By early September of 2008, almost 200 people had been beheaded in Mexico that year, according to this Time magazine article.
The biggest mass beheading in recent history caused widespread revulsion in Mexico but little surprise. Decapitations have become as commonplace in the increasingly vicious narco turf battles as stabbings are in London. During August alone, gangsters hacked off 30 craniums across the country — adding to the total of almost 200 beheadings in 2008 so far. Heads have been stuck on crosses, shoved into iceboxes and left in car trunks along with snakes.
Decapitations were almost unheard of here before 2006. The first case related to the drug wars occurred in April of that year, when thugs left the craniums of two policemen in the seaside resort Acapulco, apparently in revenge for the shooting of four traffickers in a prolonged gun battle. The following September, thugs in ski masks rolled five severed heads onto a dance floor in the mountainous state of Michoacán. The cycle of beheadings intensified throughout 2007 until every gangster in Mexico seemed to have an executioner’s ax in his arsenal.
Why beheadings? The Time article gives us three theories.
Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna claims the inspiration for the terror tactic had been al-Qaeda in Iraq. “This began after there was an image that al-Qaeda sent out to the world via the Internet showing the execution of a prisoner in Iraq,” he told a news conference after the 2007 video.
Is that why? Or is it this:
There may also be more local influences at work. Following some early beheadings, Mexican police arrested former members of Guatemala’s élite Kaibil military unit, which carried out bloody atrocities against rebel villages during the nation’s four-decade civil war. “We have testimonies of the Kaibiles hacking off the heads of living people with knives to terrorize communities,” said Guatemalan Representative Otilia Lux de Coti, who served in the nation’s Truth Commission following the 1996 peace accord. “Many continue to be dangerous killers after they leave the military.” The Kaibiles are alleged to work with Mexico’s Zetas, many of whom were themselves defectors from élite military units. Beheadings are also a favored tactic of Central America’s bloody Mara Salvatrucha gangs, who have been enlisted as muscle by the Mexican mafias.
Isn’t there a more wacky theory out there, though?
Archaeologist Ernesto Vargas says the tactic could even reflect the pre-Columbian use of beheadings, a common tactic of the Mayan people who dominated southern Mexico and Guatemala before the Spanish conquest. “The Mayans cut off the heads of prisoners as a symbol of complete domination over their enemies,” Vargas says.
Yes. The recent spate of beheadings in Mexico started in 2006, but let’s trace it back to the Mayans.
Isn’t it interesting that with these various theories flying around, nobody is attributing the beheadings to Christianity? If Mexico were a majority Muslim nation, would there be any doubt in America’s collective mind that Islam was to blame for the beheading spree?
Mexico is 95% Christian. The Christians’ holy book is the bible, in which the heroic David slays the frightening Goliath and cuts off his head. Are we not to read this as a biblical endorsement of decapitation? Nay, an instruction from God to decapitate in his name? And Mexico has been Christian for several hundred years, much more recently than Mexico has been Mayan.
Dishonest debaters point to an Islamic verse instructing soldiers in battle to strike off their enemies’ heads as a blanket instruction to Muslims to behead at will. A truly dishonest debater even cites this verse as the reason a Muslim wife-abuser decapitates his wife, implying that all Muslim husbands will probably do the same, sooner or later.
Here is the verse in question. It is 8:12, al-Anfal, “the spoils of war.”
Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.”
Can a reasonable person read that as an instruction to men to behead their wives? Is it any more belligerent than this verse from the bible?
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)
Interestingly, other translations change the word “sword” to “division,” which only makes me wish I read Greek, so that I could read the original and decide for myself. Fortunately for me, I do read Arabic, and can decide for myself about the Qur’an.
Here’s a little something from the old testament that might inspire bad behavior, if we believed that modern Christians or Jews were ever inspired by their holy book to behave badly:
1 Samuel 15
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. 2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ”
To go back to the Qur’anic verse, let’s get past our modern aversion to decapitation. This verse was revealed to the prophet in 624 CE, when a soldier’s weapon was a sword. If your weapon is a sword and your enemy is armored, it only makes sense to use your sword to strike off his head. It is true that today we’ve grown used to cutting our enemy in half with automatic weapons fire or atomizing him with a well-placed landmine, but are these methods actually any less icky?
As I mentioned in my last post, on The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, the crusaders cut off quite a few heads in their time. And it didn’t stop there. Several hundred years later, severed heads were regularly displayed on London Bridge as a disincentive to traitors and criminals. In 1789 the science of head chopping off was improved by the invention of the guillotine.
Christian hero Vlad III, prince of Wallachia, preferred impalement to beheading, but wasn’t always able to employ his favored method:
In Vlad’s own words -: “I have killed men and women, old and young…23,884 Turks and Bulgarians without counting those whom we burned alive in their homes or whose heads were not chopped off by our soldiers…”
In the days prior to the invention of the photographic camera, a portable piece of evidence testifying to a given individual’s death was his severed head, which could be packed in a box and sent to one’s sovereign. If you wanted to know how many folks you killed in a battle, you could do a headcount.
In the last few months, there have been three news stories about beheadings. In one case a mentally-deranged man cut off a young man’s head on a bus in Canada. In another case, a man cut off his estranged wife’s head, and in the third case, a foreign graduate student cut off the head of a fellow foreign graduate student.
You probably never even heard about the third case. You probably heard about the first case; but you most assuredly heard about the second case, because the perpetrator was a Muslim. Incidentally, the perpetrators in both other cases were Chinese immigrants.
Let’s go to the story that got all the headlines. The husband was a 44-year old man who has lived in the United States since he was a teenager, about two-thirds of his life. He has an MBA from Rochester. He was previously married and divorced that wife without any beheading issues.
I do see the irony of someone starting a television station to increase understanding between people of his religion and people of the dominant religion of his country, and that person then committing a heinous crime. The sad part is that he wasn’t wrong when he said
“The climate still remains rather anti-Arab and anti-Muslim…”
“The level of ignorance regarding Muslims and Islam is very high in the United States and it will take a lot of time for non-Muslim Americans to realize that they and their Muslim neighbors share many of the same values — raising families, pursuing careers and finding peace.”
There’s nothing Muslim about killing your wife right after she files for divorce and gets a protection order against you. That’s exactly when most American wife-killers do it. And they do it a lot.
In the U.S., estimates from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) are that more than three women a day are killed by their intimate partners. Women are killed by intimate partners more often than by another acquaintance of stranger. Most of these murders involved were preceded by physical and psychological abuse.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, 1,055 women and 287 men were murdered by their intimate partners in 2005. These figures are striking, because in the past, in the 1970s and earlier, the numbers of men and women so victimized were about even. In other words, there has been a significant decline in the numbers of men killed by their partners but not for women.
Update: March 30th 2009 – another American beheads a family member. The article doesn’t mention anyone’s religion, so of course, he’s probably not Muslim. However, a neighbor who was quoted in the article has a Muslim-sounding name, so this one might get into the media.
But wait, there’s more. This Boston Globe article (I don’t recommend clicking it–it’s wreaking hell with my pop-up blockers) says this about the killer, Kerby Revelus:
Sometimes he would talk cryptically about God’s purpose for him, Kamara said, and other times he acted edgy and hostile.
My stars and garters! This decapitator was a Christian.
The Rev. Rosette Falaise, pastor of Bethel Pentecostal Haitian Church in Dorchester’s Fields Corner, said the mother was a member. She said Kerby Revelus did not attend church often, but that from what she could see he loved his younger sisters.
UPDATE: Aug 2009. Another non-Muslim, white dude beheaded a fellow human being. Nicholas Bendle of Santa Maria, California, chopped an elderly man’s head off.