After the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many physicists felt that their discipline’s principles had been betrayed. Oppenheimer said that physicists had “known sin”. Their abstruse subject, seen as a pure source of enlightenment, had revealed its enormous destructive potential. The healing arts, the quintessence of noble pursuits, have also been showing their dark side, as the power to cure disease is inseparable from the power to cause disease. An Oath Betrayed was the title of a recent book on the role of U.S. physicians and psychologists in facilitating torture in Guantanamo. And now, yet another betrayal: The BBC reports that

The apparent killing of a US journalist by an Islamic militant with an English accent is "an utter betrayal of everything British people stand for", the foreign secretary says.

What of goodness and purity remains in the world, when even English accents may also be deployed for nefarious ends? (Of course, in Hollywood films they are used for almost nothing else.)

More profoundly, two thoughts occur to me:

  1. It has long been known that Westerners were travelling to Syria to fight for the Islamist cause. Just recently an Australian posted a photograph of his seven-year-old son holding a severed head. 200 Belgian citizens are reported to be fighting in Syria. The US and Australia have been jointly seeking a UN-sponsored strategy to deal with returning Islamists. But the English accent in the video seems to have gotten under people’s skins, to judge by the news commentary. As it obviously was intended to. Since the days of the shibboleth accents and dialects have been a primary definer of trust, particularly in times of war. For the Islamists to put a British speaker on the video is obviously intended to drive a wedge between British Muslims and the rest of Britain, so as to drive them into the arms of the Islamists. The message to the British majority is, so-called “assimilation” is really just infiltration.
  2. The British establishment can be counted on to take the bait. Other countries have revoked passports to prevent their citizens from travelling to fight with extremists; German politicians have discussed new legislation for going as far as to revoke identity cards, which are all that Germans require for travel to Turkey (from which Islamist fighters then proceed to Syria). In the UK, though, we have a senior national politician (David Davis, former shadow home secretary, Conservative leadership candidate, and who would have been in the current government had he not refused) calling for people to be stripped of their citizenship for participating in foreign wars. Unless someone can point to examples of politicians calling for revocation of citizenship from mercenaries who fought in colonial wars in Africa in the mid-20th century, or in Northern Ireland — or, for that matter, those who supported fascist causes in the 1930s and 1940s — I have to judge that the implication is that Muslims can never really be British; at best, they can be British on probation, no matter how many generations their families have been in the UK.

One thought on “Betrayal”

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