Saturday, November 14, 2015

Any man's death diminishes me

An excruciating irony of the news cycle over the past 48 hours is that the Paris attacks took place in time to be reported in some newspapers today and not others. With the result that headlines about the apparent death of Mohammed Emwazi appeared alongside those of the Paris terrorist attack and expressions like "Evil Dead" and "Jihad it coming" shared the news stands with "Massacre in Paris."

Most uncomfortable of the lot, for me anyway, was the newspaper headline which claimed to say on behalf of the families of Emwazi's victims that their one regret was that he didn't suffer (because his death appears to have been almost instantaneous.)

There are several ways you could look at this. One, which may appear tempting but could be a little premature since we do not yet know for certain which terrorist group was behind the Paris atrocity, would be to say that the massacre proves how evil people like Emwazi were and how much he deserved what almost certainly happened to him.

(President Hollande has called the attacks "an act of war by IS" and he may very well be right, but governments have been known to jump to the wrong conclusion in the immediate aftermath of an attack about which of their enemies was behind it.)

An extreme opposite view would be to see some sort of equivalence between rejoicing at the death of Emwazi and between the bloodlust of the murderers who carried out the Paris attack. That view would, for me, go much too far, because Emwazi was a self-confessed killer who had boasted of and publicised the barbaric executions of innocent people which he carried out, while the victims of what happened in Paris were, to a man and woman, harmless and innocent people.

Surely a more balanced and reasonable view is this. None of us are immortal and natural death is a part of life, but we are denying an important part of our own humanity if we celebrate the death of any human being, even one as evil and dangerous as Mohammed Emwazi.

But we can and should recognise that our governments will sometimes need to take stern measures to defend us from such people. Without celebrating his death, we can be glad that, if the drone did indeed get the right person, Emwazi will never again have the opportunity to hack off the head of  some innocent and helpless hero who had risked and lost his life to bring aid to sick or hungry and thirsty children. Whether they were behind yesterday's mass murder in Paris or not, DAESH (the self-styled "Islamic State") will continue to plot to bring such atrocities to our streets. But the two Jihadis in the car which the US drone destroyed, one of whom was probably Emwazi, will not be available to help them do it.

And as a non-Corbynista Labour MP inferred yesterday, we could hardly have dealt with Emwazi by sending a few PCSOs to Syria to ask him to come along quietly.

Of course we must always act within the law, and never lightly sanction the taking of human  life.

I believe that we need to update the framework of international law in the age of asymmetric warfare, so that governments, soldiers and pilots have clearer guidance of when it is legal to kill in self-defence of your nation or international peace, and when, to minimise the risk of killing the innocent or those who are not legitimate targets an attack should not proceed. It is time for a new UN conference to produce a successor to the Geneva Convention.

In the meantime we have to act within the legal framework we have, and there is no doubt in my mind that the attack against Emwazi was justified under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

The next step is for every Western nation to reinforce our vigilance to ensure that we do not fall victim to further such attacks, to pick up the pieces and heal the injured, and to investigate who was really behind it and how they did it. There will be lessons to be learned on how to defend ourselves. And then the people behind the attack must be taught another lesson - that you cannot murder innocent people and get away with it.

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