Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Any man's death diminishes me ...

I would imagine that almost everyone will agree with at least one of the two statements I am about to make, but it would appear that quite a few will disagree with one or the other.

1) In authorising the RAF drone strike which killed two British-born DA'ESH fighters, a decision which was duly reported both to the UN and to parliament, the British PM and Defence Secretary, were acting lawfully within Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and doing their jobs by taking necessary measures to defend Britain against possible terrorist attack.

2) However, those opposition MPs who asked questions about it were also doing their jobs. Britain should never become the kind of society where a decision to take the lives of human beings is taken lightly or without scrutiny.

As John Donne said, "Any man's death diminishes me" and I will never celebrate the death even of those who richly deserve it - though not many deserve death more richly than those who chose to fight for DA'ESH, the self styled "Islamic State" which practices on an industrial scale the murder of prisoners, the rape and enslavement of women, the beheading of those who have different ideas of religion; an organisation which systematically destroys cultural icons, executes boys for watching football or keeping pigeons, and has replaced stringing up gay people from the nearest lamp-post with throwing them off the nearest skyscraper.

David Cameron said that

“My first duty as prime minister is to keep the British people safe. There was a terrorist directing murder on our streets and no other means to stop him. I am not prepared to stand here in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on our streets and have to explain to the House why I did not take the chance to prevent it when I could have done.”

He added that the Attorney General had been consulted and said there was a “clear legal basis for action in international law”, the Prime Minister said.

Lord Carlile, a High Court judge, Liberal Democrat peer and former independent reviewer of anti-terror legislation for ten years under both Labour and Conservative-led governments told The Independent the RAF strike was justified under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, which protects members’ right to self-defence.

One of the men who died, Reyaad Khan, boasted on social media of the murders he had taken part in, posting on Twitter in July 2014: "Executed many prisoners yesterday." Some of his other tweets about killings he had taken part in were even more sick and repugnant than that one.

But it precisely because Reyaad Khan was the kind of depraved individual who boasts about killing that British values are different from his.

You won't find me among those who are criticising David Cameron for authorising the attack, but you won't find me celebrating anyone's death either: this was a sad necessity. And I think it is very important that this action was reported to the UN security council as required when a state takes action under Article 51, and that it was also reported to parliament and that MPs had the opportunity to ask questions. If there are further such attacks I hope that the same will apply.

We are living, unfortunately, in times when it is sometimes necessary for ministers to authorise our armed forces to take the lives of people who are enemies of our country. But if we don't want to become the sort of death-cult society which DA'ESH itself is trying to create, that should never, ever be done without the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny, if necessary after the event.

If there are two things above all others which separates us from the barbarians who fight for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, it is that we value life and try to act within the law, while they celebrate death and their idea of law can be twisted to accommodate whatever act of barbarity they want to carry out. And we must never forget those differences if we don't wish to become savages like them.

No comments: