The beheading of Alan Henning…a sign of fear or a piece of kamikaze?

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October 5, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith


Alan Henning was watching TV one day and saw a piece on the news about Syrian children who had been caught in the crossfire of the civil war raging there for the past three years. Instead of just talking about their plight, he decided to do something about it. So, Henning spent what turned out to be the rest of his life taking aid to Syria. He left the UK a few days before Christmas last year for his last one. A taxi driver, he spent his spare time washing cars in order to raise the money to fund his four trips to the region. Once he had been to a Syrian refugee camp, he vowed to return and help people there until the war was over. Sadly, he had lost the opportunity to do that, because last night he was beheaded by Islamic State.

At a basic level, this was supposedly in ‘revenge’ for Britain’s involvement in airstrikes on ISIL. But this time it was different, because this time ISIL ignored the entreaties of a coalition of Muslim activists. Shula Shafi, the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, called this a ‘despicable and offensive act’, pointed out that it was carried out on the eve of Eid Al-Adha, and said that it was ‘clear that the murderers of Alan Henning have no regard for Islam’. But it was the appeals of some far more extremist clerics, including Abu Qatada and Sheikh Faisal, that made this different. They called on ISIL to spare Henning’s life because he was a humanitarian. Even the Nusra Front, a jihadist branch of Al-Qaeda that has been fighting in Syria, turned on the ISIL leadership over their threat to behead Alan Henning.

It did not matter to Islamic State that Alan Henning was in Syria specifically to help Muslims who were suffering. It didn’t even matter that a Sharia Court had apparently cleared Henning of the original charge of espionage. The fact that all this didn’t matter, and didn’t make a difference says a lot to us about ISIL. It says that they have decided that their brand of Jihad is the only one that matters. It says also that they don’t represent Muslims, they just represent themselves and their twisted ideology. It also says something else, I believe, which is that ISIL are scared. They are becoming like a cornered tiger, and have given up trying to make any sense of their actions. By this line of reasoning, the airstrikes should continue, the arming and support of the Iraqi, Kurdish and Free Syrian armies should continue.

Their entire justification for this beheading was the airstrikes, which they argued, was killing ‘their people’. But who are ‘their people?’, who would actually want to be represented by people who behead someone like Alan Henning?

There is of course another way of looking at this. That this was an act of kamikaze. That, by carrying out an act of such inexplicable and unjustifiable barbarity, they will invite more airstrikes and more death…which may be what they want, in order to look like martyrs. As I have said before, this also allows them to organise the death of more Iraqi civilians, who can be used as human shields. They will need this to happen now, as there are now far less people who will grieve for these bloodthirsty terrorists.

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