Humans are social animals, traveling like wolves in packs that become families, clans, communities, nations.
As such, we have a tendency to mimic each other, and generally this is a good thing. Ogg wraps himself in a bearskin, we all wrap ourselves in bearskins, and we find that doing so offers protection against the arctic cold. And so civilization advances.
But sometimes it is not good. We learned that a fired nursing home employee in Oklahoma City threatened to come back and behead a former co-worker, and this threat apparently happened before a Moore, Oklahoma, man on Friday actually did behead a co-worker. Is this going to be a trend?
You could argue it already is. Three times makes a trend in the newspaper business, and so cutting off heads must be in vogue, what with the Islamic State group beheading two journalists and posting the videos, the horror leaping the globe to pop up in Oklahoma, of all places (or maybe that should be, “pop up in Oklahoma, of course,” that state having established itself in 1995 with the Murrah Federal Building bombing as a sort of port of entry for foreign terror techniques).
Not that it’s anything new. Beheading holds a special place of horror in our culture, as cold-blooded murder and desecration of the body paired in one awful act.
Which is ironic, because when history picks up on decapitation — “caput” is Latin for head, it’s also where “capital” comes from — it was the kinder form of execution, compared to crucifixion, which took longer.
Those hot to tar Islam with any brush available will leap to cast beheading as a particularly Muslim practice. The Quran certainly endorses it at several points, such as verse 8:12: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
And history is rife with Islamic beheadings. Legendary Muslim warrior Saladin ordered the beheading of 230 Knights Templar in 1187; Turkish invaders beheaded 800 Catholic martyrs in Otranto, Italy, in 1480.
Saudi Arabia still allows beheading and had a surge of such executions in August.
But in order to consider decapitation an Islamic atrocity, we have to ignore a solid thousand years of other history; England kept its headsmen busy for centuries, even managing to behead its king, Charles I, on Jan. 30, 1649 (a groan went up from the crowd when the ax fell, but onlookers still lined up to dip handkerchiefs in the royal blood, as mementoes, a 17th-century version of the selfie).
No Muslim nation embraced decapitation with the zeal shown by those arbiters of Western culture, the French, who invented the guillotine and then kept it busy on what is now the Place de la Concorde, using it to kill as many as 40,000 French citizens.