Sunday, 15 November 2015

To Think Rather Than To Shout

Peter Hitchens writes:

Could we please skip the empty bravado? This is a time for grief above all else, and a time to refrain from soundbites and posturing.

France – our closest neighbour, oldest friend, beloved rival, what Philip Sidney called ‘that sweet enemy’ – France is stricken, and we should weep with her.

Over the past 40 years or so, most of us have heard quite enough politicians and others pledging to stand firm against terror, hunt down the vile perpetrators, ensure that it never happens again, and the rest.

Then there have been the emergency meetings of grandly titled committees, the crackdowns, the increased surveillance, the billions spent on spying and snooping, not to mention the various wars on terror which have certainly killed a lot of our troops, but never seem to make us any safer.

It is remarkably hard to defend yourself against an enemy whose language few of us speak, yet who speaks ours and can move freely in our world, and who is willing, even happy, to die at our hands – or his own – if he can kill us first.

Meanwhile, many of the demands of terror, from the IRA to the Palestinians, have been quietly met.

And the extraordinary connections between our supposed ally Saudi Arabia and the worst terrorist incident of all – September 11, 2001 in New York – have been politely ignored.

It’s also worth remembering, as we mourn alongside the French, how many stupid things have been said about them.

Remember the long period of macho chest-thumping in which they were idiotically derided as ‘Cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ and it was claimed you couldn’t find any French military victories on the internet?

This was stupid at the time, especially from Americans, whose country would never even have existed if the French (modestly aided by some Americans) hadn’t defeated us British at Yorktown, perhaps the most significant French victory in the history of the world.

How does it sound now?

Yet this sort of thing, shouting, table-thumping, threat-making and boasting, is all too often the only outcome of murderous atrocities such as this.

And then there is the rapid casting aside of ancient, wise rules.

Our irreplaceable liberty and justice, which took a thousand years to create, are in shreds thanks to hasty and emotive measures that did no good.

And now we have the shame of lawless confinement of untried men in Guantanamo, of torture that Englishmen, far fiercer and crueller than we think we are, abandoned as barbaric hundreds of years ago.

And we have the horrors of ‘extraordinary rendition’ by secret flights to secret prisons, in which dark things took place.

How can we claim to stand for liberty and justice if we do such things?

And we see the dubious and dangerous use of pilotless drones to conduct summary executions of our enemies.

Few can be sorry at the death of Mohammed Emwazi (the so-called ‘Jihadi John’), but what precedents are we setting?

For the moment, our fanatical foes do not have drones of their own. One day, they will.

A lot of people exult over this event, and those who quietly suggest that it might violate our own principles of law and justice are jostled to one side by super-patriotic breast-beaters (the same sort who used to jeer at the French for being soft).

And listen to the words of the mother of James Foley, one of Emwazi’s victims, who in a short and dignified interview epitomised the difference between our civilisation and those who seek to destroy it.

Diane Foley said: ‘It saddens me that here in America, we are celebrating the killing of this deranged, pathetic, young man.’

It gave her no solace. ‘No! Not at all! If the circumstances had been different, Jim probably would have befriended that man and tried to help him’.

She regretted the concentration of resources on revenge rather than on protecting our citizens and helping the vulnerable.

‘I am sorry,’ she said softly. ‘Jim would have been devastated with the whole thing. Jim was a peacemaker. He wanted to know how we could figure out why, why all this is happening.’

Asked if she got a sense of justice from the drone strike, she replied ‘Justice! No. Not at all. Just sad’.

Should we decry this measured, civilised and thoughtful response as foolish softness?

It is surely hard to do so, when the person speaking has endured the public, cruel murder of her son, and yet still finds it in her heart to think and say such things.

Could it be that she is wiser than the politicians and the security men?

After all, let us not forget that Islamist terror has grown in strength and reach, not diminished, since we embarked on our supposedly benevolent interventions in the Muslim world.

The Iraq invasion, the Afghan intervention, the wild and brainless enthusiasm with which we greeted the disastrous ‘Arab Spring’, the supposedly humanitarian interference in Libya which turned it into a failed state, the aid and comfort we gave to the rebellion in Syria.

Not only have these things failed to prevent terror. They have visited a violent chaos on the whole Muslim world, in which fanatical and grisly death cults thrive and prosper.

And alongside them, there is the enormous migration of desperate young men, from Africa, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, many of them Muslim, some of them no doubt easy recruits for the fanatics.

We pretend to understand these nebulous and varied terror groups, for years placing them under the all-embracing trademark of ‘Al Qaeda’, now insisting they are part of a new and greater menace called ‘ISIS’.

The truth is there is no mastermind sitting in a cave issuing orders (though of course someone is always willing to claim responsibility for these outrages after they have happened – and who can be sure if such claims are true?).

That is a James Bond fantasy.

And it is also why these things would still be hard to prevent if we turned ourselves into a totalitarian state of surveillance, identity cards, perpetual searches of the innocent – like going through an airport, only all the time.

They don’t work by our rules. They can stay off, or below, our grid. They don’t mind if they die. They will get through.

All we will achieve by adopting such methods is to make ourselves miserable without making ourselves safe.

Our task is now first to mourn with our French friends and allies.

And after that, to think rather than to shout. 

Rhetoric and militancy have not done very much for us in the past. Why should it be different this time?

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