While I generally do not view such material, I felt it important to watch the ISIS video which showed the brutal execution of the Jordanian pilot. Of course, the actual execution was most difficult to witness. In the pilot’s demeanor, in the way he walked and the way he stood, one can only surmise what he was subjected to from the moment of his capture until his death. And to see an individual killed in such a horrendous fashion is most disturbing. You wonder how human beings can do this – but the tragic history of humanity has shown such events to sadly be recurring.

Much of the video, of course, I could not comprehend in that the presentation was in Arabic. The actual execution was only a small part of it. The video was clearly high tech propaganda at its best or, more correctly, at its worst. I always find it bewildering to watch terrorists displaying the casualties of retaliatory strikes against them as some type of justification for their next brutality. I also, of course, bemoan these terrible losses, but no amount of propaganda videos will prevent me from recognizing that the producers of these videos are the real causes of such destruction. Yet they still offer up this propaganda with some hope that people will see them as the victims, not perpetrators. I guess the sad truth is that some people regrettably do adopt such a perspective.

What most bothered me, though, was what I can only term the pomp and pageantry. There they were; numerous members of ISIS all dressed similarly, in some type of solemn assembly, perfectly collected. All I could think about was a similarity to the Nazi Nuremberg rallies. Such events, such pomp and pageantry, project dogma, a presentation of some form of ‘ideal’ that is to be aspired. Barbaric acts thereby become ‘virtuous’; the demarcation of good and evil is blurred, even corrupted. This was the horror of the Nazis. They weren’t simply thugs wishing to enjoy the fruits of their criminal behavior. There was a projection of a doctrine to hide, justify, explain all. This is similarly true for ISIS and it was imbedded in that video.

People wonder how Nazism could have swept Germany just 100 years ago. With ISIS we are seeing the same phenomena today, even as people similarly now wonder how ISIS is able to attract so many recruits worldwide. It is so much easier to believe that the motivation emerges from simple base drives. Recognizing doctrine would demand of individuals to investigate ideology, even their own, and commit themselves to greater critical thought. This is now what is demanded.

It was also telling when they displayed an Israeli flag – in the same way that they displayed the flags of other nations at war with them – but rather than the label under the flag reading Israel, they just wrote Jews. There is no confusion here about anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. They also felt no need to hide this hatred. Israel is not even directly in the fight against them but, to such individuals, it always scores points to say that your fight is also against the Jews.

And this goes beyond the present members of ISIS for they are using this argument as propaganda to attract others. They are shouting: ‘We’re anti-Semitic so join us.’ Yet, it is so much easier for some to close their eyes to this obvious and articulated anti-Semitism. Acknowledging the anti-Semitism would demand of people to correctly define the situation and not substitute desired facts for reality in order to be able to present simplistic, untenable solutions (as is the case with many of the world’s proposals for Israel). This, unfortunately, is not just a problem in regard to ISIS.

The ISIS video truly articulated the difficult challenge that the world is now facing and left me sadly wondering if individuals truly knew what was being demanded of them. With the Nazis, by the time the world finally understood the nature of this entity, it would take a World War to defeat them. If the countries of Europe had only determined this earlier, so much destruction would have been avoided. We can only hope that the world has learned its lesson and does not make, chas v’shalom (God forbid), a similar mistake with ISIS and with other similar entities.

Article by Benjamin Hecht

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht is the founding director of Nishma, which fosters the critical investigation of contemporary issues. For further info, see nishma.org and nishmablog.blogspot.com. You can follow Rabbi Hecht on Twitter @NishmaTorah.