Islamic State militant ‘Jihadi John’ has allegedly been killed in a US drone strike. Born Mohammed Emwazi in Kuwait before moving to the UK, ‘John’ became notorious after appearing in videos posted online in which Western aid workers were apparently beheaded.
While Cameron and his American counterparts trumpeted John’s death as an unmitigated triumph, Jeremy Corbyn said it was a shame he wasn’t brought in alive and put on trial. Cue a flurry of criticism accusing the Labour leader of being out of touch with public opinion.
He is, and that’s good, because public opinion is wrong about most things. A few years ago, a MORI poll found that people think benefit fraud is 34 times more costly than it actually is, that 24% of the population is Muslim when in fact it’s only 5%, and that 31% are recent immigrants when in fact it’s only 13%. It’s not surprising, because for decades an overwhelmingly corporate news media has done its best to make people woefully ill-informed, prejudiced, and irrationally quick to anger.
In this case, a lot of people are very happy that ‘John’ was vaporised by a Hellfire missile – and think that anyone who doesn’t feel the same is some sort of deviant terrorism apologist. In fact, Corbyn’s objections are based on the thoroughly reasonable idea that when dealing with violent criminals dead set against your way of life, you prove your moral superiority by not stooping to their level.
This is what Corbyn was getting at when he described the death of Osama Bin Laden as a ‘tragedy’. Rather than executing him on the spot and turning him into an instant martyr, Corbyn’s argument ran, it would’ve been much better to put him on trial, powerfully demonstrating the West’s commitment to due process and the rule of law rather than answering violence with violence. For Corbyn, the real tragedy wasn’t Bin Laden’s death, but a colossal missed opportunity to strike a blow for peace and the democratic justice system.
I also would’ve preferred ‘John’ and Bin Laden to have been brought in alive and humiliatingly put on trial, but they’re dead now, and it couldn’t have happened to nicer people.
The saddest thing is that we’ve learned nothing. Decades of often violent, always ruthless Western intervention in Arab affairs created whole generations of Bin Ladens and Jihadi Johns, murderously opposed to the democracy and liberal attitudes they came to associate with humiliation at the hands of foreign powers. And still today, political elites across the Western world can’t wait to wade into Syria and other conflicts around the world, destined to achieve nothing but ensuring the great Middle Eastern meat-grinder keeps grinding for decades to come.
Isn’t it funny, though, that when it favours the things our corporate-financial overlords want to happen, ‘public opinion’ has to be obsessively kow-towed to. And that when it endorses something the elite doesn’t want to see happen – like railways renationalisation, something clearly favoured by nearly three-quarters of British people including many Tory and UKIP voters – it’s written off as dangerous extremism.
In many ways Corbyn goes against public opinion, in some ways he speaks for it. In almost all ways, that I’ve seen at least, he’s right.