Austere?

No. I couldn’t believe it either, but there it was in big, bold lettering. The terrorist and infamous leader of ISIS had been tracked down by US forces and he blew himself up. Afterward, The Washington Post ran a slightly understated headline.

The line read as follows: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Austere Religious Scholar at Helm of Islamic State, Dies at 48.” When I heard this, I thought it was a joke. It was the kind of headline normally used by The Babylon Bee (my favorite satirical magazine). But the Post beat them to it. I assumed they were turning to political satire as well.

A Quick Retraction

The Washpo (as it is affectionately called) quickly retracted and changed its headline in the wake of a deluge of blowback from just about everyone. Apparently, it is reconsidering its new format as a satirical paper (much to my chagrin). I may have considered a subscription had they maintained their comedic course.

The headline originally seemed so tongue-in-cheek that it sounded as if they were seeking a few coffeehouse chuckles. Unfortunately, it appears as though they were actually in earnest (which causes me to doubt that they should be considered a serious newspaper). 

Al-Baghdadi, reportedly, not only took his own life but that of three of his young children. There’s nothing quite like dying for the sins of your father. The American troops tried to take him alive, but they understood, going in, that the prospects of that occurring were highly improbable.

While The Post celebrated al-Baghdadi’s austerity, everyone else seemed to be celebrating his death. I’ve seen enough death firsthand to have developed an aversion to anyone’s mortal demise. But calling someone who sought the death of millions of others, austere, is a tad beyond the pale in my book.

Academic Accomplishments

Austerity (while it has a variety of definitions) means “giving little or no scope for pleasure.” Yeah… I guess you’re austere if you want everyone else to die and avoid any future happiness. C’mon Washpo! You can do better than that.

While other outlets were labeling him “a serial rapist and murderer,” one of our most prestigious newspapers was attempting to emphasize his academic accomplishments. I like to “accentuate the positive,” as the old song goes; but I’m pretty sure the evil, in this case, outweighs the good—even in the headlines of an American newspaper.

Among al-Baghdadi’s atrocities were things like genocide, sex slavery, mass crucifixions, decapitations, stonings, and organized rape. Since he did all this in the name of religion, it becomes especially repulsive. Portraying anyone’s rape as a good thing is incomprehensible to most people. This guy was a monster in anyone’s book.

All life is precious, but ridding the world of a character such as al-Baghdadi is not going to elicit many tears—particularly from people of the Western Culture. I’m pretty sure most folks from the Middle East won’t be in very much anguish either. It’s not for me to say, but I’m guessing Revelation 21:8 might apply here.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

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