Melanie Phillips

9 May 2011

This hand-wringing over Bin Laden is not just distasteful - it's potentially suicidal

Published in: Daily Mail

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Given some reactions to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, you really do have to wonder whether, if Britain were fighting World War II today, Hitler would have won.  

Just consider for a moment an instructive comparison. Reinhard Heydrich was one of the key architects of Hitler’s genocide against the Jews.

In 1941, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) was authorised by Winston Churchill to assassinate high-ranking Nazis wherever they could be found.

In 1942, two of the many Czech citizens whom the SOE had trained to implement this strategy blew up the car carrying Heydrich to his office in Prague. He died a week later from infection following his injuries.

If that had taken place today, we would most likely find the Archbishop of Canterbury fretting ‘justice didn’t seem to be done’, Paddy Ashdown tut-tutting that the rule of law did not condone ‘non- judicial execution’, and human rights lawyers seeking to arrest Churchill for war crimes.

Well, all right, human rights lawyers didn’t actually call for President Obama to be prosecuted for authorising the Bin Laden operation. 

But such lawyers did fulminate that he should not have been killed, but arrested and brought to trial.

On BBC TV’s Question Time last week, Ashdown claimed that the killing supplanted the rule of law (while trying simultaneously to identify himself with soldiers killing terrorists under the pressure of split-second decisions). 

And Dr Rowan Williams said that the ‘killing of an unarmed man’ left a ‘very uncomfortable feeling’.

Such hand-wringing is beyond absurd; indeed, it is morally distasteful and culturally potentially suicidal.

Though we still can’t be sure exactly what happened in Abbottabad (and it certainly hasn’t helped that the U.S. changed its story), it seems that when Bin Laden was shot he was not holding a weapon. 

True, the rules of warfare dictate that if an enemy combatant unequivocally surrenders he must be captured rather than killed. 

But given that this man spawned an army of suicide bombers all of whom believe martyrdom is their calling, surrender was never going to be an option. Indeed, there are reports there were weapons in his room.

The assumption has to be that, if cornered, such a man may well detonate himself or otherwise fight to the death. It is not only reasonable to assume that he must be killed; in order to safeguard innocent life, it is essential.   

All the hand-wringing reflects a terrible and widespread confusion about two things: first, the nature of the threat we face from Islamic terrorism; and second, the place and nature of war.

There is a persistent belief that the threat from Al  Qaeda is scarcely any different from that previously posed by the IRA. But what Al  Qaeda, in fact, represents is not terrorism as conventionally understood. 

Terrorism is the use of violence against innocent people to force a government to accede to certain specific demands. But Al  Qaeda makes no demand to which Britain or America could ever accede. It uses violence against innocent people to try to destroy an entire civilisation. 

Moreover, no sanctions on earth will deter those for whom self-destruction is the highest goal of existence.

Unlike Irish republicans, whose goal was limited to a united Ireland, Al Qaeda intends to murder as many British or American citizens as possible. If its followers could destroy an entire British or American city through a dirty bomb, they would do it. 

So the consequences of any failure to stop them belong to a different league altogether from Irish-style terrorism.

In other words, this is more like a war. The problem, however, is that war is conventionally defined as taking place between the armies of opposing states.

But this is a new form of war — sometimes called ‘asymmetric warfare’ — in which those who wage it wear civilian clothes, make no distinction between civilians and soldiers and even use civilians as human shields.

Given that their goal is even more devastating than a war between states, to say that the leader of such a force should be arrested and tried is even more ridiculous than it would have been to say it about Reinhard Heydrich.

The principal reason this nonsense has taken such deep root is the baleful influence of the human rights industry and the doctrine to which its advocates adhere.

This holds that the nation has had its day, that trans-national courts and other institutions should trump our own, and that war must be replaced by law and terrorists arrested and tried by international tribunals.

That’s why UN officials have been criticising the killing of Bin Laden, saying that terrorists should normally be dealt with as criminals through the legal processes of arrest, trial and judicial punishment.

Last week, on BBC Radio  4’s Moral Maze (on which I am a panellist) a human rights lawyer similarly argued earnestly that the rule of law was preferable to war.

For heaven’s sake — as if any of us would disagree! But the point is that, in certain circumstances, warfare and the resulting killing of the enemy amount to the only way of keeping us safe.

After all, that is why we are bombing Afghanistan. And that’s why soldiers rather than the police  were sent into Bin Laden’s hideout.

We are not up against common criminals, animal rights terrorists or even the Mafia. We are at war to defend our entire way of life, just as we were doing against Hitler.

Yet even what happened during that war is being airbrushed out of history by the human rights fanatics. For we are being told Bin Laden should have been put on trial, as was done at Nuremberg to previous enemies of humanity after World War II. 

On Question Time, panellist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said idiotically that ‘we did it for the Nazis’. Dear, oh dear — the events of 1939-45 appear to have passed Ms Alibhai-Brown by altogether.

For what we ‘did for the Nazis’ was to wage war upon them — total war.

It was only after the Allies won that war that captured Nazis were put on trial at Nuremberg. Indeed, the Nuremberg tribunal only took place at all because the Allies had won a military victory — which involved killing not only Nazis but civilians, too.

As, indeed, the West is doing in Afghanistan, where untold numbers of Taliban and civilians have been killed. Untold because no one seems to know or care about those casualties of war.

Indeed, one could say that, with inexplicable perversity, the human rights industry only ever becomes enraged when military targets are singled out for targeted killing, which is designed to avoid hurting the innocent — as with the killing of  Bin Laden.

On that Question Time show, panellist Douglas Murray was booed when he said he was elated at the death of Bin Laden.

And Paddy Ashdown provoked a storm of cheap applause when he declared in response that he could not rejoice at the killing of any man.

Of course, gloating over any killing is undesirable. But that’s not what Murray meant.

Surely all decent people should rejoice that the leader of a force working to blow an entire civilisation to kingdom come has been removed from the scene.

But if the only permitted reaction is to condemn it, what chance is there that such a civilisation will ever defend itself against those intent upon its destruction?


Churchill must be spinning in his grave.

 

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie