Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Too Hot to Print

Mark Steyn writes about the column that was too intense for his employers to publish.

I’d written about Kenneth Bigley, seized with two American colleagues but unlike them not beheaded immediately. Instead, sensing that they could exploit potential differences within “the coalition of the willing”, for three weeks the Islamists played a cat-and-mouse game with Mr Bigley’s life, in which Fleet Street, the British public, governments in London and Dublin and Islamic lobby groups in the United Kingdom were far too willing to participate. As I always say, in this war the point is not whether you’re sad about the dead people, but what you’re prepared to do about it. What “Britain” – from Ken Bigley’s brother to the Foreign Secretary – did was make it more likely that other infidels will meet his fate.

In the column itself, he writes:

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 I’d utter in this life, “Tony Blair has not done enough for me” would not be high up on the list. First, because it’s 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.


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, that’s the way to go: If you’re kidnapped, accept you’re unlikely to survive, say “I’ll show you how an Englishman dies”, and wreck the video. If they want you to confess you’re a spy, make a little mischief: there are jihadi from Britain, Italy, France, Canada and other western nations all over Iraq – so say yes, you’re 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 Bigley’s word, “enough”. A war cannot be subordinate to the fate of any individual caught up in it.

And, if you don’t want to wind up in that situation, you need to pack heat and be prepared to resist at the point of abduction. I didn’t 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 you’re not, you shouldn’t be there.

None of the above would have guaranteed Mr Bigley’s 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 Howard’s government anyway. With Britain, the Islamists will have drawn many useful lessons from the decadence and defeatism on display.

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