Public beheading is “deeply medieval”. Oh really?


“What we see happening with Isis, the Islamic State, this is deeply medieval – we should not, in our societies, if we have Europeans going and behaving like this in other countries, they should be arrested when they come back and in my view, go through due process.”

That’s Prof Brigid Laffan speaking at the Daniel O’Connell Summer School in Cahirsiveen.  You can see where she’s coming from, as they say. The video-taped beheading of what we’re told was an American journalist was indeed barbaric and disgusting (no Virginia, I did not watch it. And btw, there are hundreds of such beheading videos floating around on the internet).  But it’s Prof Laffan’s reference to the beheading of James Foley as “deeply medieval” that’s truly puzzling. Is she referring to the act of publicly beheading?  Beheading certainly happened in medieval times, but our forebears then were an imaginative people and used a range of other methods, often after prolonged torture. The breaking wheel, hanging, pressing or crushing with heavy stones, burning to death, boiling to death, impaling, and hanging, drawing and quartering.  Public beheadings still happened in Britain until the middle of the eighteenth century and in Germany until the 1930s (Hitler stopped it). France was still guillotining up to the 1970s. And if you’re in Saudi Arabia today – an ally of the US and Britain, of course – mind your step. You’re liable to lose your head in public if you’re caught murdering, raping, drug trafficking, engaging in sodomy, armed robbery or sorcery. And beheading is still the law in Qatar, the World Cup venue for 2022.

Actually, if you have to be executed, beheading is considered in many circles  as pretty humane. If done properly, beheading means consciousness is probably lost within 2-3 seconds and the person is dead in less than a minute. When you hear of the botched barbarity of executioners in some US states,  beheading starts to sound comparatively merciful.

As to Europeans who’ve been  involved with radical Islamic groups, Prof Laffan advocates their arrest on return home. I heard an expert on BBC Radio Four this morning argue the opposite: a considerable number of such people regret their decision to travel and join up with Islamic groups, and these should be helped, after a period of ‘quarantine’, to reintegrate into their old lives.  Mind you, you’d need to be really really sure they’d had a change of heart.

9 Responses to Public beheading is “deeply medieval”. Oh really?

  1. Chris August 30, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    Are these the same guys that the US and UK were going to arm to fight against the Evil Assad regime in Syria the same lose Alliance that over threw Gadhafi in Libya? when is the bloody hypocrisy of the West going to end, when are we going to have a proper Global policy regarding military strategy and leave this world a safer place for us all?

  2. paddykool August 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Hi Jude:
    I mentioned humanity’s delight in the mechanics of killing some days ago and nobody picked up on it at all .Nobody paid a blind bit of notice, in fact, so maybe it’s right and proper for you to highlight it once more. It is what we do , isn’t it? I’m not really shocked by these killings any more than I am by the horrors of the electric chair…especially when it goes a little awry and the poor recipient “cooks” a little ….rather than suffering our ultimate vengeance. I’d rather it wasn’t so but there you are…..
    It’s not so long ago since a good day out included a nice little hanging with all the festive air of a good old circus or a carnival.Not much changes in the dark heart of mankind , I suppose. What really perked me up{to invoke the Mighty Perk himself!} was your mention of “sorcery”…Man …that’s a new one on me although there have been some strange cases from the African continent in recent years where witchcraft has featured so I suppose people still believe in all that old black magic and voodoo too.

    • Perkin Warbeck August 31, 2014 at 5:31 am #

      Hi, Paddykool:

      Esteemed Blogmeister’s use of the term ‘sorcery’ reminds one of the great Frank Muir’s explanation of the term once on one of his TV shows.: ‘In public I drink tea out of a cup; but at home, I’m a sorcerer’.

      Come to think of it, Albert Reynolds was THE great tea-drinking Irishman of his time. A real sorcerer who managed the magic of bringing Peace about on this legless, headless isle.

      His funeral Mass was typically crammed with decaffeinated decapitators who, like Mick McGilligan’s daughter in a different context, would no more be seen dead drinking tea than altar wine.

      • paddykool August 31, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

        Jeeezis… Perkin…I’ve grown so accustomed to your .{just hum that tune from “My Fair Lady”….} torrential river of literary allusions and far- flung delights that I almost took that little interlude for granted …fear not Mighty Perk, though …we’ll never take you for granted and to further pursue the comestibles theme….. what’s sorce for the Perkin goose is definitely not Daddie’s

  3. ANOTHER JUDE August 30, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    What Cameron and co are saying is do NOT on any account fly out to the middle east to engage in violence…..unless you are a British serviceman/woman.

  4. Iolar August 30, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    I wonder did Prof Laffan reflect on the activities of the Shankill Butchers (1975 – 1982) many of whom were members of the UVF? Many of their victims were beaten and had theirs throats slashed with a butcher’s knife. I also wonder did Prof Laffan watch the interview with the parents of James Foley? Their son paid the ultimate price for his journalistic integrity. They also articulated their work in progress on the concept of forgiveness. In an age of ‘serial news’, Mr and Ms Foley remind us that ‘The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”
    A work of thanks to our host for drilling beneath the soundbite in search of alternative deposits.

  5. Perkin Warbeck August 30, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    There are, alas, those misogynists of a medieval cast of mind amongst us who still -STILL! – contend that there is no such thing as a comedienne, that comely maidens and comedy are as incompatible as red wine and fish or, say, a nine year old girl and an Uzi submachine gun.

    They even go so far as to say that cracking wise is solely a guy thing and that the unwise maiden who chooses that unchartered route is liable, ere long, to sprout a manly appurtenance on her feminine face, to wit, a moustache, whether she likes it or NO.

    Commencing with the first hint of a Dali style, before gradually progressing through the various stages of a Fu Manchu design, on towards the Pancho Villa period before, if they so persist with performing at such tragic events as the Cat Laughs Festival in KIlkenny, finally ending up with a Hobson’s choice between a horseshoe and a handlebar.

    This malarkey about a tash is so much tosh. The tradition of comediennes has stretch marks to show it extends further back than even medieval times. For instance, take the case of Ireland’s all-time Queen of Comedy, Maureen Potter, aka Mo Po.

    Mo Po,who contributed so much to the Gaiety of the Nation in such perennials as ‘Gales of Laughter’ on the stage of the Gaiety (where the Gods are called the Deity) had as one of her catchphrases: ‘Take the GAA – the Grab All Society ! – take it, and stuff it !’.

    Now, while some eminent archaeologists claim to have traced the first known evidence of this quintessential Celtic expression back to the slanted markings on an Ogham stone, it is obvious that they were too young to remember Maureen Potter, such is the antiquity of the phrase.

    Sadly, however, and jostling with the misogynists are many misses and missuses. Indeed, it gives PW no pleasure at all to record that his own great-grandmother, the formidable Petronella Warbeck, who was but a young slip of a colleen when Maureen Potter had already begun to enter the sere and yellow time of life, was often heard to grouse even as her own time finally came to rearrange her ill-fitting dentures in her granny-gummy mouth: ‘Don’t talk to me about that Mo Po one: she’s about as funny as Whooping Co’.

    Gladly, Great Gran Petronella was in a minority in the family and PW is happy to recognize Professor Brigid Laffan (oh, how appropriate a surname, madame !) as the true successor to Maureen P. as Ireland’s uncrowned Queen of Comedy.

    Her delivery at the Daniel O’Connell Summer School was scintillating in both its joviality and choice of venue: ‘Public beheading is deeply medieval’.

    To say it was delivered in her trade mark tongue-in-the-cheek style would be superfluous. And her knowledgeable audience chuckled accordingly. For they knew, just as she knew, that Daniel O’Connell – the King of Beggars/ the Beggar of Kings was not known as Deadeye Dan for nothing.

    It was indeed for something. That something being the chilly morning he plugged John D’Esterre in the OK coral of Lord Ponsoby in the Countyo’ Kildare. ‘D’Esterre dared and Deadeye Dan killed’ as the redtops had it at the time.

    Duelling, of course, is a concept which predates not only beheading but even Ogham Stones themselves (think David, think Goliath). even if not as antique as Mo Po’s catchphrases; but then, what are?. Some serious carbon-dating would be required for that one.

    Now for many a long year, Brigid Laffan was the Jean Monnet Professor of European Studies in UCD and on one notorious occasion Nigel Farage in a public debate accused her of’ being one paid to indoctrinate her students with propaganda’.

    Sorry, Nige, PW is not with you on that one. A farrago of f. allegations, indeed. As is the contention that a ‘Jean Monnet Professorship’ of anything is only what you’d expect in a Lootocracy.

    No, Perky begs to differ. He has always found Brigid Laffan to be an excellent stand-up advocate, as persuasive as she is humourous in her delivery.

    A real laugh-a-minute gal, a really gas ticket, so unusual in the Groves of Academe.

    Nitreous Oxide (NO) is the scientific term for Laughing Gas and at room temperature, NO is a colourless, non-flammable gas with a sickly sweet odour.

    In 2002, and at room temperature, Prof Brigid founded the Irish Alliance for Europe to lead the civil society campaign in favour of the Treaty of Nice. In short, Nice People for Nice. Their slogan, if one’s m. serves one correctly was: ‘It’s Nice to be Nice’.

    Then, in late 2007 this Alliance was resurrected to campaign on behalf of nice people everywhere for the Lisbon Treaty.

    And here’s, in keeping with the up-tempo tenor of this contribution, the real thigh-slapper: The Resurrection Man was none other than the noted orientalist, Ruairi Quinn, TD.

    Yes, the self same Smoked Salome Socialist himself who only last week reminded us all again of how he had once come for …….the head of Albert Reynolds, TD.

    Laughing gas isn’t it.

    • Jude Collins August 30, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

      If poetry is the compression of the greatest meaning into the smallest space, you are indeed a poet, Perkin. And an enlightening one – didn’t know the Lisbon thing about Brigid. Did she become Brigid Brigid the second time?