Grace, courage and discipline in death

Published 6:59 pm Saturday, February 7, 2015

They say how we die is at least as important as how we live.

For most, the truth of that observation seldom sees the light of public scrutiny. But not so in the case of Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh. His burning death will forever stain history with its abject cruelty and absence of humanity.

When Fox News chose to make the video public on its website, I decided to see for myself in hopes doing so would help answer questions.

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What struck me first was how the video was a kind of collective emotional tantrum reflecting a profound absence of long-term thought. And then emotion exploded into clarity as human dignity would not capitulate to fear.

ISIS thought the star of this execution would be terror. Not at all. I’ll never forget that one man triumphed over barbarianism with discipline, determination and a spiritual self control that could not be consumed, even by fire.

You see Lt. Muath gather himself in what looks like prayer, fearfully staring at the rushing flame. He absorbs the impact like an athlete taking a hit from an opponent. He did not give his hooded killers the satisfaction of watching him panic in pain.

This was the most amazing act of bravery I have ever seen. Muath owned his death with a breathtaking bearing, an otherworldly sense of authority. It was as if he knew succeeding generations would watch him die while living the most import moment of his life.

Muath would not be defined by what they did to him, but by who he was determined to be. I am still fascinated by Muath’s calm while burning, how he never lost his sense of self in what had to be the worst life could do to him.

There is one thing I’ve come to know about what I saw in Lt. Muath. Those who fully live their moment, whether in triumph or tragedy, deserve our admiration. I appreciate the peculiar genius that rises from within the human spirit as it defies the ultimate loss.

Lt. Muath was literally consumed by his moment. Would I choose such a death? Of course not. Neither would you. Yet I wonder, should we embrace his sacrifice at some level to show a demonic adversary that cruelty will never take away the freedom that defines us or the good we all stand for?

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy award-winning television journalist. He’s a graduate of Suffolk High School, Virginia Union University and its Samuel DeWitt Proctor Graduate School of Theology. Email him at