What Iraqis need is an Ida Wells-Barnett. She is the American black woman, born into slavery in 1862, who led a movement that helped end mob lynchings in the US. Iraq could use someone with her moral leadership as a voice to turn public opinion against a similar barbaric practice: beheadings.
Lynching, beheading, and other gruesome types of killing do more than just kill. They are spectacles meant to instill fear – if one chooses to react that way. Such terrorism explains why it is often used against the innocent for political purposes, much the way black men were lynched by white, mainly Southern, racists well into the 20th century. Last week, two US soldiers captured by Al Qaeda in Iraq were beheaded and left for public viewing.
Killing by decapitation has a long history. Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen still have beheadings for some crimes. In the West, the use of the guillotine during the French Reign of Terror is a notorious example. These days, violent Islamists are the world's serial beheaders, unmoved by how it degrades them and their cause.
In broadcasting beheadings on the Internet, Al Qaeda and other such groups had hoped to rally the faithful. (Many people who watch the videos later regret it. American TV stations refuse to show them in part to avoid playing the terrorist's game.)
But there's also a long history of revulsion against such forms of cruelty. Look at how the West turned against slavery, chemical weapons, execution by hanging, and, to some degree, land mines. And a recent survey finds support for suicide bombings has dropped substantially in three Muslim countries: Jordan, Pakistan, and Indonesia.