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Friday, November 13, 2015 

If he hadn't existed, we would have invented him. Oh, we did anyway.

I've just heard that Jihadi John is dead.  Had his head taken off by a golf ball.  Tragic, tragic!

Or at least that's the way Basil Fawlty might have put it.  Frankly, it would have been preferable to David Cameron's statement.  You can understand President Obama announcing to the world the death of Osama bin Laden; when David Cameron feels the need to put out a lectern in Downing Street and starts explaining how killing Mohammed Emwazi is "a strike at the heart of Isil", it's time for a drink.

Mohammed Emwazi was a nobody, and he ought to have remained a nobody.  The only slightly interesting thing about him is how he came to be radicalised, and then it remains only slightly interesting.  He had no real position of authority or command in Islamic State; he became notable only because he was chosen from any one of however many Western recruits to be the organisation's face to the West.  David Cameron called him Islamic State's chief executioner, which is arguably true, in that he was the one who murdered the group's Western hostages.  By comparison to any number of Islamic State's ordinary cadres however, he almost certainly killed far fewer than many of his fellow fighters.  Once the Western hostages apart from John Cantlie were murdered, he returned to the shadows, both because there was little further use for him and because the Western media and politicians had conspired to make him Islamic State, far more than Islamic State's actual leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ever has been.

Killing Emwazi proves we have a long reach, said Cameron.  Well yes, it certainly is a long reach, so long that it took months after he stopped being a direct threat to us or our citizens to pick him up, or in this case obliterate via drone.  In this instance there probably wasn't any alternative: dropping special forces into Raqqa and expecting them to get out alive or without potentially being captured themselves was a risk few would be willing to take.  Killing Emwazi in such a way raises fewer questions than the previous extrajudicial strike against Reyaad Khan did, not least because Emwazi's crimes were filmed, not merely alleged plots, and it was an American rather than a British operation.  With no other possible way to capture him, and without anything to suggest he would leave Syria except in a body bag, there is an arguable case that doing so was in "self-defence" as Cameron claimed.  That's all it remains, arguable.

As Jeremy Corbyn has said (and of course as soon as the news came through Emwazi had been killed our great political journalists began to speculate on how terrorist lover Corbo would equivocate), it appears as if he has been held to account for his crimes.  That's the best that can be said though, as killing someone, however vile and however brutal their crimes is not a substitute for a trial, nor will it ever be.

David Cameron finished his statement by saying his thoughts were with those who Emwazi so cruelly murdered, and their families.  They would be remembered long after the killers of Isil had been forgotten, he insisted.

Except, sadly, they won't.  We remember the murderers, not the victims.  We know of Jack the Ripper, of Peter Sutcliffe, of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, while the names of those whose lives they ended are firmly in the background, if that.  When the prime minister has to refer to Emwazi by his tabloid nickname, it's clear who will be remembered in 10, 20 years time, and it won't be Alan Henning, David Haines, James Foley, Steven Sotloff or Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig, let alone Haruna Yukawa, Kenji Goto or the unnamed and unknown Syrian officer Emwazi was also filmed beheading, without any cutaways as was the case with the Westerners.

Killing Emwazi is not even the cutting of a head off the Hydra.  It's the equivalent of cutting off the head of the Hydra's spokesman.

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