The Arab Concept of Victory and Beheading Civilians. A Sunni Arab terrorist group in Iraq, claiming to be working for al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, displayed a video on an al Qaeda website (the Arab language Muntada al-Ansar Islamist Web site) showing the beheading of American businessman Nick Berg who was apparently kidnapped in Iraq earlier. Bergs body was found on May 9th outside Baghdad. The beheading was announced as retaliation for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American troops. Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, has been the most active, and most senior, al Qaeda operator in Iraq. The United States is offering a ten million dollars reward for his capture. Many of al-Zarqawis followers are in Fallujah and currently fighting American marines.
The Muntada al-Ansar web site regularly announces which terrorist group is claiming responsibility for attacks. The recent suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia were announced on the site. The use of videos of attacks and murders of captives is considered a recruiting tool and good propaganda. The videos are rarely shown on English language web sites, as they are intended for the hard core terrorist audience. Al Qaeda knows that such videos will turn off many in the West, but has found that it does wonders for al Qaeda recruiting and contributions. Al Qaeda has been unable to win any meaningful victories, so they invent success by declaring the slaughter of people via suicide bombings, or beheadings, to be a victory over the enemy. Historically, this doesnt work, and such atrocities simply inflame the opposition. Consider, for example, the September 11, 2001 attacks and what the United States has done to al Qaeda since then.
Al Qaeda is taking advantage of a uniquely Arab concept of victory. Having been on the losing side of history for so many centuries, most Arabs accept just about anything as a victory. For example, Saddam Hussein declared himself the winner of the 1991 Gulf War because he was still running Iraq after it was over. Of course, the main, and widely publicized, reason he was still in power was because Arab nations refused to join the coalition to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait unless the U.S. agreed NOT to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. Earlier, Saddam gained much perverse praise from the Arab world for getting Iran to agree to stop the war that had raged between the two nations throughout the 1980s. This war began when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, in an attempt to grab some Iranian oil fields while Irans armed forces were in disorder following a revolution in which Islamic radicals overthrew the king (Shah) of Iran. The Iranians quickly got their act together, pushed the Iraqis out of Iran and spent the next eight years trying to get to Saddam. For thousands of years, the Iranians (or Persians or Parthians or whatever) have been pounding Arab armies into the ground. So Saddams ability (via the use chemical weapons and billions of dollars worth of Russian arms) to stop (if not exactly defeat) the Iranians, was, to many Arabs, a real victory.
Now all this Iran/Arab stuff plays a special role in Iraq. To the surprise of many Sunni Arabs, the Shia Arabs fought, during the 1980s, to defend Iraq from the Shia Iranians. Actually, about three percent of Irans population is Arab, so in some cases you had Shia Arabs fighting Shia Arabs in this war. But the Iraqi Shia Arabs (over half the population), via a combination of fear, nationalism and financial incentives, were compelled by Saddam (a Sunni Arab) to serve in the war against Iran. What was being played was the race card. The Iranians are an Indo-European people, and have been defeating, and generally lording it over the Arabs, a Semitic people, for thousands of years. Memories are long in this part of the world, and in this case, ethnic memory trumped religion. Normally the Sunni and Shia Moslems do not get along very well. Conservative Sunnis consider the Shia heretics. And the fact that most Shia are Iranians does not help matters either.
Al Qaeda is a basically a Sunni Arab organization that attracts recruits who are not Arabs, but who MUST be Sunni. Al Qaeda was founded by members of the conservative Wahabi form of Islam found in Saudi Arabia. To a Wahabi, even contact with infidels (non-Moslems) is forbidden, and it is the duty of all Moslems to convert or kill the infidels. One should not lose sight of al Qaedas core values and goals. When you do focus in on those values and goals, the video of an American civilian being beheaded makes some kind of perverted sense.