Islamic State recalls Bluebeard, the French knight who tortured and murdered children
ISIS butchers wantonly rape, enslave, burn, crucify and slaughter thousands of adults and children – including 21 Egyptian Christians beheaded in the latest outrage – without apparent qualms or remorse. They are all too reminiscent of Bluebeard, the notorious fifteenth century serial killer of children.
Gilles de Rais had been the paragon of the high medieval prince, almost Renaissance in his talents and accomplishments. He fought alongside Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years’ War and was honored by the King for his service to the crown. But he became crazed, a psychopath nicknamed Bluebeard, because his perfectly groomed horse sometimes glowed blue in the sun, who took demonic pleasure in torturing, raping and viciously murdering innocent boys and girls in France.
In the hellish modern day Middle East, ISIS grew out of the Sunni terrorist organization formed by al Qaeda, specifically the Iraq group, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Until an America airstrike killed him in 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi headed AQI, with the experienced Iraqi fighter known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi succeeding him. But for awhile a US-backed alliance of Iraqi Sunni tribes effectively battled against this jihadist force, with AQI losing its influence in Iraq.
Then in 2011 AQI recognized that it could regain some of its power and increase its ranks as the Syrian conflict developed, by moving its troops to that war-torn country. By 2013 it returned to Iraq where al-Baghdadi changed the group name to ISIS, reflecting its greater regional aspirations.
The brutality of war can turn soldiers into monsters, during or after combat. Bluebeard appears to have killed because of a mental illness, possibly precipitated by his experiences on the battlefield. He killed many men in vicious hand-to-hand combat, and saw many others mangled and dismembered.
He was Joan of Arc’s protector, yet he was powerless to save her from the enemy. She was burned as a witch with instructions from the English command that she be kept far enough from the flames to suffer a slow, gruesome death. Bluebeard’s inability to save this heroine possibly caused him to suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which triggered his latent psychopathic tendencies and led him to commit hundreds of murders.
The psycho-political connection of ISIS to slaughter is simpler. Islamic State happily recruits the most depraved, hate-filled, remorseless servants of extremist Islam from all corners of our planet. It gleefully eradicates all who will not agree with its primitive ideology, killing children and adults savagely for that single reason. Its game plan includes violence to instill fear and conversion, and violence for its own sake.
It has extended its caliphate in Iraq and Syria by and while taunting, torturing and executing thousands of unarmed prisoners. Men and boys who stayed in their villages were compelled to convert and join the ISIS army, or were summarily shot, crucified, beheaded, dismembered, or buried or burned alive.
During the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), English soldiers and brigands roamed France, torturing and murdering citizens with the same perverse predation. ISIS’s burning captured Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasbeh alive in a cage is similar to the fate suffered by some prisoners in Bluebeard’s time. But death by fire as legal punishment is unprecedented in the modern era, even in the war-torn Middle East, and is considered heinous and barbaric.
ISIS extremist machinations began stunning the world in August 2014, when it proudly released its video showing American journalist James Foley being horrifically beheaded. His executioner, hiding behind a black mask and speaking perfect English with a British accent, threatened the US and its allies with more beheadings, unless they discontinued airstrikes against ISIS troops and the regions it held.
When they beheaded another U.S. freelance journalist and British and American aid workers, United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron accurately called them monsters, underscoring how brutality and derangement are often complimentary in war. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, described the online video of the recent beheading of journalist Kenji Goto as terrorist propaganda.
These bloodthirsty executions have elevated ISIS’s status in the extremist world, with thousands of disoriented, hot-headed freaks rushing to join its forces – including at least 100 from the United States and 3,000 from other Western countries. Learning quickly from the “evil” West, it has effectively used social media, beheading videos and shocking images of Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh burning in agony, to recruit more savage butchers, terrify anyone who might think of resisting it, and frighten civilized society into denouncing ISIS, wringing its collective hands … and doing little or nothing of substance.
Blood money has poured in from bank robberies, pillaging, and revenue from stolen oil and selling victims’ organs. Using its military expertise and seized and purchased weapons, ISIS has rapidly taken over of a third of Iraq and Syria, and now proclaims this land to be a transnational Muslim caliphate.
Bluebeard, a military hero who witnessed Joan of Arc’s treatment at the hands of his sworn enemies, emerged as a cruel, deranged demon who represented the worst in humankind. He lived in a time when people believed in battles between the forces of good and evil, and was hanged for his evil deeds in 1440.
Those forces are now colliding again, as ISIS steamrolls over people and countries, its atrocious actions overwhelming almost anyone in its path. It seems clear that these fanatics are intent on continuing their relentless drive to destroy modern civilization and bring the world back to Bluebeard’s medieval era of sadism and submission, 570 years ago.
ISIS under al-Baghdadi publically fought with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Osama bin Laden successor of al Qaeda, over the future of another al Qaeda front, al-Nusra in Syria. The al Qaeda faction became so angry with al-Baghdadi that it cut off connections with him. Then, by declaring himself caliph of the Islamic State, al-Baghdadi challenged al Qaeda leadership directly for the allegiance of all Muslim extremists.
It would be ironic if Islamic extremists in al Qaeda found ISIS too bestial and powerful to tolerate – and devised a plan to dismantle it as a threat to civilization. From his grave, Bluebeard would chortle an insane laugh, as evil battles worse evil, and civilization watches and waits from the sidelines.
Valerie Ogden is author of Bluebeard: Brave Warrior; Brutal Psychopath (History Publishing Company, November 2014).