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Uneasy Lies the Head: The ISIS Decapitations

Judith Beheading Holofenes--Artemsia Gentileshi


LAST OCTOBER I WAS STANDING IN MY KITCHEN, waiting for espresso to trickle from the spout of our imposing machine. I kept glancing out of the window, anxious that one of the military helicopters which often overfly the estate was, at that very moment, hovering above. Surveillance is in the air after all, at least figuratively. But there was nothing, no movement whatsoever, save a red kite ‘turning and turning in the widening gyre’. It seemed an apt, apocalyptic image, but as for the bird itself, I dismissed it. Kites aren’t even real birds of prey, but scavengers that survive on road-kill, picking at the corpses of precipitous pheasant and hesitant deer.


Temporarily satisfied that I was unobserved, I made my way up through the house to my attic office. But once I reached it my anxiety resurfaced, and I closed the blinds on the dormers before sitting down at the desk. For a moment, distracted, I fiddled with the fabric fraying on the arms of my swivel chair; then, after downing the coffee in a scalding gulp, I prepared to go through the portal that leads to all that is illegal, illicit, and – notwithstanding pop-up text info-panels – bizarrely ineffable. The laptop came alive with an optimistic jingle totally at odds with my real intentions. My hands were unsteady as I held them poised above the keyboard. The espresso and my own adrenaline made common cause, and I felt myself torn between fight and flight. And still the conversation from the night before turned over and over in my mind, as I havered. What was it Yeats said, about the moral failure of his times? ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.’ But which was I? One of the vacillating best or the fanatical worst?

See the rest of my article on the ISIS decapitations at The White Review:

Uneasy Lies the Head

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