Op-Ed: Hell on Earth Burning alive a human being is a method of eliminating enemies that is well known and documented in early Islamic sources, and based on a deductive legal principle of Sharia law. Published: Wednesday, February 04, 2015 11:30 PM Dr. Mordechai Kedar

[Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel]


Islamic State publicized a horrifying twenty minute video this week, the high point of which was the execution of a Jordanian pilot, Maaz al-Kassasbeh, by burning him alive. The film attempts to justify the punishment by describing Jordan’s part in the war against ISIS, using photos of ISIS dead, including women, children, men and mainly those burned to death.

The rest of the film has the pilot describing the involvement of the air forces of Jordan, United Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco and United States and notes that American planes take off from Turkish bases.

The film is edited professionally and includes impressive sound and visual effects that attest to the talents and abilities of its editors. Many minutes are spent showing a silent visit the Jordanian pilot makes to the ruins of a large building, which seems to be the staff headquarters of ISIS that was hit by the coalition’s airplanes, possibly even the plane flown by the Jordanian himself.

The entire film is meant to justify the scene that is shown near its end: the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot. The event is carefully staged: the pilot is put in an iron cage so that he has no chance of escaping the fire, and the orange clothes which he wears throughout the film are soaked in gasoline. Even the sand under the cage is full of gasoline and a rivulet of gasoline-soaked sand reaches the spot where a soldier stands carrying a stick to which a gasoline-soaked rag is attached. Another soldier lights the rag, it sets the rivulet on fire, the flames advance towards the cage and set the gasoline under the pilot’s feet ablaze and after the pilot dies in excruciating agony, a bulldozer arrives and covers the cage with rocks.

What the film presents is nothing new to anyone who is familiar with Islamic sources, those that tell about how Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of Muhammed who married his daughter Fatma and became the fourth Caliph, burned two heretics to death. There is a dispute among Islamic religious figures about whether that is allowed, opponents claiming that only God is licensed to condemn heretics to the flames – that is, to burn in Hell. Islamic State – which sees itself as the force that will reestablish the original Islamic State – uses Ali’s precedent on the burning of enemies, and allows punishment by fire on earth.

This point is extremely important to those in charge of the ISIS propaganda machine: the message the film conveys is that anyone who attacks Islamic State will be condemned to a living Hell – and if he is unsure about how Hell looks and about what happens to the wicked there, he now has a movie that answers both questions. Just for comparison’s sake: several months ago, the web was full of ISIS fighters talking about Yazidi girls that they were going to have their way with, and that, too, was a clear message: that is, instead of waiting for 72 virgins, whoever joins ISIS gets to enjoy Paradise on earth.

Another reason for burning the pilot to death is the Islamic legal principle of mutuality – the punishment must fit the crime. In the case of the Jordanian pilot the video takes pains to show ISIS victims, including children, burned in coalition attacks. Ths presentation of burned victims is meant to justify the method by which the pilot is executed, based on the mutuality principle.

Another important detail that appears in the movie is a long list of Jordanian pilots, some accompanied by a photograph and a home address, the point of which is to encourage Jordanians who identify with ISIS to take revenge on these pilots as well as to deter Jordanian pilots from taking part in the air battles against ISIS. Without a shred of doubt, the ISIS psychological war machine invested much time and talent in producing this movie, using graphics and other techniques to get its message across.

Except that the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot is not a new propaganda weapon invented by ISIS, as some of the media commentators on the movie claimed. This is a method of eliminating enemies that is well known and documented in early Islamic sources, and based on a deductive legal principle in Sharia law.

Some commentators are engaged in a contest over who can demonize ISIS more, and the expressions heard in the last few days are justifiably harsh, but this is exactly what the ISIS fighters want to hear. They want to plant fear in the hearts of their enemies, so that demonizing them plays right into their hands by heightening the fears of other populations, especially in the West.

The right way to react is to stay detached and carry out an in-depth, objective and balanced analysis of the activities of ISIS and the words of its spokesmen in an effort to get to the bottom of the cultural and religious sources of its leaders – this, so as to find their weak points and use them to succeed. For example: ISIS fighters believe that if a woman kills them, they will not be shahids and will not be sent to Paradise. The Kurdish army in northern Iraq, the Peshmerga, made use of this belief by enlisting women fighters who would shout and ululate as they approached ISIS positions. When the ISIS fighters heard the Kurdish women’s battle cries, they fled to prevent their being killed by a woman.

This is one example of the way forces opposed to ISIS can use their enemies’ beliefs when planning effective fighting. There are other options for convincing ISIS to retreat, but this is not the place to expound upon them.

Jordan at War

As soon as the barbaric murder of the Jordanian pilot became known, Jordan retaliated by hanging a man and woman who were members of Al Qaeda and whose death sentences had not been carried out for several years.

King Abdullah the Second gave a short speech to his citizens in which he vowed to avenge the blood of the pilot in the war against Islamic State. The king did not divulge details of the war he is planning against those who burned the pilot, but the impression is that Jordan will increase the level of its attacks on ISIS.

On the one hand, there is the possibility of increased participation in the coalition’s activities, but it is also possible that we will soon observe Jordanian forces engaging in ground operations against Islamic State.

The king must go out to war against Islamic State or he will suffer strong criticism from the Bedouin tribles for whom avenging the blood of their brother pilot is a holy mission. The message that went out to the Bedouin and the empathy with their pain were tangible in the red Bedouin keffiyah that the king wore on his head while giving his speech.

On the other hand, the king must also give a clear signal to those Jordanians who identify with Islamic State – and there are more than a few of those – that his long arm will catch up with them and deal with them harshly. If there is an escalation of hostilities between Jordan and ISIS, the Jordanian police will probably arrest a significant number of citizens suspected of ISIS sympathies, especially those living in the southern city of Maan and the Syrian refugees in the Alzatri camp in northern Jordan.

Israel must follow the war between Jordan and ISIS closely, because its results will determine who stands opposite her on the other side of the Jordan River – a sovereign country with which we have a peace agreement or a terror organization par excellence, totally devoid of ethical limitations. Israel and Jordan are in the same pit today in the war against an organization that wants to bring the fires of Hell to the Middle East so as to destroy whatever is not in line with their world view.