ve never had the farm experience).  And I know that people are slaughtered in barbaric fashion every day, all over the world, whether they’re dragged behind a truck until they literally fall apart, hacked to pieces with a machete, or brutally beaten and sodomized in a prison.

    We ARE still very much part of the animal kingdom, but with the added perversion of intelligence to make us kill in excruciating ways and for abstract reasons that other animals would never come up with.  We’re stuck somewhere in the middle between primitive animal and civilized human, and I sure hope we can move forward, because I can’t see us moving back, and we sure as hell can’t stay where we are.

  41. Thanks for that description and your thoughts, Alfert. 

    (Same disclaimer - skip this post if…) It confirms what I thought but was too chicken to watch: only a real expert can swiftly behead a person in a way that would minimize suffering (perhaps… but it’s hard to debrief the beheaded!)  The human head is pretty well connected and resists removal.  Geez, it beggars imagination.

    Thanks also for the observation that this is a human thing.  We’ve got the same thing in us.  Given a chance many Americans will be just as brutal as history shows.  Not all Americans, but enough. 

    You don’t get to that point in one giant step - each outrage is a stepping stone to the next, as are encouragements from one’s peers.  Every action comes from a state of mind, which can be supported by the shouting crowd.

    If the A-rabs are really more brutal than “us” then we don’t have anything to offer them.  But the value we can offer them is embodied in our constitution, not in our supposedly more civilized nature.  That’s the good news.  We should be re-reading that constitution at regular intervals.

  42. I hate to sound ridiculous, but what would you have done, if you were them? I, personally, may not have beheaded someone to get the sweet taste of revenge in my mouth. But I think I’m just to young, or to easily sickened by this stuff to do such a thing.
    To us, this beheading was very wrong, something that enraged us all. However, I know for a fact that if I knew about the torture of my people, and if I had beheaded Nick, I’d probably be pretty damn proud of myself! Sure, I currently sound sick and entirely insane, but think about it! I don’t believe that what they did was RIGHT, but I do believe it was slightly justified.
    You see, to us, what they are doing and have done is wrong, morally and all that other lovely stuff. To us, WE are doing what is RIGHT…for us. They think WE are wrong. THEY are fighting for what they think is right, for THEM. It’s a vicious circle. It needs to be stopped.

  43. Canadian, you seem to get the point, but I wouldn’t necessarily refer to EITHER side as justified for whatever they do.  You say the vicious circle needs to be stopped, and yet you display the same thinking process that keeps it going.

    It’s almost imperceptible sometimes, and it’s sad that we’re sometimes so quick to justify such brutality and revenge.  For it to stop, we all need to come to the full conciousness that it just doesn’t work.

  44. Nick Bergs fate is a definate sadistic tragedy.
    But how far away from the running man are we anyway?? With constant onslaught of reality programming and the bloodlust for more.Where is it going to end?? Well with that display of cruelty we know where it will end up.  And the fact that more reservists are over there than actual troops.Is that the new jobs that are freed up,by sending the men and women who had jobs and were part time soldiers to the frontline.Its like begging for more tragedies to befall. well thats my story and im sticking to it.

  45. I’ve read all your comments and I find them quite interesting- maybe some of you, (mostly Brock) should have been stuck in traffic in West Chester, PA b/c of Nick Berg’s candlelight vigil.  You seem to use him as a cause for your dissatisfaction with the administration- Let’s not forget he was a person here- an innocent person that was slaughtered by a bunch of sociopaths. 

    Both acts were a violation of the rules of war, and being a military brat I can attest to the fact that American soldiers are informed of these rules and severely punished if broken..Of course there are those who slip through the cracks-especially if you are f

  46. I’ve been coming here quite a bit recently.  I love your viewpoint on this.  I don’t use Trackback, but I linked you on my entry the good ole fashioned way.

    Murder is Murder: Plain and Simple

  47. Only thing you left out was the finer definition of “Tribalism” & the “Us Vs Them”

    This *justified* atrocity just like 999 out of every 1000 justified atrocities in all of Human history all have one root cause.

    That is R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N!

    The tribalism you speak of is really not JUST “US” Vs “Them” it IS OUR RELIGION Vs THEIR RELIGION.
    Religion always has been and unfortunately always will be the leading cause of War, Death, Civil Unrest, Genocide than any other factor.

    We have Billions of humans around the planet believing in ancient mythology, living in what amounts to the very same social & cultural mind-set as humans of 2000-5000 years ago, they are no more than savages.
    That is nothing short of INSANE.

    I know most here are all lovey dovey towards religion, be tolerant, let the idiots believe what they want type thing.

    Myself I make no bones about it, I think they are fucking INSANE and should be treated as such.
    Throw a net over them and deprogram them back to that little thing I like to call REALITY.
    Religion in ALL its forms is nothing but a dangerous Mind Virus infecting about 2/3rds of this planet, until this virus is irradiated the human race will be faced with this type of barbaric savagery.

    We need ALL the people in this world reading from the same page out of ONE book and that book is called REALITY with all thought and information coming from thinking, reasoning & logic, NOT ancient mythology based solely on faith in ridiculous beliefs, then and only then will there be anything that resembles Peace on Earth.

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