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.