Center for Strategic Communication

[ by Charles Cameron — of capital punishment, shock value and terror ]


Images such as the one above have been proliferating in western media recently. That specific image came from a Fox News report of April 29th titled Al Qaeda-linked jihadists accused of hanging victims on crosses — an interesting article on two counts.

First, the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in question are apparently ISIS –

The executions reportedly took place Tuesday in Raqqa, where the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, an Al Qaeda-linked network, has taken over the city

– the group that refused Ayman al-Zawahiri’s guidance — in the words of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi:

I have to choose between the rule of God and the rule of Zawahiri, and I choose the rule of God.

— and which al-Qaeda has clearly distanced itself from:

Al-Qaeda announces it is not linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as it was not informed of its creation [and] did not accept it,” read Sunday’s statement, which criticised ISIL’s mode of operations. ISIL “is not a branch of al-Qaeda, has no links to it, and the [al-Qaeda] group is not responsible for its acts,” it added.

That’s the first point of curiosity —


And the second?

The said jihadists are “accused of hanging victims on crosses”. That’s intriguing wording, because it doesn’t say that they were crucified — “hung on crosses” could mean that, or it could mean no more than “displayed”… and indeed, the article gets fairly speciic about that:

Al Qaeda-backed jihadists are hanging the bodies of executed enemies on crosses crucifixion-style in a town in Northern Syria, according to a Syrian opposition group.

The executions reportedly took place Tuesday in Raqqa, where the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, an Al Qaeda-linked network, has taken over the city, according to Abu Ibrahim Alrquaoui, who identifies himself as a founder of a group called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

it says, and:

Alrquaoui said he witnessed the executions himself, and took photographs that have since been posted on the group’s Facebook page, and are now being circulated on the Internet.

The series of photographs show different men bound to crosses in what appears to be a public square area, though it could not be independently confirmed that the subjects were dead or, if they were, by what means the executions had been carried out. The pictures do not show any apparent signs of the men nailed to a cross, nor are there any obvious, visible signs of fatal wounds.


Jihadists operating in Syria have previously been accused of shooting people in the head, then affixing them to crosses. In this latest case, the ISIS charged the seven men with espionage and attempted assassination of the group’s leaders, according to Alrquaoui.


The Daily Mail, on the other hand, under the heading Syrian rebels crucified: Islamic extremists execute two men in the most public way for ‘fighting against Muslims’, states quite directly:

Islamic extremists have publicly crucified two Syrian rebels in northeastern Syria in revenge for a grenade attack on members of their group.

I wasn’t there, and can’t say definitively whether the man in the photo was hung on a cross as described by Fox or crucified as the Daily Mail has it.


It’s a disturbing image, either way.

Crucifixion wasn’t something the Romans dreamed up as a particularly painful way of death for a specific subversive rabbi two thousand odd years ago, it was simply one of the forms of the death penalty back then — and if images of crucifixions happening today carry a more that usual shock value, it is because that particular form of capital punishment is not one we are accustomed to, and because the rabbi who was crucified has had tremendous cultural and personal impact.

The people doing the crucifying in this case — whether it was death by crucifixion or death by other means with crucifixion as display — presumably don’t share that sense of impact. The Qur’an denies that Jesus himself was crucified (Qur’an 4.157):

they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them

And crucifixion is one of the forms of severe punishment known as “hudud” prescribed in the Qur’an (5.33):

This is the recompense of those who fight against God and His Messenger, and hasten about the earth, to do corruption there: they shall be slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternately be struck off; or they shall be banished from the land. That is a degradation for them in this world; and in the world to come awaits them a mighty chastisement


I hope to say more on hudud in another post — but meanwhoile, Prof. Ali Mazrui, one of the “Muslim 500“, writing on the set of punishments mentioned in this verse, suggests“:

If God has been teaching human beings in installments about crime and punishment, and if there were no police, prisons, forensic science, or knowledge about DNA fourteen centuries ago, the type of punishments needed had to be truly severe enough to be a deterrent. Hence the hudud. Since then God has taught us more about crime, its causes, the methods of its investigation, the limits of guilt, and the much wider range of possible punishments.

Did the Prophet Muhammad say, “My people will never agree on error”? If so we can take it for granted that Muslims of the future will be less and less convinced that the amputation of the hand is a suitable punishment for a thief under any circumstances. This is a prediction. I have not the slightest doubt that the Islam of our grandchildren will never accept penal amputation of the hands of thieves as legitimate any longer. On such issues doctrinal liberalism converges with social moderation.


Times change, and religions with them. Deuteronomy 21:18, 21 states:

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

— and although there are still some Christians in America who support the stoning of recidivist rebellious adolescents on the basis of these verses, they are certainly far outliers from the mainstream in this regard.


For your further consideration:

J. Scott Harr, Kären M. Hess and Christine H. Orthmann, in their book, Constitutional Law and the Criminal Justice System tell us:

History records many brutal methods of execution, including being buried alive, thrown to wild animals, drawn and quartered, boiled in oil, burned, stoned, drowned, impaled, crucified, pressed to death, smothered, stretched on a rack, disemboweled, beheaded, hanged or shot. In biblical times, criminals were stoned to death or crucified. The ancient Greeks, in a much more humane fashion, administered poison from the hemlock tree to execute criminals. The Romans, in contrast, used beheading, clubbing, strangling, drawing and quartering or feeding to the lions. During the Dark Ages, ordeals were devised to serve as both judgment and punishment. These ordeals included being submerged in water or in boiling oil, crushed under huge boulders or forced to do battle with skilled swordsmen. It was presumed the innocent would survive the ordeal; the guilty would be killed by it. Later, in France, the guillotine became the preferred means of execution.

Societies have always struggled with balancing societal needs with socially accepted means of punishment. Although today’s methods are said to be more civilized, accounts of witnesses to executions raise doubts whether progress has been made. The death penalty has been an established feature of the American criminal justice system since Colonial times, with hanging often the preferred execution, especially on the frontier. Means of execution evolved as states sought more humane ways of killing their condemned—from hangings to the first electrocution in 1890, the invention of the gas chamber in 1923, the use of the firing squad and, finally, the addition of lethal injection, now the predominant method of execution in the United States.