Such videos have increasingly come to represent a new weapon in modern wars-by-terror. The phenomenon is not unique to Syria. One recent, much-commented-on video depicts the decapitation-by-chainsaw of a Mexican gang member by rival narcos. Violent networks around the world seem to have taken inspiration from Al Qaeda in their efforts to terrorize captive societies by filming, and broadcasting, the executions of their enemies. This began, to my knowledge, when Al Qaeda filmed Daniel Pearl’s decapitation, in 2002, and was followed, during the Iraq War, with a raft of real-life snuff videos courtesy of Al Qaeda and its allies: Margaret Hassan, a kidnapped British relief worker; the young American Nicholas Berg; many who got less attention because they were not Westerners.
It’s sobering to acknowledge that, for a previous generation of television viewers—not so long ago—the most terrifying thing they had ever seen (and for many it induced enduring fears) was the shower scene in “Psycho.” That’s so much “Captain Kangaroo” compared to what we can watch today, and if there were ever any question that what one sees on a screen has before-and-after consequences, consider these videos from the world’s killing grounds. If you want to see what someone looks like as he is stabbed, as he is told he is about to die, as he is beaten to death, or cut into pieces, it is all just a click away.