Greeting Kidnappings with a Stiff Upper Lip

Mark Steyn‘s latest column, on the Kenneth Bigley beheading, was pulled by his editors at the Telegraph for being too insensitive. He has published it, instead, on his website. He argues that the Blair government’s maudlin treatment of the Bigley case does not befit a great nation and only encourages more kidnappings. He notes, too, that Bigley was only nominally a British subject, anyway.

While Ken Bigley passed much of his life as a happy expat, his brother Paul appears to have gone a stage further and all but seceded. Night and day, he was on TV explaining to the world how the Bigley family’s Middle East policy is wholly different from Her Majesty’s Government — a Unilateral Declaration of Independence accepted de facto by Mr Blair’s ministry when it dispatched Jack Straw to Merseyside to present formally his condolences to the Bigleys, surely the most extraordinary flying visit ever undertaken by a British Foreign Secretary. For their pains, the government was informed by Paul Bigley that the Prime Minister had “blood on his handsâ€. This seems an especially stupid and contemptible formulation when anyone with an Internet connection can see Ken Bigley’s blood and the hand it’s literally on holding up his head.

It reminded me of Robert Novak of The Chicago Sun-Times back in May, quoting “one senior official of a coalition partner†calling for the firing of Donald Rumsfeld on the grounds that “there must be a neck cut, and there is only one neck of choice.†At pretty much that exact moment in Iraq, Nick Berg’s captors were cutting his head off – or, rather, feverishly hacking it off while raving “God is great!†The difference between the participants in this war is that on one side robust formulations about “blood on his hands†and “calls for the Defence Secretary’s head†are clichéd metaphors, and on the other they mean it.

Steyn also offers some rather cold advice:

If the FCO wants to issue advice in this area, that’s the way to go: If you’re kidnapped, accept you’re unlikely to survive, say “I’ll show you how an Englishman diesâ€, and wreck the video. If they want you to confess you’re a spy, make a little mischief: there are jihadi from Britain, Italy, France, Canada and other western nations all over Iraq — so say yes, you’re an MI6 agent, and so are those Muslims from Tipton and Luton who recently joined the al-Qaeda cells in Samarra and Ramadi. As Churchill recommended in a less timorous Britain: You can always take one with you. If Mr Blair and other government officials were to make that plain, it would be, to use Mr Bigley’s word, “enoughâ€. A war cannot be subordinate to the fate of any individual caught up in it.

And, if you don̢۪t want to wind up in that situation, you need to pack heat and be prepared to resist at the point of abduction. I didn̢۪t give much thought to decapitation when I was mooching round the Sunni Triangle last year, but my one rule was that I was determined not to get into a car with any of the locals and I was willing to shoot anyone who tried to force me. If you̢۪re not, you shouldn̢۪t be there.

It’s a rather heartless position but almost certainly correct. Given that the risk of kidnapping and beheading now seems a growing one, being taken alive is a grimmer prospect than going down fighting while taking a couple of the bastards with you.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    And isn’t that rather the point of the whole deal?
    This IS a war… and not a law enforcement matter, as Mr. Kerry would like to deal with it.

  2. Attila Girl says:

    I’ve always told my niece that she should never get into a strange man’s car. Never, never.

    Once you’re in the car, they have you.

  3. McGehee says:

    I keep thinking about how the lions take down a zebra and all of a sudden the zebra stops trying to survive. Predators (of all varieties) prefer the soft target — how long would zebras stay on the menu if, once running away is no longer an option, they started kicking lions in the throat?

    There’s a reason the food chain works the way it does, and terrorists are merely predators in human form.

  4. paladin says:

    I’ve often wondered why more of these civilians aren’t packing heat. Are civilians permitted firearms in Iraq? It just seems crazy not to have the means to defend yourself in such a lawless place.

  5. Attila Girl says:

    If they aren’t allowed, I’m sure it doesn’t matter, practically speaking. But I doubt that the embryonic government has de-clawed the average citizen: that would simply be too crazy. (It’s crazy enough in some American cities, where it’s actually occurred.)

  6. Jim Henley says:

    I didn’t give much thought to decapitation when I was mooching round the Sunni Triangle last year, but my one rule was that I was determined not to get into a car with any of the locals and I was willing to shoot anyone who tried to force me. If you’re not, you shouldn’t be there.

    This was when Steyn was having a time that was “just jolly,” right?

  7. joe shropshire says:

    I understand that Iraqi law permits one AK-47 per adult male per household. From the descriptions of Kenneth Bigley I’ve read I doubt that would have helped much: he sounded like the type who wouldn’t have known which end of an AK the bullets come out of. May God rest his soul.