Saturday, 4 October 2014

A good man murdered by ISIS. And the consequences we have to resist.

Some weeks ago, the BBC interviewed several Manchester taxi drivers, about their former colleague Alan Henning, the latest victim of the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria, which tries to call itself “Islamic State”.

His colleagues described a man who always had the time to help out others. Henning was particularly adept at fixing the electrics on a car; he would give up his own opportunity to take fares, working on other cars instead, if colleagues needed it.

It was that same willingness to help others which took Henning several times to Syria, to try to bring much-needed help to the victims of civil war in that country. It was on a visit nine months ago that he was abducted and held by ISIS, which apparently murdered him yesterday.

The qualities that drove him to travel to Syria are precisely the kind that Islam values. It is, after all, one of the pillars of the religion to provide alms to the poor; here was a man trying to help people made poor by conflict
. Indeed, many of his fellow aid workers were Muslim, underlining the point that what they were doing was wholly in keeping with the tenets of their religion.

None of that stopped ISIS beheading him.
Alan Henning: driven by compassion, murdered by ISIS
Then again, ISIS has little or nothing to do with promoting Islam. It is a barbaric organisation in pursuit of power and more than happy to crush anyone who gets in its way. Indeed, not just happy, they seem to draw real pleasure from the prospect of killing, and killing in the most cruel and vicious way. Rape and torture follow in their wake wherever they go.

Equally, British government opposition to ISIS has little to do with religion or even with the protection of men like Alan Henning. The government has, no doubt, given up hope of rescuing any of the hostages held by ISIS: they will be murdered, one by one, as ISIS decides that the time is right, and no one in the West can do anything to stop them.

The government’s motivation is also primarily to do with power. On the one hand, there is popularity to be won by taking on and, it is to be hoped, defeating ISIS. To say nothing of the great photo opps that a war provides for an embattled Prime Minister.

Cameron visiting RAF crews in Syria
Support crucial to their effectiveness.
And, coincidentally, a good photo opp too
But there’s also another aspect that Cameron is enthusiastic to turn to advantage: the sheer savagery of ISIS has excited a wave of aversion in Britain, and with aversion comes fear. Cameron is whipping up that fear and using it as wonderful means to drive more people to support a government perceived is the last best defence against this terrorist group, and in order to limit still further pesky human rights legislation, always an annoyance to government.

There have already been calls by such significant Tories as Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to require people returning from Syria to prove they were not engaged in terrorism, reversing the usual arrangement whereby it is up to the prosecution to prove that they were.

We recently saw a case of where the government is heading. An action was brought against former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg who had made a number of trips to Syria. Two days ago, as his trial on terrorism charges was about to start, MI5 admitted that it had maintained excellent communications with Begg, interviewing him several times and using him as a source on the situation in Syria, even guaranteeing him the right to return to Britain from Syria unmolested. The case fell apart.

Now I don’t know whether Begg is as clean as wind-driven snow, or up to no good. What I do know is that he hasn’t been convicted of any crime – indeed, the case against him had to be withdrawn by the prosecuting authorities. From the point of view of the law, he’s innocent.

And yet – the government decided it would not immediately unfreeze his assets. A man who has not been convicted of any offence, has his assets frozen on the mere say-so of the government.

The same government that now wants ministers to be able to overrule judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, on their own authority.

A lot of people will find Begg thoroughly antipathetic. They will feel that he deserves everything he gets. But what they are losing track of is when once you give the government the right to decide who deserves to have his or her rights protected, you give it that power over you rights too.

It’s worth remembering the words of the anti-Nazi pastor, Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist. 

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist. 

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew. 

Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me. 

Let's hope that Alan Hemming, brave and generous, receives a better tribute.

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