Talking about some disturbing things in this post (related to events in the Middle East a couple weeks ago), so I’ll put this one under a cut.

On Wednesday night the week before last, I watched the video of the Jordanian pilot being burned alive by his ISIS/ISIL captors.

(Parenthetically, I cannot recommend for or against watching it; I think there are good reasons for either decision, but it’s one that you have to make for yourself.)

I made the decision to watch it because I think that sometimes it’s important to remember what real evil looks like.

I knew that it would be horrifying, of course, but not exactly what to expect. As much violence as gets portrayed in our movies and on TV, it is always in the subconsciously comforting context of fiction – no one is really dying from those gunshot wounds or head-bashings, no matter how realistic the make-up and special effects make it look.

It’s very different to watch a video and know that what you are seeing is a real human being dying a horrific death.

It’s very different to look at a blackened corpse that is not a well-made prop, but was a living person screaming in agony just a few moments prior…and to have seen the transition from one to the other.

Shaken is probably a good word to describe how I felt after. Not nauseated, which I had half expected, but I was trembling for quite some time, and I definitely felt like crying. I had to step away from my computer for a little while, and went to hold my snake for a few minutes, which helped some.

I am fortunate. I live in the United States in the 21st century, in a time and a place where I do not have to worry about my physical safety or fear for my life with any regularity. But this is unusual. It has not been true through much of human history – and obviously is still not the case for many parts of the world today. I realize that this particular example, while highly publicized and yes, particularly horrific, is not by any means an isolated incident. The unfortunate truth is that many people die horrific deaths every day. In some parts of the world, over the past century or so, life has become safer and freer from violence for many people. I hope that’s a trend that will continue, so that more and more human beings can live without the need to fear this or any other kind of brutal death.

Evil, even the denunciation of it, should not be the focus of our lives. We only have one life each, and I think that anyone who is fortunate enough to live largely without fear of violence, cruelty, and death can show no better appreciation for that than by living the best, happiest life they are capable of living, focusing on the good rather than the bad.

But we should denounce evil whenever we do encounter it, and I think that to deliberately confront the reality of it is sometimes worth it. That is something that each person must choose for themselves, of course, but for myself, sometimes I would rather know, however horrifying it is to observe something like this.

I am finding that it takes time to process. Watching someone be burned alive is so far outside my range of life experience that there is a disconnect – how can my reality be the same reality in which something so brutally awful is being done to another human being? But it is the same reality, and I do wish to understand it fully, which ultimately means integrating the two. It means remembering that just as some humans are capable of truly terrible acts…so others are capable of truly great ones…and everything in between. We should denounce the evil…and we should praise the good, because the good is what drives out the evil.

I almost don’t wish to say anything about the soulless creatures that make up ISIS/ISIL and the other Islamic extremist groups who commit atrocities of this nature. They and their religion are, unfortunately, not alone in history or even today; many peoples and many belief systems have been responsible for the slaughter of fellow human beings. And while I use the term “soulless creatures” to describe these particular men, and think that in a certain sense it is an accurate description…in another sense, it is not. Human beings who are evil are, in the end, still human beings, and it is important to remember that too. It is the ideas we accept and hold, the beliefs that we do or do not question, the choices that we make…those are what lead each individual person through their lives. That is why it is so very important we judge people, not (in most cases) based on their superficial inclusion in any particular group, but based on their individual beliefs, words and actions.

Sometimes, though, individual people choose to do evil things, or to be part of a group that does evil things…and that makes judgment of them very easy, and very clear.

I watched a brutal killing committed by evil men. I wish that it had not happened, and had not been there for me to watch. But because it did happen, and was there, I do not regret making the choice to see it, and to know what happened, and to face the truth that there is real evil in this world.


5 thoughts on “Evil

  1. You’re braver than I am, Ethelinda.

    I prefer to think of what’s at stake just in terms of the good things that are and could be in the future, and I prefer not to contemplate the various scales of depravity which exist once the good has been wholly abandoned. Maybe that’s a form of cowering, I’m not sure.

    • I don’t think that’s cowering at all. As Ethelinda said, there are pros and cons to watching. For me, the right decision is definitely to not watch.

      Thank you for writing about your experience.

    • It is certainly not cowering at all! If you were to refuse to acknowledge that the evil existed, or to state that a certain person or group was evil when presented with generalized evidence of their actions, /that/ would be cowering. But to simply not want to subject yourself to seeing the detailed evidence of a particular evil act is not the same thing at all. I definitely meant it when I said that there were good reasons to not watch this.

  2. I don’t think that’s cowering at all. As Ethelinda said, there are pros and cons to watching. For me, the right decision is definitely to not watch.

    Thank you for writing about your viewing experience.

    • Thank you for reading! I was a little hesitant to post it, which is partly why I waited a week and a half, but writing about things is part of what helps me to process them (good or bad), and so I decided to go ahead.

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