Sunday, 7 September 2014

One for All......

David Cameron urged NATO countries not to pay ransoms to secure the release of kidnapped citizens. To do so, he said, was "totally counter productive". Apparently these ransom sums, although securing the release of someone's son or daughter, someone's father or sister, someone's friend or lover....someone, anyone; although it did this thing in securing and saving a life. A full life. Someone's life. Although it did this, it also contributed to terrorism as this money funded that activity which is a threat to the common good, to our national security. I have tried to understand that logic and to a degree, a very cold and dispassionate degree I can see its academic force. Indeed I have seen several very good sci fi movies premised upon that utopian and powerful premise of  'the common good'.  I remember one in particular about a society denied any passion. - music, art, poetry, prose etc to ensure the harmonious propagation of our species; to ensure there was no one individual worth more than the whole.

Am I alone in being utterly traumatised by what is being urged upon our fellow NATO chums by Mr Cameron? Am I seriously alone in having the deepest and most terrifying anxieties about Mr Cameron's righteous pronouncements? Kidnapping is no longer a game; it's no longer a political chess move. Mr Foley's brutal execution that was video recorded for all to see demonstrated that in ways previously unwitnessed by normal citizens like you or I. Citizens who might be Mr. Foley's mum or dad.  His lover or friend. I mean no offence to Mr Cameron, genuinely I don't, but it's not his children in a video about to be beheaded with a kitchen knife. And we have just recently learned that our government and Mr Cameron himself have known 'for some time' that IS have a British citizen hostage. He is apparently the next poor soul to have his head hacked from his neck. It is important to me at least that this is the context in which Mr Cameron has urged, in effect, that we all set our face to the wind....don't give in and let a hacked and hideous beheading be just that. Because we don't give in to terrorism.

Er.....hold on.  This next victim, this British citizen. Who asked for none of this and has no hope in the world but his country, his government and his faith. And most, no hope but in his Prime Minister. This man....we don't even know his name. This man.  Are you not giving him a name so in so depersonalising him he becomes just a number? Well, this number means something to me. This number should be the most precious prime number to any of us. It is in definable, unquantifiable. It is the value of a life. It is the length to which a nation state should go to protect one of its own. It is the length to which a nation state HAS gone to protect one of its own, when that 'one' is all. No person's life is worth less than another's. Mr Cameron's pronouncement effectively, and I hope this is not harsh...effectively says to our unknown citizen 'keep your chin up' as the blade penetrates his throat. It says to his mother and father (and I, like Mr Cameron am a father) 'sorry.  We could save your son's life, but don't you see? It would be madness.  We don't give in to terrorists. We have to think of the greater good'.

Understand. I do. I do get the politics.  I see the rationale. If it were my daughter? Fuck you. Fuck all of you. My daughter is NOT a number. She is a life. She is my life. And what does my country owe me? Owe her?  At the very least? If nothing else? Her life. Her life. Her life. At any cost. Because that cost has no number, is not quantifiable and is only measurable by the value required to secure it.

Mr  British Unknown, my heart truly bleeds for you as, like Christ on the cross at the hideous end, you will surely say of your country 'why have you forsaken me'? And I am afraid I am by no means certain that any answer will justify the image of your decapitated corpse that will no doubt be posted for your government, your loved ones and for all.  In fact, let me retract that last statement. The truth is that I am absolutely certain that nothing will justify such an image, such an eventuality.

Wake up. Wake up all of us. A policy of 'no payment for release' was fine when dealing with Time not Death. In a world where the terrorists, or ship robbers just kept their quarry captive. They didn't hack their heads off with pen knives. This is now a different world and one in which policies must change. If we can afford with all our riches to save a single life we should. We should.  We should. You all know full well we should. If it was my daughter on my life we would. If it was Mr Cameron's son.......I suspect we would.

Mr British Unknown, you are not a number. You are someone's son. Your life has as much value as mine. As my daughter's as anyone's. I would give every penny I had to secure your release. I wish to believe that our community too would do just the same rather than watch your beheading on Youtube.   I am ashamed to my core that the government we have elected are not only prepared to pothsumously pour over the video of your decapitated body for authentication, but before the event urge other countries to visit upon their citizens the same as, god forbid, awaits you.

Sometimes a nation is defined not by the sacrifice of the one for the whole. Sometimes a decision is lauded not for its consequence but for its intention. Sometimes the protection of the smallest right stands firm against the hugest wrong it gives birth to. When Kennedy said 'ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country'....there were those, just numbers to most of us today, who heeded that calling and gave their lives. Numbers. Just numbers. But not to those left counting the costs. And to my mind, if a country can call on one, then one can and should be able to call on country. Because that is who we are.  Who we want to be. We say to all our kith and kin, each and every one of our citizens 'ask what we can do for you'. Mr Cameron, you should pay for the life of our British captive as if it were your own. You should fight government and country to pay for it as if for the life of your child. Or mine. And but for the grace of God it could be either.  Do we negotiate with terrorists today? No. But should we? You decide which side of that fence you are on. I know where I am. And where you should be.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Killing conscience

I am utterly paralysed by the inhumanity of what happened to Mr Foley. I don't recommend anyone looking at the footage unless of a strong constitution. But words and news reports somehow inure us to the graphic reality of the true unbridled horror of pre - meditated execution. There is no Hollywood horror movie that could instil such fear and trauma as the 2 minute footage posted by IS. Execution is surely wrong whoever conducts it and whatever it's purported justification. I have no doubt a video of any state execution in those countries still operating the death penalty would be equally horrific and traumatising to a civilised person. How can any community tolerate the cold blooded taking of life in any circumstances? It is as abhorrent as a life lost to crime. Murder is a crime against state and religion. The most censorious commandment, thou shall not kill, is equally the most serious crime. Execution is no more than state sanctioned murder and there will be no better modern illustration than Mr Foley's traumatic footage. IS consider themselves a state and sanctioned the execution. The US sanction several state executions yearly. Many middle eastern and Asian countries execute drug traffickers regularly. I believe we, as Europeans sanctioned historically many executions that are no less horrific than today. Thousands of 'witches' we burned at the stake in the 1600's. The Catholic Church, of which I am a member, tortured and executed countless innocents in the name of the church. Our British legal system is the envy of the world in no small part to the moral authority and purity that the abrogation of execution invests in it. The same is true of every other significant national criminal tribunal conducting war crimes investigation. If as an individual you support the death penalty then you must support it, if state sanctioned, across cultural borders - it can't be ok in the UK or US but abhorrent in countries with political or cultural differences to the values we prefer. For example adultery is not even a crime in Western cultures. But it is indeed a crime in several countries. A crime to which the death penalty applies. Would anyone really say, 'well if that's the law, that's the law and off with her head....'? But to support state sanctioned execution is effectively to say just that. It's not the execution you would object to, just the offence that the state deem worthy of death. A shocking attitude for any person to hold, you may think. The evident truth is that no state, body, group or man can morally claim to hold sway over the life or death of another. For any reason. Period. All executions are equally abhorrent to the essence of our humanity. Mr Foley's execution was inhuman. As are the thousands if not millions of murders executed in the name of any authority throughout history. A moral conscience and execution are irreconcilable whoever you are. Jesus, who was tried and convicted to be crucified on what was, it seemed to the state, to be the grossest blasphemy - he claimed to be no less than god himself - was nailed to death. That 'open and shut case' is not one in which any of us would come forward to drive the first nail pinning him to the cross now we have the benefit of hindsight. And who would happily set the fire under the woman convicted of witchcraft then pray as her skin sizzled and burned? Who would shoot the poor soldier, no more than a child, who deserts his comrades in abject fear of the terrors of a war he had no wish to be party to? Laws change. We as a community change. Yesterday's most horrific 'crimes' are seen differently as tolerances, prejudices and attitudes dissipate or expand. Children hanged by their necks for theft by order of the very law to which I have devoted my working life are stains on the purity of the enlightenment of civil governance. Uncivil scars on the canvas of our pursuit of civil society. A life, my life, any life is not for taking. It is never justified and our historical experience is that an eye for an eye only leaves everybody blind. There are not many things that are simply inherently and immutably true, particularly in a constantly changing world. But one of them is this...thou shall not kill. Not in any circumstances premised upon the whims, dictates and views of those in governance. So I decry the horror of what happened to Mr Foley in the name of state and religion as I decry every single murder perpetrated in the name of state or religion. In a world peopled by communities with values and beliefs that are worlds apart my prayer is that the sanctity of life might one day be the immutable ground upon which humanity can build, secure that whatever the shifting sands, there is a bedrock upon which every one of us is in accord.