Historically, for many cultures, the most important trophy was the human head. This is true of Islam where beheading has long historical and theological precedents. The trophy head still is the Jihadist’s emblem of war, a sign of victory, martial prowess and power appropriated from the victim. It confers status and honor upon the jihadist warrior. From serial killers to Syrian jihadists, human trophy taking involves ritual behaviors that demonstrate dominance over the victim and commemorate the kill. Disarticulated human body parts obtained from fallen enemies historically were collected, exhibited, displayed, saved or worn. In the 20th century photography became another method of commemorating victory. Photos of the killing or posing with dead enemies replaced taking the actual body part. Photos of murders are often referred to as souvenirs and photos from combat as war porn. Traditionally human trophies required actual body parts as proof of the kill. However, mobile phone technology and internet video sites have introduced a new phenomenon in human war trophies: videotaped beheadings, dismemberment and mutilation. Instead of having a necklace of ears or a belt of scalps, jihadists preserve their kills on their cell phones. Similar to other warrior contests, a rivalry over who can videotape the worst atrocity escalates. The violent image that goes viral wins.
Videotaped beheadings and atrocities are the new trophies of war. The father of modern beheading , Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was notorious for beheading dozens of Iraqi and foreign hostages and distributing videos of the beheadings on the Internet. Zarqawi’s videotapes can be considered Beheading 1.0. They were formal ritual executions that involved a reading of offenses (transgressions), confession, judgment, last words, execution, praising of Allah and a statement of demands. Today, ten years later the Syrian jihadists, Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Somali Al Shabaab, al Qaeda and Salafi jihadists around the world are engaged in Beheading 2.0, exemplified by savagery unleashed. Jihadist beheadings have devolved into primal feral warfare with cannibalism, feeding body parts to dogs, grilling heads on stoves, playing soccer with human heads and many other atrocities, videotaped and uploaded on the internet. These murders are always ritualized even if it is just the proclamation of Allahu Akbar to sanction the violence.
This type of violence is often misinterpreted by Western analysts as deviant behavior. It is often construed as similar to the actions of serial killers who photograph their victims to relive the experience or as aberrant soldiers who were predisposed to psychopathy. Indeed most of the general public can only comprehend these horrors as the actions of the mentally ill. Beheadings, cannibalism, dismemberment is not the result of psychopathology, it is authentic Islam. Violent atrocity committed for the cause of global jihad is Islam in its natural state, unveiled, without political correctness, voices of apology or revisionist history. It is also al Qaeda’s stated ideological goal, the purification of Islam through violent struggle. Culturally sanctioned violence is not pathological it is the norm. The violence, no matter how inexplicable, is justified as purification rites to cleanse Islam from its exposure to Western influence.
Authentic Islam sanctions beheadings and sexual slavery. Trophy heads and women have always been the spoils of war. To understand how Islam permits men to buy and sell girls, captured in jihad, as sexual slaves read Islam, Slavery and Rape in FrontPage May 7, 2014. In a recent video Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau arrogantly proclaims, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,”…. “I abducted a girl at a Western education school and you are disturbed. I said Western education should end. Girls, you should go and get married,” he said. “I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine. “God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions,”… “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.” During his video jihadists militants are firing rifles in the air and crying, “Allahu Akbar!” Shekau’s message is not intended as a justification for his actions it is a recruitment video, a brilliant piece of propaganda that will appeal to sexually frustrated men who will join the fight just so they can engage in morally sanctioned sex.
Women and human body parts are traditional trophies of war. Videos that display the severing of body parts and depict men laughing and playing with human heads and holding up severed heads are the new trophies of war. Now technology allows jihadists to display their trophies to the whole world. These videos are badges of honor that demonstrate military prowess, bestow status and most significantly inspire others to join. Al Qaeda understands that sex, violence, heroism and other rewards of battle sells. The history of Islam is a history of trophies of war.
Dawn Perlmutter Director of Symbol & Ritual Intelligence and adj. Professor in the Forensic Medicine Program at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine is considered one of the leading subject matter experts (SME) in the areas of symbols, unfamiliar customs, ritualistic crimes and religious violence. She has advised police departments and prosecutors offices on numerous cases of ritual homicide and presented expert witness testimony on ritualistic crimes.