Who Makes History

The most we can hope for is a good death. James Foley did not get a good death.

This is not a judgment on his courage. Such a verdict depends on information we will never have. Making a speech against American foreign policy and then suffering the knife may be an act of astounding bravery if the price for refusal had been the butchery of other hostages. Or his relative stoicism may have been a simple surrender to fate, like we see in the blank faces of those about to be cut apart by chainsaws or pickaxes in Mexico’s cartel wars.

Regardless of context or circumstance, Foley at least met his end with dignity, with no crying or begging for mercy as the steel bit into his throat. Put aside bravado–can you honestly say you would done better with your neck under the blade?

But none of that changes the reality that Foley died utterly defeated. And we can think of recent alternatives. In 2004, Iraqi insurgents captured one Fabrizio Quattrocchi and forced him to dig his own grave. Infuriated, he attempted to rip off his hood and screamed, “Now I’ll show you how an Italian dies!” The insurgents shot him to death in a panicky display of weakness. Quattrocchi was hailed as a hero, a man who met his end in a way the Romans would have recognized. 

In contrast, Foley died on his knees. With his last act, he condemned his government as his “real killers,” and couldn’t even spit defiance at those about to murder him. He had to condemn the actions of his own brother. He denounced his country. And he met his end with words of self-loathing on his lips, broadcast to the rest of the world.

President Barack Obama, in a statement of a few minutes before he returned to playing golf, said “one thing we can all agree on” is “there is no place in the 21st century” for the Islamic State. Of course, this is the same thing people say about the British monarchy, organized religion, or single-sex bathrooms on college campuses. It’s the simple assumption that we have seen the End of History at a student activities fair at Oberlin, and Gaza, Aleppo, and Baghdad are just playing catch up.

But the rejection of liberal modernity is precisely what ISIS is all about. And as large populations within increasingly Islamized Western nations support the Islamic State–including over a quarter of young “French people”–Obama’s passivity is hardly justified. Indeed, the man who beheaded Foley was a British subject and more British subjects fight for the Islamic State than Her Majesty. It’s a simple statement of fact to say more Muslims in Britain are willing to die for the people who beheaded Foley than to try to save him, and those who want to see a successful display of multiculturalism should look to Raqqa rather than Washington.

After all, the America of Obama or the Britain of Cameron are cultural nullities, unable to even define themselves, let alone why anyone should die for them. Indeed, even now, Obama’s statement suggested that the United States must still justify itself to the Islamic World. Before he could offer meaningless platitudes, the President ritualistically insisted that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam.

  • The main victims of the Islamic State are–wait for it–Muslims.

  • Obama says that the Islamic State may “claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors”–evidently because Muslims who war on the West directly are better somehow.

  • And the President claimed that “no faith teaches people to massacre innocents,” a statement so utterly self-refuting that it requires no further comment by me.

While progressives love to pretend that “education” is the answer to all the world’s problems, the fact is that liberal modernity and all it has to offer has been tried, tested, and found wanting by Western born mujahideen. Michael Brendan Dougherty identifies Islamic radicalism as a revolutionary creed akin to Communism and National Socialism which:

[O]ffer visions of justice that are larger and deeper than some dirty court system. And the struggle in establishing them holds out prizes that are extremely rare for men of the West: glory, martyrdom, and heroism. Revolution beats a life of traffic tickets, creditors, bosses, and — if you're especially lucky — angst about real-estate.

But it goes deeper than seeking thrills or even fulfilling existential desire. Ultimately, the mujahideen are staking a claim to history and offering a challenge to History, carving out their names in blood and fire across the crossroads of civilization.

In contrast, President Obama says that “the future is won by those who build and not destroy. The world is shaped by people like Jim Foley and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.” This is an extraordinary claim to make about someone who was essentially a spectator to his own death. It’s even more stupefying to say this of the masses who may have taken a moment to tweet #prayers with a sad emoticon and then gone back to giggling about Mariah Carey getting divorced again.

James Foley was certainly brave in his way–no physical cowards work as freelance journalists in war zones. He even returned to his work after previously being captured in Libya and living to tell the tale.

However, he had a specific agenda with his work–he was trying to expose the “atrocities” of the Assad regime and support the “democracy” movement. Foley may have been a freelancer, but his worldview was eminently predictable and pro-Establishment–trying to break down questions of race, religion, and identity into a game of good egalitarian democrats versus bad reactionaries.

Thus, he was quick to draw critical attention to incidents that the media would call Islamophobic, like when an American military officer made comments critical of Islam during a class on terrorism. He tweeted out articles that we would consider parody, asking if right wing terrorism was as big a threat as Al-Qaeda. And he aggressively, incessantly pushed for NATO intervention in Syria and arming the opposition to Bashar al-Assad–even though he also considered civilian casualties inflicted by the Israeli and American militaries to be murder.

Like so many liberals, he was embarrassed by American power but eager and dependent upon it, disgusted by militarism but anxious to find new crusades to spread Lady Gaga at the point of a gun. His condemnation of Bashar al-Assad is especially poignant given the Islamic State’s actions. As a member of a minority sect, Bashar al-Assad’s power partially rests upon his being able to protect minorities from Sunni militants. The “authoritarianism” is an admission that left to their own desires, one group will simply attempt to slaughter everyone else.

Foley was among those believed that power is passé, and that Assad’s removal would somehow lead to a liberal democracy. Instead, Foley was beheaded by the very rebels he was assisting. The “good” moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army that Americans are so desperately counting on are irrelevant as they are squeezed between Assad’s forces and those of the Islamic State. If Foley “shaped history,” it was as one of those who inadvertently paved the way for the Caliphate. 

Foley’s death has not taught anyone anything, or even made a real impact. His beheading caused less sincere outrage and righteous anger than Gavin McInnes questioning the mental health of transsexuals. One of the main responses in the aftermath was a desperate plea “not to watch,” to shy away from the reality of violence underlying all social order and pretending that it doesn’t exist. Liberals acted like ISIS was Sarah Palin–“don’t look at it, lest we give it credibility.”

While this is framed as some kind of resistance to the propaganda of the Islamic State, it actually furthers its aims, strengthening the divide between hysterical Eloi wiling their lives away in fantasy and the hard men of the Caliphate imposing facts on the ground.

James Foley’s mother Diane said that she had “never been prouder” of her son because he gave his life trying to “expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.” However, even this is an admission of passivity–what difference does it make if “suffering” is “exposed” unless it is followed by action? The implicit premise is that when Third Worlders suffer, it is somehow Our Fault and Our Responsibility and Foley lived his life in order to awaken guilty Whites to the needs of their dusky charges.

Yet Foley’s mother went on to plead for the release of the other hostages on the grounds that, like her son, “They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.” But journalists do have control, or at least participate in the struggle for control. In Syria, Ferguson, or anywhere else, journalists advance a certain Narrative which supports specific policy aims. These policy aims, like any state aims, are imposed by force and backed with violence. What journalists seem to want is the freedom to advance an agenda while denying responsibility for its effects, to gain credit for their good intentions while avoiding any obligations for additional suffering. 

Foley’s family, the President, and the media interpreted the meaning of his life and death in light of the consequences to the Syrian people. Implicit in all of this is an admission that it is somehow illegitimate and immoral to take on the responsibility of history for your own interests. But contra the fantasies of the great and the good, it is the Islamic State that is shaping history in the Muslim world, and may someday shape Europe as well. Insofar as Foley had an impact, it was in opening the door for them. His defeat was total.

There is no escape from history. Those who shape history take upon themselves the responsibility to shed blood and have their own blood shed. Those who think they are only “bearing witness” are either deluding themselves or serving as useful idiots. And your status as a “journalist,” or “civilian” or “American” somehow exempts you does not mean that you are exempt. “There are no innocents anymore.”

But modern Westerners would rather die than accept the responsibility of being alive, or acting in a world defined by struggle rather than pretty lies. Whites who have a future must divorce themselves from the morality, values, and eventually the political systems of a dying culture, lest we share its fate. We can accept the responsibly of survival–or die on our knees, wondering why it is the people we tried to help killed us.

American Revolutionary hero Nathan Hale, quoting the play Cato, uttered the immortal words “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” before he was executed. Foley’s last words, as deservedly immortal in their own way, were “I guess, all in all, I wish I wasn’t American.”

We will never know if he was sincere or if this was forced. But if his death is any kind of a commentary on what it means to be “American” today, then yeah, me too.