The only outcome of the extrajudicial killing of ‘Jihadi John’ will be tabloid smugness

If your brother/sister/mother/child was on the run from the police, in another country, would you think it was ok if the British government murdered them? This is the question supporters of the drone strike that killed ‘Jihadi John’ should be asking themselves as more details surrounding the ISIS butcherer-cum-PR guru’s death emerge.

The problem with this execution is that it served no real purpose, bringing nobody any closer to reaching any kind of conclusion to the grinding daily horror of the Syrian civil war and its destructive overspill. The ISIS fighter Mohammad Emwazi, dubbed ‘Jihadi John’ by Britain’s ridiculous tabloid media, served as a poster boy for ISIS, the fearful embodiment that it’s not just people far away that pose a threat to Britain, but ‘home-grown’ terror, the Islamic extremists that grew up in the UK, perhaps even round the corner from where you live. Tabloid bafflement that a murderous killer could once have been an adorable child has only stoked this sensationalist clash of ‘he’s just like us’ with ‘but he’s also PURE EVIL’. This proved to be amazing PR for ISIS, who used Emwazi to front a vicious media campaign of hatred and brutal murder across the news and internet to scare the living daylights out of the Western world. The British press continued fanning the flames of ‘Jihadi John’s’ media personality, caught in a bizarre paradox between condemning his behaviour while actively promoting his cause to the world. As video after video emerged of John beheading hostages and killing innocent people the tabloids lapped it up and the British public screamed for justice. Terrorism is not terrorism if it doesn’t create terror; make no mistake, Emwazi’s cause relied solely on the publicity his brutal behaviour received.

Let’s be clear here; American airstrikes in Syria have no legal sanction under international law. In effect, this makes the killing of Emwazi an extrajudicial killing. And while it seems certain that at this present moment in time bringing him to justice through any means seems logistically impossible, this does not automatically permit his murder on foreign soil. David Cameron has claimed the killing of Emwazi to be ‘self-defence’ as he would have gone on to kill others, but self-defence under any sensible definition must imply defence in immediate danger, not prospective danger at some point in the future. This argument would never stand up under any legal process in a UK court, and has also been criticised by experts in international law. And Cameron will be only too aware that killing Emwazi will not have prevented the deaths of anyone, as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who will go on murdering in his place. Yet Cameron has even taken on the role of writing tabloid headlines for them, describing ISIS as an “evil terrorist death cult”. It is totally unacceptable to use drone strikes as some kind of grim retribution, the only real way to view this extrajudicial killing, and no doubt David Cameron is beaming in delight at the PR boost he will receive for bringing death upon such a formidable hate figure. With nearly half of the British public supporting the reintroduction of the death penalty, it seems clear that the desire for state revenge killings is still very much alive and well among the British population.

It doesn’t matter that Emwazi was just a British face among thousands of other ISIS killers. It’s irrelevant that his death will serve no real purpose in the fight against ISIS, and yet probably cost the American taxpayer thousands if not millions of pounds to orchestrate. And it seems of no consequence to the British public that the missile that rained down on his car struck him in the middle of an urban area, with no ability to discern between monstrous killer and innocent bystander. The British tabloid press will lap up the demise of this media anti-hero, while celebrating the mighty triumph of Britain over evil. Anyone who questions this narrative will be accused of being ‘soft’, of being weak, or at worst, siding with the enemy. Predictably, Jeremy Corbyn has already suffered this fate for merely suggesting it would have been preferable for Emwazi to be brought to justice in a court of law.

David Cameron will presumably be keen that the popularity of Emwazi’s death will further his cause for Britain’s involvement in air strikes in Syria, despite a parliamentary committee pointing out they will make little different to the situation as it stands. But defeating ISIS will take more than military action for the sake of action, and it will certainly require more than cheap jingoism and media hysteria. In order for this horrifying force to be truly contained we will need to keep up the pressure to find a diplomatic solution, even one that involves painful compromises, rather than thinking bombs alone can defeat this murderous ideology.

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