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Have you watched the video of James Foley’s death? I’ve only watched an edited version on YouTube. As in the original, it fades to black when the knife meets his throat. Prior to this Foley offered a (surely forced) verbal self-flagellation, climaxing with a statement of regret for being American. I’m told that in the full version (which I have no intention of viewing), the film ends with a shot of Foley’s decapitated corpse lying flat in the desert, his head resting on the small of his back.
Of course, by-itself, this episode doesn’t teach us anything new about Muslims, or about the motivating power of the Qur’an. Anyone who has even casually browsed the book will have noted a passage like the following:
“Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), strike off their heads; at length; then when you have made wide Slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives: thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens.” – 47:4
Some are calling Mr Foley unwise for having ventured into a desert filled with believers in such a text. I wouldn’t go that far. It is certainly something I would never do, and an intention I would discourage in friends. But there is an undeniably heroic quality to war journalism and – despite what his captors may have intended – Foley’s death has surely further dignified that profession.
This murder isn’t, I’m sad to say, a strictly American matter. While we in Britain had never heard of Foley before the news broke of his execution, we may have been unknowingly familiar with his murderer. In fact (altogether more chillingly), we may have rode the bus with him, sat next to him on the subway; we may have even shook the hand that slit Foley’s throat. His killer, you see, is ‘British’.
I’d like to use this occasion to take issue with something specific. Something broader than this isolated cruelty.
Having a British passport does not make you British. Being born in a Pakistanified hamlet of England does not make you English. To earn these historically illustrious definitions you must be part of the national community, speaks its language and concur with its moral standards. The butcher of Foley, as well as any other Muslim who has departed our shores for Jihad, checked their ‘British’ card at Heathrow.
No line (straight or crooked) can be drawn between these desert savages and Edward Gibbon. Don’t forget that to be called ‘British’ is in no way a small deal. This isn’t Luxembourg. Much of the modern age derives from British innovation. To make the definition of ‘British’ so cheap, to collapse its value to such an extent, betrays in one second a thousand years.