“Prepare for more pain YOU COWARD.” That’s the 5cm-high headline on page 9 of today’s Sunday Mail. The ‘coward’ referred to is Riduan Isomuddin (aka Hambali), the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, who’s been in Guantanamo for more than 10 years.
Increasingly, world leaders and commentators have been attaching the ‘coward’ label to suicide bombers and perpetrators of other atrocities, and I’m not sure that it’s appropriate.
Whatever one thinks of these people and their motives, and the puppeteers who pull their strings, I don’t think they’re cowards. They have to overcome their instinct for self-preservation, for one thing; and their instinctive empathy for fellow humans. Killing oneself and killing other people takes courage.
But, you may say, if a crime is committed in the name of Islam the perpetrator is promised great rewards in Paradise. True, but what if his suicide vest fails? What if he’s shot but not killed? He faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life locked up, maybe maimed, probably celibate, hoping that failure to complete his mission does not disqualify him from receiving a martyr’s prize.
And surely some of them must consider the possibility that the men who made those promises are themselves misguided – or even liars. Then they face eternity in Hell.
No. I see foolishness, I see wickedness, but I don’t see cowardice.
Does it matter what epithets we throw at them? I think it does. Unless we correctly characterise their crimes and their motivation we cannot counter them effectively.
Sorry: I can think of no suitable picture to include in this post.
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.