Reprinted with permission of the International Herald Tribune.
The victims have not been exclusively of one nationality or religion, but indeed are representative of humanity itself: British, South Korean, Egyptian and American, among others; Catholic, Jewish and Muslim. As more people continue to be taken hostage and brutally murdered in Iraq, millions of citizens around the world watch, pained and deeply concerned about the destiny of civilized society.
The tragic pleas of the most recent hostage, Margaret Hassan, the British-born director of CARE International in Iraq, compel us to call for an active response to this new and growing form of violence. More than 150 foreigners have been abducted so far in Iraq, and over 30 of them killed.
Two and a half years ago, when the world reacted with shock and indignation to the brutal murder of our son, we were hoping that the lives of innocent people would never again be used as a bargaining chip. We also hoped that the civilized world would mobilize and unite to protect itself against the new strand of evil, one that boasts in cruelty and ritualizes inhumanity. We were wrong.
The recent series of "exhibition killings" proves that the current wave of world conflict is fundamentally different in character than anything we have known in the past few centuries. Innocent human beings are murdered and mutilated by calculated design, in front of millions of spectators, in the name of religion, for the sheer purpose of transmitting a message to those deemed enemies.
In contrast to the Nazis, who labored to hide their atrocities, thus unveiling an inkling of shame, doubt of fear, the actors in the new wave of crimes boast openly in their cruelty, secure in faith and righteousness.
The rise of exhibition killings now threatens to become part of the cultural norms of the twenty-first century, steadily instilling contempt toward the lives of others and eroding the human dignity of each individual in our society. To remain passive or indifferent in the face of this phenomenon amounts to the committing our children to irreversible moral perversion.
To preserve our civilization we must harness all possible efforts to repel this hideous practice back to the realm of the inconceivable.
As a start, the media should exercise responsible judgment on whether and how they broadcast and publish terrorist messages and imagery. Giving them voice empowers terrorists with a sense of accomplishment and increases their appetite for more barbarity. The media should treat such material as responsibly as it treats bomb-construction manuals and rape scenes.
Moreover, leaders of the international community should clearly and unambiguously define all forms of exhibition killings-the murder of an innocent person for the purpose of transmitting a grievance-as a distinct form of crime. The United Nations should declare it a crime against humanity, with all the legal and moral ramifications that this entails, regardless of the source of the grievance.
Additionally, religious leaders of all denominations must condemn these crimes in religious terms, classifying them as cardinal sins, punishable by the religion's harshest sanctions, for example, excommunication, hellfire and damnation.
In particular, Muslim clerics in the West should use the Islamic instruments of Fatwa, Apostasy, Takfir and Fasad (corruption) to exorcise both the perpetrators of exhibition killing and the clerics who legitimize it. Secular condemnations, however sincere, are utterly ineffective, both to the followers of al-Zarqawi and to Westerners who are laboring to explain Islam as a peaceful religion.
Consider: There are scores of Islamic clerics in the West who command the credentials to officially declare al-Zarqawi an apostate, that is, one who falsifies the roots of Islam. The fact that they do not encourages al-Zarqawi's recruiters and supporters to confuse his ideology of killing with the theology of Islam.
On a larger level, we can tame the hatred that spawns these crimes by promoting cross-cultural understanding, and respect for difference in all countries and at all levels of society. Exhibition killings affect us all. And it will take all our efforts-both within the West and the Muslim world-to see them eradicated.