The reaction to the ‘ISIS Beatles’ case makes you wonder if we are really serious about winning this battle at all
By Tom Wilson
In the fight to fend off radical Islam and secure a future for the West and our liberal order, there are moments where you have to wonder if we are really serious about winning at all.
The latest episode of this is currently unfolding in Britain. It concerns the drawn-out attempts to bring to justice the two Islamic State executioners and torturers, Alexander Kotey and El Shafee Elsheik – members of the unfortunately named “Beatles” group. They are responsible for the grotesque murder of a number of British and American journalists and aid workers, as well as members of their cell being suspected of involvement with numerous other atrocities.
The men were originally from Britain but in a not unreasonable move it appears the British Government has stripped them of their citizenship. They had after all taken themselves off to Syria to join the army of an enemy entity. Revoking their citizenship provoked some protest in Britain but this turned out to be nothing compared to what was to come. Now it has transpired that in an effort to find somewhere to successfully prosecute these individuals, our Home Secretary wrote to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to say that if the United States would take these men, the UK would not seek assurances that they would be spared the death penalty.
The outcry over this has been extraordinary. As it turns out, for our metropolitan classes, the thing that really distresses them is the thought of ISIS murderers being executed. In the hand-wringing and self-righteous flagellation that has ensued, British politicians, journalists and academics have deployed every conceivable argument to try and have these men spared being sent to the US – from castigating the conduct of the Home Secretary, to making such appalling false equivalences as to suggest that having these murderers executed would render us no better than them. Which is perhaps for some the point behind this entire spectacle; to tell the British people that we in the West are really little better than the Islamists. Instilling the sense that our culture is hardly worth defending.
All of this protest has been served up with a good hearty dose of anti-Americanism. From some of the discussion you wouldn’t think that the United States was a liberal democracy, with a strong human rights tradition, commitment to the rule of law and, most importantly, an independent judiciary. In media interviews this week I’ve had presenters put it to me that sending these men to the US would somehow be comparable to sending them to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or China. The moral inversions being performed here are dizzying.
It is precisely because we don’t want these men to go through a questionable legal system that we are seeking to ensure they are not tried in Iraq or Syria. As the International Criminal Court at The Hague has no jurisdiction over these men or their crimes, that would only leave the UK as the other place to try them. However, the British Government is well aware that our anti-terror laws are not well suited for prosecuting returning fighters and the fear is that they might only be convicted for crimes carrying sentences of as little as ten or fifteen years in prison. Britain could update its treason laws to deal with these people, but with little hope of that happening anytime soon, sending them to face justice in the US—where many of their victims came from—could at last bring this awful chapter to a close.
For too many in Britain’s metropolitan circles, this turns out not to be a priority. It is perverse that so many can apparently expend so much energy on defending the rights of these murders, rather than focusing on the victims or what we might do to ensure there aren’t any new victims of this barbaric movement. Clearly those engaging in the outcry—talking down this country and condemning our greatest ally—believe they are parading how virtuous they are. Yet, this is the spectacle of a society that is prepared to turn on itself in the name of championing the rights of its worst enemies, rather than throw all of its weight behind utterly defeating them.
To most ordinary people, this looks like madness. Someone needs to remind Britain’s high-minded liberals that there is little virtuous or liberal about a society that is unsure of how badly it wants its way of life to win out against barbarians seeking to destroy it.
Tom Wilson is a Research Fellow in the Centre on Radicalisation & Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society.