The rhetoric of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death
One of the world's most important genocidaires of the 21st century era is dead. After numerous false reports to this effect over the past five years, it does appear that President Trump and American special forces have accomplished the assassination of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi. The rhetorical ramifications of this success are profound and worthy of consideration:
1. The killing of Baghdadi and destruction of ISIS saves the lives of Muslims
At least 50,000 Muslims were killed by ISIS across the region of Iraq and Syria in the past five years. President Trump's leadership in this important theater of the War on Terror saved tens of thousands of Muslims. A failure to appreciate and commend this within our public culture should be condemned for what it is: Islamophobic. President Obama conducted more than 20,000 airstrikes during his eight-year term, yet this "J.V." team gained territory and committed sensational atrocities primarily against their fellow Muslims. Failures to celebrate this key American victory suggest favoritism toward killing Muslims and a desire for the further genocide of the Kurds.
2. Baghdadi is not a moral or intellectual model for the future
It is genuinely sad that this must be pointed out to our present intellectual culture. It is worth noting that American comedian Kathy Griffin was inspired by the genocidal behaviors of Baghdadi's loyalists to offer the bloody severed head of President Trump as a comedic trophy in her "performance art." Griffin apologized and then un-apologized for the imitation of the regular beheading of ISIS victims like the Christians killed on the shores of North Africa. The reactionary effort to portray President Trump as worse than or even comparable to any known force of evil including Hitler; Stalin; and, yes, Baghdadi is a dangerous propaganda path.
3. Trump's demeaning descriptions of Baghdadi's death are prudent
Bin Laden's body was disposed at sea in deference to Islamic custom. Obama's advisers theorized that in respecting Bin Laden as a legitimate Islamic leader, America would curry favor in the Muslim world. This was a mistake and helped facilitate the further escalation that would follow in ISIS's emergence from al-Qaeda in 2014. Bin Laden was correct prior to his attacks on 9/11 when he argued that the world follows the leader on the "strong horse" and described America as a paper tiger. The strong horse status of the United States and symbolic humiliation of Baghdadi is necessary to reduce the attractiveness of such leaders. Valorizing bin Laden with a respectful burial was like providing government respect to Klan members killing civil rights workers in the 1960s. It could not possibly help the cause of human justice.
Kayla Mueller, an American hostage, was captured by ISIS, tortured, abused, raped by al-Baghdadi himself, and then murdered. Her fingernails were ripped out. She refused to renounce her Christian faith while being an ISIS captive.
All Americans and all of humanity should be glad that Baghdadi is dead. He embodied evil, and we should not try to romanticize his crimes or offer some tedious critique of our own imperfections in seeking his end. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi decries the failure to inform her of this impending attack. This is an audacious rhetorical appeal, since she recently walked out of a military briefing on Syria for the apparent purposes of a photo op with her colleague Senator Chuck Schumer. Other Democrats stayed for the White House briefing and likely learned details relevant to this latest success by American forces.
Baghdadi was a common enemy of all of humanity. He was a monster. Any failure to unite in victory over his death is more than appeasement of his genocidal vision; it is tacit approval and encouragement of such deaths as text. Understanding these successes and symbolic missteps can bring us closer to the realistic end of genocide in the 21st century.
Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor of communication and director of speech and debate programs at Southern Methodist University. His first academic book, The Rhetoric of Genocide, details the rhetorical trajectories whereby genocide is accomplished.