The Wrong Kind of Victim: No Hashtag for Dead Hostage in ISIS War

Ordinarily the death of an American hostage held by Islamic extremists is the occasion of bellicose, ballyhooed, bloody shirt-waving rage, stoked in tandem by government and media. It usually evokes widespread calls for retaliation, for taking the gloves off at last and exterminating the barbarians once and for all. Today, it almost always comes with its own hashtag, so that people can immediately identify themselves with the victim, who is seen invariably as a martyr for the goodness and specialness of America.

But it turns out that some victims are less special than others. In a time when the killing of French journalists whom no American had ever heard of, working at at magazine no American had ever heard of, brings forth a flood not just of sympathy but of direct, personal identification with the victims -- JeSuisCharlie! -- the death of a young American woman captured by ISIS has been remarkably muted. Where is the global flood of JeSuisKayla hashtags?

Not only has the death of 26-year-old Kayla Mueller failed to evoke the usual spasm of anger and grief -- it has actually been celebrated by some of America's most rock-ribbed, hardcore, give-no-quarter opponents of Islamic terrorism (which they broadly define as the merest expression of Islam in any form anywhere on earth). You would think our stalwart halal-haters would be the first to mourn the death of an honest-to-goodness real human being -- a white American! -- while she was in the grip of the most monstrous Muslimy monsters who ever lived. 

(There are conflicting reports on how Mueller died; ISIS claims she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike on the building where she was being held; the official line is that ISIS killed her some time before, and was just using the airstrike claim for propaganda value. With conflicting claims from such noble and honest adversaries, it is of course hard to ascertain the truth of either claim. One may make the observation, however, that the historical record provides ample scope for skepticism of the "official line" in such matters, going all the way back to the Gulf of Tonkin, and beyond )

But however she died, it seems that Kayla Mueller forfeited her sacred American citizenship -- indeed, her very humanity -- by committing the heinous crime of … supporting Palestinian rights. That's all it took for her to be branded "a Jew-hating bitch." That's all it took for inveterate foes of the "savage barbarians" in the Middle East to tweet and trumpet their jubilation at her death. As Rania Khalek reports at The Electronic Intifada:

Mueller participated in nonviolent protests with Palestinians against Israeli home demolitions and walked Palestinian children to school to protect them from harassment by Jewish settlers — the kind of work [the International Solidarity Movement] is known for.

A serious malefactor indeed! Taking part in non-violent protests, walking children to school -- offenses surely worthy of death. Khalek continues:

American-born Rabbi Ben Packer shared Kaplan’s op-ed on his Facebook page along with the comment, “All sympathy - GONE!!”

Packer, who served as the “Rabbi on Campus” at Duke University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) after a stint in the Israeli army, is currently “Supreme Commander” of “Heritage House,” a Jewish settlement in occupied East Jerusalem that provides lodging for Jewish tourists and “lone soldiers,” essentially foreign fighters recruited from abroad to participate in Israel’s military occupation in Palestine.


Packer went on to respond enthusiastically to a friend who remarked that Islamic State should have burned Mueller alive like it did the captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasassbeh.

In a blog post titled, “Dead ISIS Hostage Was Jew-Hating, Anti-Israel Bitch,” conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel calls Mueller “a Jew-hating, anti-Israel piece of crap who worked with HAMAS and helped Palestinians harass Israeli soldiers and block them from doing their job of keeping Islamic terrorists out of Israel.”

Schlussel concludes her post with the following farewell: “Buh-bye, Kayla. Have fun with your 72 Yasser Arafats.”

This is perhaps just par for the course, the kind of thing one would expect from -- in the scornful words of Atticus Finch -- "minds of that caliber." But Khalek notes that America's respectable mainstream media -- while certainly not glorying in Mueller's death -- went to great lengths to eradicate the reality of her life:

In a timeline of Mueller’s humanitarian work, USA Today completely erased her work in Palestine, saying only that between 2010 and 2011, she worked in “Tel Aviv, Israel, volunteering at the African Refugee Development Center.”

Although a more in-depth USA Today article specified that Mueller worked with ISM for the Palestinian cause, the article claimed she did so in Israel, vaguely noting that Mueller “would walk to school with children in the morning and then make sure they returned home safely later in the day.”

Mueller escorted Palestinian children to school in Hebron in the occupied West Bank, not “Israel,” to protect them from violent Jewish settlers. Leaving out such crucial details obscures the reality of Israeli violence.

While some outlets shied away from emphasizing Mueller’s Palestine activism, others framed her death as a consequence of it.

The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz implied that her involvement in Palestine led to her death with the headline, “US idealist Kayla Mueller’s road to ISIS captivity went through West Bank.” The Washington Post seemed to agree, with an article titled, “How Kayla Mueller’s pro-Palestinian activism led her to Syria.” …

Between the Zionist backlash against Mueller, the outlets erasing her Palestine activism and those using her death to advance their own agendas, there is one constant: Mueller’s support for Palestinians against Israeli oppression is a taboo that must be ignored, obscured or ridiculed.

Same as it ever was. In death, as in life, certain people are accorded the full dignity and respect of personhood; others are stripped of their humanity and turned into lumps of meaningless meat whose lives and concerns don't matter.

In the memory of many people still living, this was precisely the treatment meted out to the Jews of Europe by the Germans (and many of their helpers, like Ukraine's Stepan Bandera, being celebrated today by America's allies). This was the treatment meted out to the Iraqi people, in the extraordinary 20-year American campaign to strangle their country to death, with sanctions that Washington itself admits killed half a million innocent children and a war of aggression that killed up to a million more people, and led directly to the depredations of ISIS and other extremists in the region.

This is the treatment meted out every single week by the White House death squads of the Peace Prize Prez, as they rain drone death on villages, houses and farms, killing women and children, killing the sick and elderly, killing masses of men who may or may not have behaved in a manner that a distant button-pusher looking through an electronic bug-eye in the sky believes might possibly be construed as the arbitrarily designated, insanely broad "signature" of someone who might possibly carry out some unspecified act of terrorism against an unspecified target at some unspecified location at some unspecified point in the future. For this alone, they and everyone in their proximity can be blown to pieces or burned to death by the defenders of civilization.