How to prevent another Alan Henning, and how David Cameron is ensuring more deaths

The headlines this morning on social and traditional media are all about the murder of Alan Henning, a british aid worker, by ISIS. If you set aside that tens of thousands of Syrian and other Arab citizens have already been murdered (which you shouldn’t) and acknowledge that the death of the fourth Western hostage is a tragedy (it is), you should be outraged by the reactions of western military forces, which are only ensuring more western hostages and murders to come.
Any parent will tell you that to react to something designed to give a reaction only ensures and legitimises repeat behaviour. By highlighting ISIS’ Western hostages, the political and media elite reflect only that they are being successfully intimidated. Further, this catalyses cracks in their brand of humanitarianism and mercy as families and friends call for a break from the policy of not paying ransoms. 
The language used by David Cameron in his disturbing tweet is particularly concerning. Cameron implies that a single “barbaric murder” in an armed conflict requires a meeting of his security chiefs, which is plainly untrue (unless by security chiefs he means the security of his media image). 

Further his choice to employ the language of sport reflects primarily that he is also willing to use barbaric methods in order to retaliate against the perpetrators, or, considering his own background, that he will find some leisure or enjoyment in the activity. 

Plainly, the combatants committing the ransom and murder of Westerners present in the conflict zone does not aim to fulfil the same purpose as the murders of thousands of people indigenous to the region. These to-date four murders are specifically targeted to send loud, clear messages not only to the leaders of their respective nations, but to their fellow citizens. If we continue to turn them into events of national significance, we guarantee that this method of communication and intimidation will be a tried and tested success, not only for the future of the current conflict, but for future conflicts. Truly, the only way to honour Alan Henning’s aid work by preventing more like him, is to forget Alan Henning, and pay him no significance. However, sometimes the right thing to do feels counterintuitive; and we are not always good at following our own advice.



One thought on “How to prevent another Alan Henning, and how David Cameron is ensuring more deaths

  1. This is indeed a thought-provoking post. I agree that the advice to ignore, or even to play down, these gruesome murders, with their spectacular cruelty and gross injustice, is strongly counter-intuitive, and probably not realistic. You say that they are meant to send out a strong, clear message, which must be true, but I have to admit that I'm far from certain what that message is, or what the murders are designed to achieve. Are they meant to prompt more and more western military intervention and involvement in the resistance to the Islamic State (ISIS)? How is that expected to benefit ISIS? Presumably by sharpening anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the west and encouraging Muslims, in response, to resort to violence, not only in Iraq and Syria but also in the US, the UK and anywhere else where local Muslim communities suffer insults and worse as a result of ISIS atrocities. (There's something characteristically fascist about such an addiction to blood and iron.)
    But even if that interpretation of ISIS aims and motives is correct, it's extremely hard to know how we in the west should react to the threat posed by ISIS to the heart of the middle east, even leaving aside the grisly murders of the hostages. On the one hand the spectacle of US, British, and indeed Australian military aircraft once again bombing and rocketing Arabs in their own countries, inevitably killing innocent civilians in the process, is bound to aggravate anti-western sentiment not only in the middle east but among some Muslims everywhere.
    On the other hand, what is the alternative? If we stand back and content ourselves with urging the Saudis, the Gulf states, the Iranians and the Jordanians to use their considerable military resources to defeat and eliminate ISIS, without significant western military support other than discreet advice, there's a strong likelihood that the whole of the middle east will come under extremist Islamicist control within quite a short time, and that this virulent poison will continue to spread into Africa and other parts of Asia, with shocking implications for global peace and stability, including a threat to the vital campaign against further global warming. Our leaders would surely have to be insanely optimistic to adopt such a dangerous course.
    In the light of all thiese alarming prospects and risks, Cameron (whom I regard as the worst British prime minister since the 1930s, leading the worst British government on record) can just possibly be forgiven for making use of the vile murders of blameless British citizens to rally British public opinion in support of British participation in limited military action against ISIS, in conjunction with a number of Arab states, an involvement that was probably inevitable even if the murders of the hostages had never taken place.


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