Are Victims of Islamic State Executions Docile or Playing the Odds?

Those about to be executed by the Islamic State are often broken down by physical and emotional abuse. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Those about to be executed by the Islamic State are often broken down by physical and emotional abuse. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Anti-semites sometimes ask why Jews failed to mount greater resistance to persecution in World War II. Legitimate reasons abound, which we won’t go into here. One question they ask is why the docility when led to gas chambers? Of course, it’s far outside the bounds of decency to question anyone in such a situation. Anyone thus terrorized may have long surrendered notions of free will. Most of us would probably do the same.

You see the same docility and conformity in those waiting for or being marched to (as in the recent video of Coptic Christians) their executions. They assume the position without even fidgeting, and accept throat cutting.

An anonymous commenter to the Holocaust Studies section of, who reveals his ignorance by his compositional and grammatic errors, does tmake one credible point. (Emphasis added.)

Even if they know that they are going to die if they surrender, they still surrender in the hope that they will become the “lottery winner” and not getting beheaded.

No doubt typical of the thinking of those watching the videos is “If it were me …” More from the same commenter:

The vast majority of people are sheeps — and they will behave just like sheeps, walking into the slaughterhouse, with full knowledge that they are going to be slaughtered.

This has also been addressed by a more thoughtful individual in the Daily Mail. Before continuing, I feel compelled to note my impressions about the few beheading videos I have viewed. At first, they’re of “prurient interest.” Soon, however, they just become dreary. Out of concern that I — and many of us — are becoming jaded, I occasionally make myself watch one. It’s important that we’re reminded of just how transgressive (to use a word that’s popular today) against prevailing norms that the practice of beheading is. Also, watching is a way of honoring the victim. Here’s the Daily Mail addressing why those about to be beheaded tend to cooperate with their executioners.

One of the many elements surrounding the Islamic State’s horrific beheadings has been questions surrounding why — and how — the victims appear so calm just seconds before dying.

A French journalist who was once held by the terror group believes that the captives likely didn’t realize what was about to happen.

Europe 1 radio reporter Didier Francois, 53, who was released earlier this year after 10 months of confinement with the Islamic State, said that militants put captives through a number of mock executions and, as a result, they were worn down and didn’t know what was to come, according to the Daily Mail.

“They did not realize that this time it was the real thing,” he said.

Some resist. A few years ago I watched the famous Dagestan video, in which Chechens militants behead a group of Russian soldiers in a field. One of the captives took advantage of the casualness of the Chechens’ approach to their job (unlike disciplined Islamic State executioners), jumped up, and took off across the field, though he was soon shot dead.

Another instance, last month (excerpted from one of the Web’s most objectionable sites, which I won’t dignify by linking to):

A young Syrian man from Al-Shadadi town in Al-Hasakah Governorate was sentenced to death by the Islamic State, who control this part of north-eastern Syria. The public execution was carried out the traditional Islamic way – he was beheaded by sword.

Before the executioner was able to cut his head off, the man gave ISIS a hard time. He was screaming for help and struggling, requiring several mujaheddin to keep him restrained. Even with a few men on top of him, he still managed to cause delays to the beheading.

Those cooperating, besides hoping that they will somehow be pardoned at the last minute, may also be thinking that an orderly execution will be less painful than an ad hoc one incurred by resistance. But a reason for resisting is explained in reference to the Syrian man.

This brought him less gruesome and faster death. His 5 comrades weren’t this lucky and had to suffer slow death by beheading.

Also sad about the Islamic State’s beheadings is that they aren’t true beheadings as with, say, a guillotine, but instead are an extended process of throat cutting better characterized as sawing to death. Among the most grisly ways to die — though paling in comparison to burning to death, as the Islamic State has, of course, also done — true beheading, ironically, may be the cleanest and least painful way to be put to death.