I did not watch the video of ISIS burning Moaz al-Kasasbeh alive. It was unnecessary. I’ve got an imagination. I’ve got a sense of empathy. It would not add anything to my understanding of the situation. It would serve nothing but the sick desire to watch. Indeed, the people who watch these videos of people being beheaded, burnt and thrown from rooftops worry me almost as much as ISIS do. Watching such videos is too close to being there for my taste. You feign outrage but you watched. You call for an eye for an eye. Who would you burn? Someone from the ‘other side’? A surrogate for the actual perpetrators – just as ISIS murder individuals as surrogates for Western decision makers. How different are you from these ‘inhuman savages’? Just one bombing? Just one dead family member – or just one desecration of your precious flag – or challenge to your precious illusion of ‘free speech’? How different are any of us?
No, I will not watch the video. I will not play the ISIS game of terror. I will not play the Western game of outrage. I will not countenance the hypocrisy that condemns the inhuman acts of one group while ignoring, or worse still, encouraging similar atrocities elsewhere. Life is precious. Those who take it perpetuate this hell on Earth. Contrary to what they claim, they do not do it to protect us.
Every thinking person who followed the bloody escalation of this conflict can see that ISIS are a direct result of Western intervention. Their ramshackle army only gained a foothold because we had laid waste to swathes of the region. They only present a threat to us in their ability to recruit British nationals. But people do not generally give up stable, happy lives for the violent uncertainties of war. What can have driven people to seek a sense of meaning with a group so ready to commit atrocities on civilians; on children? What can have driven them to a group so implacably opposed to our ‘Western values’? Maybe it is the lack of Western values. Maybe it was our violent videos.
Oh yes? What violent videos did we produce? What terror did we seek to inspire? Remember Shock and Awe? How explicit do you need it to be? Nightly videos of Baghdad lit up by aerial bombardment. Nightly videos of people burning in the fires of war. Not in a cage but just as unable to escape. The nightly statements by generals and politicians of how we would be victorious. Of course we didn’t show the individual death throes of the thousands who died – but then our leaders had a different agenda. They knew that the people opposed the war. They knew from Vietnam that footage of violent death would outrage public opinion. So they spoke of surgical strikes. The videos were akin to the computer games that so shape our cultural lens these days. Precision strikes, so we were told. Buildings in cross-hairs disappearing in a flash on the infra-red cameras. Surgical strikes! The military adopting the language of the medical profession – just as medical charities have adopted the language of war. What does that say about our society?
Like the videos ISIS posted on YouTube, these videos served another purpose; shock and awe. Death from above. Death from nowhere. Death falling out of the night sky. “See our power,” said the videos, “There is no escape. Surrender or die.” Next to this, however horrific, the ISIS videos only serve to show the real asymmetry of the war; nutters with machetes, petrol and matches versus nutters with depleted uranium, helicopters and drones.
But ours is a defensive war they say. How can it be? Half way around the world. Waged without end. Today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy. But on that basis the West wrought devastation on Fallujah, tortured and humiliated prisoners in Abu Ghraib and executed leaders with whom they disagreed.
Of course I don’t want to wake up in an Islamic state. That is precisely why I oppose the polarising futility of the foreign policy that has been pursued by ‘Left’ and Right alike. I don’t want the tyranny of an Islamic state, just as I don’t want the tyranny of a Christian one – or a secular capitalist one for that matter. But you do not defeat terror by arming tyrants. You do not prevent death by dropping bombs. You prevent killing by offering people something to live for. But what can we expect from a government that long ago declared its own people ‘the enemy within’. Without an external enemy we’d have to look closer to home for a reason for our ills. And they’re not likely to let that happen.