No, I am not going to post a graphic video. I am going to tell you my reactions to seeing two. I know you are not interested in my reactions, but you might be interested in my conclusions.
I am one who can tolerate seeing all kinds of blood and guts. Years of working in hospitals has trained the queasiness out of me, but I’ll never forget the day, thirty-five years ago, I saw my first autopsy and nearly fainted. I became a vegetarian afterwards, until the effect wore off. The second autopsy didn’t impact me so much; I actually assisted on it, but I became a vegetarian again afterwards. I now believe that people should be trained– from childhood– to see and appreciate the innards of the body, and not just the shell. To that end, I periodically show my grandkids my nice color atlas of anatomy. What’s important here is context.
The medical context has grown out of our intuitive conclusion that the body’s inner workings belong to our desires, efforts, and responsibilities to take care of ourselves, to appreciate our gift of earthly life, and to bond with others in their experience of the physical processes of life.
Graphic videos–the euphemistic term for torture and dramatic suffering followed by the murder of one person at the hands of another– depict what should never, ever occur to any human being in any culture or circumstance.
Graphic videos are not new, but in recent years have become easily accessible via the Internet. Sometimes I worry that my grandson will see one of them, despite the parental controls we’ve placed on his computer. I worry because I know first-hand that viewing graphic videos can result in a sort of post-traumatic stress that is neither necessary nor desirable for proper growth and development– no matter what the viewer’s age.
Remember, I am a medical person, accustomed to viewing the innards. My curiosity about graphic videos was more clinical the emotional. Does the carotid artery spray blood in all directions when a person is decapitated? Do brains really fly out of the skull when a person is shot in the head? Are murder scenes in movie representative of murder scenes in real life? Thinking to satisfy my clinical curiosity, I watched two graphic videos.
The first showed ISIS members cutting the head off a victim. As the video began, I felt that old queasiness, present at my first autopsy, arise. My heart speeded up. This death would not be the accidental or premature death of an autopsy patient. This death would show the ultimate violation of a human being, the depth of possibility for human degeneracy, all the more traumatic because its victim could never have earned such a fate, ever, and indeed, might have been an angel in disguise.
Suddenly, my clinical curiosity lost all relevance in the face of the spiritual, moral, religious, sociological, psychological, economic and developmental factors that had come to bear upon people who would partake of such depravity. How does a soul travel from the innocence of birth to its ruination at the gates of Hell on Earth? This question is the real one we need to focus upon as a global society, but my concern here is with my own responses to the matter.
After seeing the head-cutting video, I couldn’t eject from my mind’s eye the eyes of the victim, focused, during those last moments of his short life, upon the scene around him, in which a group of ISIS members shouted, “Allahu Akbar!” repeatedly, as if they had performed an act of worship.
A few weeks later, I watched a video of a young Palestinian boy being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier. The boy resembled my grandson, and I knew I would regret watching this demise. Indeed, I grieved for that dear, beautiful boy almost as if I had known him. A month later, I still see his mutilated head in my mind’s eye, and I become nauseous.
I do not think graphic videos should be strictly banned. They serve a purpose opposite the purpose intended by their photographers. They inspire viewers to face the reality of which is happening again and again in the Middle East and elsewhere. They cause the viewer to consider the tremendous chain of circumstance, insult and injury, suffered by both perpetrator and victim, that resulted in them coming together for this ultimate degradation.
One can easily pronounce perpetrators as evil, devoid of soul, beyond redemption. That may be true, but what has happened to them? Surely, they were born and cared for, even loved, by their mothers and fathers, or substitute caregivers. Surely, they played childhood games with their friends and siblings. Some of them might have gone to school and excelled academically. Others may have reached full maturity and started families of their own. What happened? How did they end up in a killing field, voluntarily, even happily, performing acts of savage barbarism, calling out, “Allahu Akbar,” believing they had the right to pronounce takbeer as they completed the most hideous act possible against another of Allah’s servants?
I will not watch any more graphic videos, but I will certainly pay attention to the complex series of events that brought the global community face to face with the reality of these videos. I hope other viewers come away with an increased awareness that historical, political, sociological and psychological realities preceded such videos. I hope and pray that the victims of these videos now sit in the shadow of the Throne, and that those of us who still possess earthly resources will use them to craft developmental means by which the likes of ISIS may never emerge again.
As for my clinical curiosity, I am now ashamed of it.