In my role as founder of the This World: The Values Network, I spent the weekend making decisions as to whether we would make changes to our full page anti-ISIS and Hamas ads to accommodate the demands of some of the world’s leading publications. The New York Times objected to ISIS terrorist Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, aka “Jihadi John” – a 23-year-old rapper-turned-terrorist who is the leading suspect in the beheading of James Foley – holding a knife. They would only accept a knifeless version.
But they quickly contradicted themselves when, just about ten days later, they published a photo on their website of the same terrorist holding a knife at the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff, an act of gruesome barbarity that once again shocked the world.
Then the Los Angeles Times drove us crazy by rejecting both the ISIS photograph and also the photograph of Hamas terrorists standing next to “collaborators” whom they were about to murder (they killed 22, including two women – without any kind of trial). There was no knife or anything gruesome in the photo, just hooded Hamas executioners standing by their victims. Why would they object to Hamas being depicted for what they really are, a stone-age death cult who are a menace to the Palestinian people and whose raison d’être is the annihilation of the State of Israel and a genocide of the Jews?
The Los Angeles Times then came back and said that they would publish a knife-less version of the ISIS ad, and the Hamas ad, if we reduced the pictures by two-thirds. A few days later we had bargained them down to a one-third reduction.
We are holding out for publication of the ad the way it appeared in The New York Times, at the very least.
No one should be surprised that all the major British dailies – from The Times of London, to The Telegraph, to The Guardian– who, to their credit, had published our earlier ad, which had been inexplicably rejected by the Times of London, with Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel calling out Hamas for child sacrifice – rejected the photos. But what made the censorship particularly galling is that Jihadi John is British and a disproportionate number of ISIS terrorist monsters come from Britain. The island nation has a serious problem with radical Islamist organizations who find succor in the British Muslim community. It can’t be swept under the rug by suppressing our ads about these dangers.
And that’s what makes the rejection of our ad by so many publications so deeply troubling.
Over the last few days there have been many beheadings perpetrated by extremist Islamic organizations all over the Middle East. There was the beheading of Lebanese soldiers by ISIS, the videos of which were posted on the internet. It was one of the most horrible things I have ever watched and immediately called to mind the savage slaying of Daniel Pearl. Then there were the decapitations in Egypt of four alleged Israeli “Mossad spies” in copycat videos that echoed the vile ISIS postings.
Now there’s the decapitation of Steven Sotloff, even after his mother made the most heartfelt plea for compassion from ISIS “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She did the right thing in leaving no stone unturned to save her son’s life. Unfortunately for the Sotloff family and the American people, the only stone that a brute like al-Baghdadi would respond to is the kind that is used to crush a woman’s skull. The ‘Caliph’ is a beast, bereft of human feeling, having completely erased the image of God from his countenance.
Through all this, rather than convey to Western audiences the extent of the danger posed by these barbaric groups, the world’s leading publications instead contort themselves with Victorian prudery around our ad and the actual untouched image of a terrorist holding a knife.
Meanwhile, the New York Times published an editorial this past Sunday criticizing the government of the United States for allegedly attempting to suppress new photos of American investigators allegedly abusing jihadis in interrogations. The Times said, “America reinforces its values and thus its security by being transparent about even the worst abuses of those values, not by hiding the evidence deep in a file drawer.”
Now, I’m assuming that these “worst abuses” would not come anywhere near the brutality of ISIS, which murdered hundreds of Syrian soldiers and put their heads on staffs. I’m also assuming that the worst US abusers doesn’t crucify children, as ISIS has done. And no one is saying that The Times should be depicting this ISIS carnage. We should never be giving these monsters PR victories they so badly cherish. But to suppress a picture of a terrorist holding a knife is to go to a ridiculous extreme of sanitizing the bloodlust of this gang of ogres. The New York Times will publish the most awful Abu Ghraib photos – as they should – but will not publish a picture of an ISIS terrorist holding a knife standing alongside an American journalist.
Even The Wall Street Journal demanded the picture with the knife be replaced, even as the Journal has been outstanding in highlighting the threat posed by ISIS to civilization itself and the need to confront them militarily.
The only publication that accepted the ad as is was The Washington Post.
So here is an idea for all these leading publications to redeem themselves. Why not collectively call on the ISIS and Hamas terrorists to be truly brave and remove their ugly hoods? These guys are so proud of their bloodlust, and have mastered social media by putting up expertly edited videos of helpless hostages being savagely slaughtered. Why not take even greater pride by showing your faces?
What are you afraid of? Western retaliation? An indictment at the International Criminal Court? Come on. You’ve got to be braver than that. A couple of Western judges in robes frighten you? An American drone puts the fear of God into you? You guys are super-religious, animated by such deep faith that you cut helpless victims’ heads off.
Go on. Be proud. Stand up for what you believe. Own your actions. Take public acclaim for striking a blow for your faith.
Jihadi John, this is your chance. At your next beheading, take off the mask, man. Show the world your monstrous visage. Receive the publicity that your failed career as a rapper denied you.
We want to take one good look at you before the drone strike that will incinerate you leaves no trace.
Shmuley Boteach, called “the most famous Rabbi in America” by the Washington Post, is the author of 30 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.