"They burned him alive in an iron cage, and as he screamed and
writhed in the agony of hell they made a sport of his death." So
began today's "Perspectives" column by Bill Moyers as he wrote
about the horrendous death of Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-
Kaseabeh, at the hands of ISIS.
I found myself feeling nauseated, held captive by a sinking feeling
in the pit of my stomach as, with my all-too-active imagination, I
could picture the dreadful scene. Except there was no way I could
accurately do this because it is so far outside of my personal
experience, so far beyond what my mind and heart and intellect
could take in. Barbaric, is what I thought, what I said aloud.
But in his piece, Moyers goes on to recall the death of a young
black man in Waco, Texas back in 1916. No, death is too light
a word. His murder by lynching and burning alive for the death
of a white woman of which he was accused and convicted by a
grand jury in just four minutes, in spite of the fact that there were
no witnesses, no appeal, no judicial review. Instead, a courtroom
mob, according to Moyers, "dragged him outside, pinned him to
the ground, and cut off his testicles. A bonfire was quickly built
and lit. For two hours, Jesse Washington (for that was his name)
-alive-was raised and lowered over the flames. Again and again
and again. City officials and police stood by, approvingly.
According to some estimates, the crowd grew to as many as
15,000. There were taunts, cheers, and laughter. Reporters
described hearing 'shouts of delight' When the flames died away,
Washington's body was torn apart and the pieces were sold as
souvenirs. The party was over."
More nausea, but this was more familiar, as I have been reading
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone, learning
about this dark and shameful period of our collective national
history...this period during which, between 1882 and 1968-
(yes, you're reading correctly, 1968!)- there were 4763 recorded
lynchings in the U.S., and who knows how many unrecorded
ones. The majority were young black men who died horribly
at the hands of white death squads, lynch mobs, tortured and
often burned while still alive.
So here we are, Bill Moyers and I, both horrified at the recent
dreadful death which has made the news, horrified at the
callous, barbaric cruelty displayed by ISIS...yet neither one of
us can forget the horror of our own nation's past, when so many
thought it was both right and proper to treat other human beings
in such dehumanizing ways. Moyers ends his reflections in this
way: "...it was hard to get back to sleep the night we heard the
news of the Jordanian pilot's horrendous end. ISIS be damned!
I thought. But with the next breath I could only think that our own
barbarians did not have to wait at any gate. They were insiders.
Home grown. Godly. Our neighbors, friends, and kin. People
And all I could think- as I had been all along, was, "Lord, have
mercy. Have mercy on us all."