When murder is the expected outcome
Saturday 4 October 2014 The murders of Alice Gross and Alan Henning this week epitomised the cruel triumph of experience over hope. We knew in our bones that these outcomes were inevitable, yet we hoped against hope, along with the Gross family and Henning's wife. We knew their pleadings were probably pointless, but we recognised the desperation and held our thumbs for them.
The discovery of Alice's body earlier this week was reported almost as a side issue amid the recriminations about the police search, the political capitalising on the missing Latvian. Headlines such as "It's now a murder hunt" reinforced the impression that this was all about the police and their supposed failings rather than about a teenager who had been walking along a towpath on a late summer's day and never made it home.
The news of Henning's murder last night was numbing. A man who had gone into a danger zone to try to help people is snatched within half an hour of his arrival, held prisoner for months and then paraded and murdered in a propaganda ritual. If it were a film script we'd reject it as preposterous. Especially as the killer is a fellow countryman who has also gone to the danger zone to help a completely different set of people.
The succession of Isis killings and triumphant snuff videos has to a large extent been treated by the Press as the stuff of Hollywood. When James Foley was murdered we were aghast to learn that the killer was a Brit. Then we had all that nonsense about the Beatles - I wonder how Sun journalists feel now when they look back at that "Brutals" spread with its drum logo typography. From there we moved on to the language of Schwarzenegger and the Terminator and endless pictures of "Jihadi John" all in black, machete in his left hand, towering over the orange-robed victim.
Today, at last, sobriety is beginning to take over. Maybe because the news broke at an inconvenient time on a Friday night, maybe because the message is getting through that this isn't fiction, this is real life and the reason we are involved in the first stages of what could be another war. (It seems absurd to describe the despatch of six warplanes to bomb specific targets as going to war.)
Whatever the reason, this morning's front pages have a solemnity and dignity about them that has been lacking in the past. Only the Telegraph uses the propaganda shot as its main image. Everyone else shows us Alan Henning as the man he was, as his family and the world should remember him.
Saturday front pages are always heavy with puffs. Should they have been curtailed? Was there time? These are early editions, the pages may have changed again. A particularly tricky question for the Times, given that Anthony Loyd's account of his brief kidnapping in Syria is a big element of today's paper. Should the paper treat it as a moment of serendipity? Or should it retreat, for it surely feels wrong to pump up the anguish of a pair of men who were held for a few hours when you are splashing on the murder of a man held hostage for nearly a year?
And what about the Express? The freebies are still on offer above the masthead and the splash is wrapped round another weather story. If there was time to switch its intended lead to Henning, there must surely have been time to bung in his photograph hugging that child, which has been readily available for weeks.
Or does the fact that Henning was the fourth man, and the second Briton, to be murdered in this way mean that it is becoming routine, just another news story? A big one, but not so big as to command the entire front page. That moment hasn't arrived yet, but there's a good chance that it will before too long.
At the end of last night's video another potential victim was put on display. He wasn't British, so we may not remember his name. We should.
It is Peter - or Abdul-Rahman - Kassig. He is a 26-year-old American medical aid worker who has, his family says, converted to Islam since he was kidnapped last year.
Recommended reading Catrin Nye of the BBC on Henning
He's everything to us. He's our life. He's a fantastic man and father. Nobody can understand how we are feeling. My daughter keeps asking about him every day. She hasn't seen her father for a year and a half. She has gone through so much. She sees me crying all the time.
Rather than cower from danger, he flew right into it, intent on telling the stories he believed would shape history...He really felt that this was who he was; he said he had to do this. He felt compelled to put a human face on war stories.
not his killers
I wish I had more time, I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed
Are we fit to stand beside Jim Foley?
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