“Shoot first, ask questions later” in the old Westerns referred to a hothead who assumed that everyone he encountered was an enemy, and was ever-ready to strike out against those enemies, even before he had adequate information. The phrase has passed into the national argot as an appellation for someone who is touchy, angry, insecure, paranoid, and reckless – but in light of some of its most recent manifestations, it should now be revised to “behead first, ask questions later.”
The first came last Thursday, when jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria announced that a recent beheading they had triumphantly filmed and posted online was, well, a mistake. They had claimed that the head, which the killers had exultantly brandished before the camera and the cheering crowd, belonged to a member of a Shi’ite group fighting to defend the Assad regime, but someone who saw the video recognized it as having once rested on the shoulders of Mohammed Fares, a fellow Sunni jihadist and ally of those who murdered him.
The second came from India on Friday, when a man was acquitted of blasphemy charges that had been originally brought against him in 2010. T.J. Joseph, a teacher and a Christian, was accused of including questions that insulted Muhammad on an exam that he gave to his students at Newman College. Members of an Islamic supremacist group, the Popular Front of India, got wind of Joseph’s exam and made the blasphemy accusation, whereupon Joseph was inundated with threats. Finally, a Muslim mob attacked Joseph and cut off his right hand and part of his arm. Newman College, seeing the way the wind was blowing, followed in the footsteps of centuries of cowardly academics and fired Joseph, canceling his pension.