heads you (dont) win

  1. 4,788 Posts.
    Mark STEYN, October 11th 2004

    Whether or not it is, in the technical sense, a "joke", I find myself, with the benefit of hindsight, in agreement with Billy ConnollyÕs now famous observation on Kenneth Bigley Ð "ArenÕt you the same as me, donÕt you wish they would just get on with it?"

    Had his killers "just got on with it", they would have decapitated Mr Bigley as swiftly as they did his two American confreres. But, sensing that there was political advantage to be gained in distinguishing the British subject from his fellow hostages, they didnÕt get on with it, and the intervening weeks reflected poorly on both Britain and Mr Bigley.

    None of us can know for certain how we would behave in his circumstances, and very few of us will ever face them. But, if I had to choose in advance the very last words IÕd utter in this life, "Tony Blair has not done enough for me" would not be high up on the list. First, because itÕs the all but official slogan of modern Britain, the dull rote whine of the churlish citizen invited to opine on waiting lists or public transport, and thus unworthy of the uniquely grisly situation in which Mr Bigley found himself. And, secondly, because those words are so at odds with the spirit of a life spent, for the most part, far from these islands. Ken Bigley seems to have found contemporary Britain a dreary, insufficient place and I doubt he cared about who was Prime Minister from one decade to the next. Had things gone differently and had his fate befallen some other expatriate, and had he chanced upon a month-old London newspaper in his favourite karaoke bar up near the Thai-Cambodian border and read of the entire city of Liverpool going into a week of Dianysian emotional masturbation over some deceased prodigal son with no inclination to return whom none of the massed ranks of weeping Scousers from the Lord Mayor down had ever known, Mr Bigley would surely have thanked his lucky stars that he and his Thai bride were about as far from his native sod as itÕs possible to get.

    While Ken Bigley passed much of his life as a happy expat, his brother Paul appears to have gone a stage further and all but seceded. Night and day, he was on TV explaining to the world how the Bigley familyÕs Middle East policy is wholly different from Her MajestyÕs Government Ð a Unilateral Declaration of Independence accepted de facto by Mr BlairÕs ministry when it dispatched Jack Straw to Merseyside to present formally his condolences to the Bigleys, surely the most extraordinary flying visit ever undertaken by a British Foreign Secretary. For their pains, the government was informed by Paul Bigley that the Prime Minister had "blood on his hands". This seems an especially stupid and contemptible formulation when anyone with an Internet connection can see Ken BigleyÕs blood and the hand itÕs literally on holding up his head.

    It reminded me of Robert Novak of The Chicago Sun-Times back in May, quoting "one senior official of a coalition partner" calling for the firing of Donald Rumsfeld on the grounds that "there must be a neck cut, and there is only one neck of choice."

    At pretty much that exact moment in Iraq, Nick BergÕs captors were cutting his head off - or, rather, feverishly hacking it off while raving "God is great!" The difference between the participants in this war is that on one side robust formulations about "blood on his hands" and "calls for the Defence SecretaryÕs head" are clichŽd metaphors, and on the other they mean it.

    Paul Bigley can be forgiven his clumsiness: heÕs a freelancer winging it. But the feelers put out by the Foreign Office to Ken BigleyÕs captors are more disturbing: by definition, they confer respectability on the head-hackers and increase the likelihood that Britons and other infidels will be seized and decapitated in the future. The United Kingdom, like the government of the Philippines when it allegedly paid a ransom for the release of its Iraqi hostages, is thus assisting in the mainstreaming of jihad.

    By contrast with the Fleet Street-Scouser-Whitehall fiasco of the last three weeks, consider Fabrizio Quattrocchi, murdered in Iraq on April 14th. In the moment before his death, he yanked off his hood and cried defiantly, "I will show you how an Italian dies!" He ruined the movie for his killers. As a snuff video and recruitment tool, it was all but useless, so much so that the Arabic TV stations declined to show it.

    If the FCO wants to issue advice in this area, thatÕs the way to go: If youÕre kidnapped, accept youÕre unlikely to survive, say "IÕll show you how an Englishman dies", and wreck the video. If they want you to confess youÕre a spy, make a little mischief: there are jihadi from Britain, Italy, France, Canada and other western nations all over Iraq Ð so say yes, youÕre an MI6 agent, and so are those Muslims from Tipton and Luton who recently joined the al-Qaeda cells in Samarra and Ramadi. As Churchill recommended in a less timorous Britain: You can always take one with you. If Mr Blair and other government officials were to make that plain, it would be, to use Mr BigleyÕs word, "enough". A war cannot be subordinate to the fate of any individual caught up in it.

    And, if you donÕt want to wind up in that situation, you need to pack heat and be prepared to resist at the point of abduction. I didnÕt give much thought to decapitation when I was mooching round the Sunni Triangle last year, but my one rule was that I was determined not to get into a car with any of the locals and I was willing to shoot anyone who tried to force me. If youÕre not, you shouldnÕt be there.

    None of the above would have guaranteed Mr BigleyÕs life, but it would have given him, as it did Signor Quattrocchi, a less pitiful death, and it would have spared the world a glimpse of the feeble and unserious Britain of the last few weeks. The jihadists have become rather adept at devising tests customized for each group of infidels: Madrid got bombed, and the Spaniards failed their test three days later; the Australian Embassy in Jakarta got bombed, but the Aussies held firm and re-elected John HowardÕs government anyway. With Britain, the Islamists will have drawn many useful lessons from the decadence and defeatism on display.


 
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