On Monday we learned that two British men in Syria were deliberately killed by our own forces, not because they presented an immediate threat to anyone on UK soil but because, as the Prime Minister told us, they had been involved in actively recruiting IS “sympathisers” and plotting to attack “high-profile public commemorations” taking place in the UK this summer.
Where was due process? Where was natural justice? Where were human rights? Should we take to the streets in protest? The acts that Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin were planning were barbaric. But wasn’t the drone attack equally barbaric? Are we not just as bad as those we killed?
I quip, of course. I suspect that few would object to the pre-emptive strike. Khan and Amin were planning a direct attack against UK citizens. Of course we should protect ourselves against such. Even The Guardian said that the action was morally justified, our first duty being “to keep the British people safe.”
The mores of our times sometimes confuse us because they are naïve and fail to embrace both ever-present extremes of human nature. Whether we regard the Bible as God’s word, or as the distilled wisdom of generations, nowhere contains a better summing up of the different components of our nature.
Right at the beginning of the Bible, in the first book of Genesis, one reads “God created man in his own image…and God saw that it was good.” Who can deny what man embodies, so marvellous, unbelievably creative like God, with such great and wonderful abilities? And yet, as Jeremiah 17 says, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”
Too prevalent is a liberal view which believes that mankind is intrinsically good. If we brought our children up in just the right way all the ills of society would fade away. If only we sat together in a circle, held hands and talked to each other, all conflict could be resolved. But that wicked heart of man is not so easily mastered. And that evil that lies within all of us sometimes needs unbelievable firmness to rein it in.
The liberal view regards wickedness as being exceptional rather than universal. As Tony Blair said about Saddam Hussein, “But the man’s evil, isn’t he?”, the corollary being that if we got rid of Saddam, everything would be better. The liberal view is overoptimistic about human structures. In 2011 David Cameron said “Our task now is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people for an effective transition for a free, democratic and inclusive Libya”, failing to see that impure hearts can destroy any system of government.
Worst of all, the liberal mind fails to see that evil can be so prevalent that the ordering of a society sometimes needs a horrific firmness, bordering on the tyranny of a Hussein, Gadaffi or Tito.
Unlike the woeful action in Libya “to support the will of the Libyan people”, the developing action against IS in Syria is a proper action to defend our own interests. The penny is gradually dropping: the threat that militant Islam presents is far more serious than those in power have erstwhile admitted. Cameron’s Birmingham speech about Islam was far closer to being honest about the causes of terrorism than anything he has said before.
Those in authority over us have a responsibility to act. Like all mortals, they are flawed. Earthly authority, earthly justice, both will be imperfect. Mistakes will be made. Some acts are indeed horrid and will make us shudder. But act our leaders must. Their responsibility is literally awful, a reason why St Paul’s urges us to pray for them.