The video of a prisoner being burned to death displays "a level of brutality shocking even by the standards" of Islamic State. That is not something that most reasonable people would question. However what is the elephant in the room, a connected issue that is rarely discussed, is how should we describe the actions of the US and UK in Iraq and around the world?
According to a 2012 joint report from the NYU and Stanford University law schools on US drone strikes in Pakistan, "the missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration".
Similarly barbaric, in 2008 the Sunday Times reported British forces were using Hellfire missiles in Afghanistan, creating "a pressure wave which sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies".
As has often been said, violence begets violence. What is needed is holding to account all parties guilty of crimes against humanity. Selectivism is never acceptable.
The murder of the Jordanian pilot captured by Isis was starkly shocking. But sadly not, as Ian Black suggests (4 February), exceptionally cruel. What Isis has done is no more cruel, no more ugly and no more acceptable than the incineration of thousands in Hiroshima, the civilian deaths caused by the firebombing of Dresden, the slaughter that followed the invasion of Iraq and the elimination of small enemies and their friends by drone.
David Cameron and others are keen to support our arms trade. But this is what modern weapons do. They blast bodies apart, incinerate, pulverise, maim, blind, destroy. They steal life and know no mercy. And they do it ever more efficiently, ever more expensively. And they do it obscenely profitably. The only real difference is that the "civilised" world tries to keep its barbarities safely out of view. Perhaps, Isis has given us an opportunity to reflect on whether our moral high ground is awash with blood and also how our hi-tech cruelties are seen from a different perspective.
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