An Eye for an Eye


And a tooth for a tooth. After the Islamic State burned a young Jordanian pilot alive, the world discusses the use of violence to fight even more brutal violence. How does the death penalty in Jordan, in the US or the executions carried out by the IS differ from each other?

Moaz al-Kassasbeh was the first foreign pilot to be captured by IS since a US-led military coalition began launching airstrikes against IS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in September. Jordan is part of the coalition, and government officials are under increasing domestic pressure to win Kassasbeh’s release.  The pilot was captured in late December after his F-16 jet crashed near ar-Raqqa, the extremist group’s capital in Syria. His broadcasted execution raised a wave of fear and uncertainty among US-citizens and also in the European Union. But how is it possible that, depending on where the information about a death penalty we receive comes from, our opinion on the subject differs? Why are there so many ways to look at and discuss the use of the death penalty and how are these different ways affecting many citizens’ standards, when they discuss the topic?

Directly after the publication of the video, politicians and journalists from the Western world agreed on condemning the brutal killing of the young man. The President of the United States, Barack Obama, said that this video provides more evidence of the group’s “viciousness and barbarity” and indicates that “whatever ideology they are operating out of is bankrupt”. European politicians such as the French President, François Hollande, stated that the killing of Kassasbeh was “barbaric”. He followed the US President in ensuring that the international coalition against the IS will continue to combat terrorism in order to achieve peace in the Middle East. The German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called Kassasbeh’s death “atrocious”. He added that: “…the IS showed again that its actions are outside of civilized norms”. Commentators from newspapers and broadcasting stations focused on the cruel way of killing by the Islamic State and not on the death penalty itself. They discussed mostly the impact for the Arabic World and its reactions.


The commentators of the mass media in the Arabic world were very critical of the murder of the Jordanian pilot and of the way the IS acted and represented itself. Most of the countries declared that it was a “vile terrorist attack” and made clear, that the behaviour of the IS damages the image of the Islamic world. Not only did the mass media condemn these violent acts, but most religious leaders supported a similar condemnation in their statements. Al Azhar’s leader and grand imam, Sheikh Tayeb, cited the Quran by saying that this act “requires punishment as cited by the Quran for oppressors and spoilers on earth who fight God and his prophet, that they be killed, or crucified, or their hands and legs cut off”.

After Kassabeh’s death, Jordan reacted by executing two Islamist terrorists. One of them was Sadschida al Rischawi, who had been convicted of supporting the Islamic State and Al-Quaida. IS wanted to free her from the Jordanian captivity. Most countries part of the European Union criticized Jordan’s revenge but the US remained silent.


The USA are leading the campaign against the IS but the death penalty in the States is widely accepted and used. One of the most shocking cases in the USA was the execution of the murderer Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last year. The execution failed because of the new injection that had never been used before. Lockett stayed near death for about 40 minutes. Finally he died of a heart attack. In the wake of this flawed execution, European countries condemned the use of the death penalty in the USA. European conservatives and liberals agreed that executions were unacceptable and the BBC website received thousands of comments against this practice. Nevertheless, commentators were more careful in their phrasing because the US remain a very important ally.

The death penalty in the United States is a legal criminal sentence in 31 states. The most common method since 1976 is the lethal injection. However before this year, other methods like decapitation, electrocution or hanging were used to execute people. On the one hand there are states like Texas with over 435 executions since the introduction of the injection, on the other hand, there are only 19 states without the death penalty, such as Iowa, Alaska and Hawaii.


The war against the IS is not only one of military actions but it is mostly about values and their defence. The international coalition must be aware of the fact that the war is not only waged on the battlefields in Iraq or Syria but also in the minds of people all around the world. This greater audience must be convinced that the US and their allies still stand for values like justice and Enlightenment. Maybe the US needs a new approach to fight violence in their country with a different kind of punishment to heinous crimes to then be a justifiable leader against the cruelty of the IS.