One thing I never really understood about ISIS was how they managed to justify the killing of Christians, until a helpful article by David Kirkpatrick from ISIS on the subject.
The basic problem is that those of the Abrahamic faith within the medieval Islamic state were, under juristic theory at least, not required to convert so long as they paid an additional tax known as the jizya. Hence, they were protected peoples, referred to as dhimmis. Their second class citizenship was never in doubt in the medieval era, both because they paid this additional tax, and because they were obligated to pay it in a humiliating and demeaning fashion often. This is to say nothing of other rules meant to remind the dhimmis of their second class status, including the requirement, for example, imposed by many executive authorities that they wear bells so as to warn Muslims that they were approaching. (I must leave the actual Islamic justifications for this for another time, but it suffices to note that as a Muslim liberal I do not find these decidedly illiberal notions necessitated by sacred texts. But then again, as a Realist, I suppose that I do not find much of anything by way of interpretation necessitated by anything by way of text, sacred or otherwise. So much for that, for now.)
In any event, while the medieval Islamic state was hardly egalitarian or ecumenical, it did not make it a practice to kill dhimmis. So where this notion of beheading Christians? The NY Times article, by referencing the ISIS video, makes it clear. Effectively, ISIS indicates that when a Christian refuses to pay the jizya, and does not convert, then he is killed. This generally would come up in the context of the conducting a jihad. So, for example, if the Muslim army were confronting, or confronted with, an army from, I don’t know, pagan Randomistan, then it would initiate the call to them to convert to Islam. If they don’t, and obviously they aren’t going to just before a battle, then it’s war, until they do convert. The call is still important, however, in that it reflects a conviction that you do not kill a person willing to convert.
By contrast, if the Muslim army is arrayed against a Christian army, say Charlemagne’s army, then it isn’t convert or die, it’s a jihad against the Scriptuaries, and so it’s convert, pay the jizya or die. Obviously, in that case, Charlemagne’s army refuses all three, and the war begins. (I just have to note, for the Christian those who wish to tell me how barbaric this all this, fair enough. But pray tell, what might Charlemagne have thought about infidels living in his land who refused to convert to Christianity?) But realistically, that is the only circumstance where death is the outcome. For what sensible person, being told to pay a tax or die, actually refuses the tax, no matter how unjust they might regard it?
Hence, the ISIS video purports to show Christians happily and peacefully living in Iraq and Syria after having paid the jizya, but then the beheading of the African migrant Christians for failing to pay the jizya. What we’re led to believe, then, is that these African migrants were equivalent to Charlemagne’s army. That ISIS stopped them, informed them they were obligated to pay the jizya, and these poor migrants, with little wealth and willing to leave their own home countries for search of a better world, rather than actually just paying it, refused, and were then beheaded for “nothing is left for them except the sword.”
If you believe that, then I suppose there is some vague resemblance to medieval Islamic theory. If you don’t, then they just killed people because they thought, you know, beheading is kind of cool. If that’s not symptomatic of a collection of psychopaths, then I’m afraid I don’t know what is.