Nutella and Isis

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I understand, I really do.  Nutella offers to print special labels with their customers’ name on them, but the marketing people don’t foresee a request to personalise a jar for a little girl called Isis.  Nutella refused to print the label, as they would refuse to print a label for someone called #&%@ or %&?!.

Until very recently Isis was most prominent as the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage and wisdom, and an Oxford student magazine.  Any child called Isis could have been proud of her name.  Now it is soiled.  It could happen to any of us with a short name.

When Is Killing OK?

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There is a much-loved comedienne in Australia called Magda Szubanksi. She recently revealed that her father, when a boy in Poland, had killed Nazi collaborators as an assassin for the Polish Resistance. This was considered shocking news. I was not shocked at all, however. Magda’s father was quite rightly fighting to free his country from a cruel invader. He was a hero.

A couple of years ago there were shock-horror stories in the British press because Prince Harry revealed that he had undertaken missions as a pilot that involved killing Taliban fighters. But what the hell do we pay military pilots for, if not to kill the enemy?!

Now we have a similar reaction to the news that David Cameron authorised drone strikes that killed UK citizens fighting for Daesh in Syria. To my mind, if a British citizen joins a terrorist organisation and goes abroad to fight on its behalf, the British Government has a responsibility to take all possible steps to prevent that citizen from doing harm.

How is the British Government to achieve that? They could send in a team of highly trained soldiers to capture the renegade citizen and drag him home to face trial. But the risk of failure and consequent injury or death of team members would be high. A drone strike, based on good intelligence, is low-risk and much more likely to succeed.

Admittedly a drone strike carries the risk of civilian casualties. But a civilian living in an area that is under Daesh control, or under Daesh attack, is already in extreme danger of death, injury, kidnap, rape, enslavement or dispossession. And who knows how many innocent lives may be saved by the death of a single terrorist?

Drawing the threads of these three stories together, it seems to me that there are times when the opprobrium usually directed toward the act of killing is undeserved.

Terrorism

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People use words loosely sometimes and ‘terrorism’ has been used more loosely than most. Terrorism is a tactic, widely used by combatants of all stripes. It is the deliberate commission of atrocities for the purpose of immobilising one’s enemy, or making him less effective, through fear. It has also been called ‘shock and awe’ which sounds much better.

IS (or ISIS, ISIL, DAESH*) has certainly employed terrorism to cow the populations of the land it has invaded, and to discourage armed opposition from Iraq and Turkey. But the beheadings that have become an IS trademark are not acts of terrorism. They are designed not to cow but to outrage and provoke the people and governments of the countries whose citizens they are targeting. They want us to put those much talked-of boots on the ground.

Why? They are confident that they can beat us, either because they have Allah’s backing or because they believe (with some reason) that we will grow tired of the game before they do, yielding a victory that will confirm their dominance and force global acceptance of their caliphate.

The most superstitious among their followers may also seek martyrdom and the rewards they have been promised. What better martyrdom than at the hands of a well-armed western infidel?

What do you think? Should the term ‘terrorism’ be applied to the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip, or to the retaliatory attacks of the Israeli Government? Perhaps these too are designed to provoke rather than to intimidate. And what about Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, the Lord’s Resistance Army… are they trying to induce compliance through fear? Or are they just psychopaths who enjoy what they do?

There is much more to say about this subject. Please let me know your views.

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* For an explanation of the acronym DAESH I recommend http://pietervanostaeyen.wordpress.com.