Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Selfies and Violent Extremism | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The suspect in the beheading of a businessman, Yassine Salhi, a towel over his head to mask his face, is escorted by police officers as they leave his home in Saint-Priest, outside the city of Lyon, central France, Sunday, June 28, 2015. A security official tells The Associated Press the move to his home aims to find his passport, to determine if he traveled abroad. The suspect allegedly crashed a truck into a U.S.-owned chemical warehouse on Friday, setting off an explosion, and hung his employer’s head on the factory’s gate. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Recent news reports indicate that Yassin Salhi, the man who beheaded his boss and tried to attack a factory in France in late June, took a selfie with the victim’s severed head and sent the picture to someone believed to be fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria. It is true that French authorities have arrested the murderer and confiscated his phone, however, the story itself is just shocking. Seifeddine Rezgui, the Tunisian man who slaughtered 38 holidaymakers in the resort town of Sousse, Tunisia, reportedly took a selfie with British tourists before he committed his crime and even took photos of his victims after the shooting spree.

Salhi and Rezgui are not the first murderers to have taken selfies with their victims; in fact, several incidents involving criminals posing for selfies with their victims’ bodies have been reported recently. Perhaps the most famous of these snapshots shows an ISIS fighter flashing a smile as he carried the severed head of a Kurdish female fighter in Kobani.

It is said that selfies have become almost a global pandemic, with more than 1 million selfies taken per day. ISIS seems not to have fought the spread of selfies among its fighters who have appeared in many such pictures. Militants of other groups have also taken photos with their rivals, whether still alive or dead.

Researchers believe we are living in an age of narcissism and anxiety and that those who take daily selfies showing their private lives suffer from egotism. But what do those violent selfies tell about those who take them?

It is common to link violent behavior to what we see in media outlets, cinema or video games. But in fact these are just tools. The violent acts we are witnessing today are first and foremost linked to those who commit them and their backgrounds.

Those who pose for selfies with their victims are trying to tell us that they do not care about us and that committing such acts is a goal in itself.

We are on a daily quest to formulate our personal narratives. And extreme selfies, such as Salhi’s, come like a slap in the face. We live in an era of globalized violence. And the prevalence of wars, collapse of social safety nets, political instability, rising population, water shortage, spread of poverty, threat of climate change, and increasing numbers of the displaced and asylum-seekers all affect how we evaluate our worldviews and egos.