Leaders comment: The price of liberty

The crude and callous beheading of journalist James Foley is but a part of the bloodbath in Syria and Iraq. Picture: AP
The crude and callous beheading of journalist James Foley is but a part of the bloodbath in Syria and Iraq. Picture: AP
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TO BE able to live in peace and free from oppression, injury or death at the hands of another human being is something most people take for granted.

But to view current sinister events is to realise it is a precious gift to have such liberty and a gift which now seems to be under increasing threat.

Of course, the country has managed to defeat and rise above the likes of the IRA and their terror outrages. But what faces the nation now seems to be on an altogether different scale, threatening destruction and loss of life in ways which are well beyond the imaginable horrors of bombs and bullets.

The carnage which is being perpetrated in Iraq and Syria is unimaginable. The crude and callous beheading of journalist James Foley is but a part of the bloodbath there. Men, women, and children, no more than herders and farmers in many cases, are being rounded up and put brut­ally to death for no more crime than that they do not subscribe to the same warped version of Islam as their killers.

And many of the killers are British. Boys, brought up in the true compassionate beliefs of Islam, have become radicalised and converted to something not remotely worthy of being att­ached to the Muslim faith. They have become bloodthirsty killers.

There are estimated to be as many as 2,000 who have gone to join the Islamic State jihadists. What if some of them return bent on bringing back their evil to this land? And what if there are more like them nurturing their warped beliefs here intent on seeing blood, any blood, on British streets?

The likelihood is that there are. They don’t just present risks to non-Muslims, but to Muslims as well, whose communities face the fear not just of the fanatic who considers them unworthy, but also the fear of the ignorant mob.

To prevent any such calamities, the authorities need to be able to show that they have the means to prevent the spread of this poison and to contain it. Control Orders which remove individuals suspec­ted of planning or wanting to wreak havoc and place them in distant places out of contact with conspirators and under curfew look like they were an effective way of doing it. These orders, introduced by Tony Blair’s government but heavily criticised as an affront to liberty, were removed and replaced with less restrictive terrorism prevention and investigation measures which appear to have proved ineffective. If the independent reviewer of UK counter-terrorism legislation, suggests changes to Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures to make them more effective, the government really should listen.

To enable governments to easily deprive some individuals of their freedom is not a step to be taken easily. But an even greater danger by far is to fail to protect innocent people from harm. That difficult balance may have to be carefully altered in the face of the new threats.

Good news – it’s bucketing down

Raising money for charity in the modern, jaded world normally involves doing something a bit daring – hang-gliding, abseiling, bungee-jumping – or gruelling: climbing a mountain range, swimming a loch or long-distance hiking. The person doing it gets a double thrill – one of personal achievement and one of raising money to help others.

The ice bucket challenge doesn’t seem to quite fit this model. Not only does the person nominated to do it have the
totally non-enjoyable experience of having a bucket of icy water tipped over their head, entailing a lot of cleaning up and drying out afterwards, they also have to fork out money.

The catch is that if you do the challenge, you only have to pay £10. Duck it, and you are £100 lighter. Em, isn’t this a sort of blackmail?

Of course it is. But it’s a fun blackmail. You get to have someone shoot a video of you looking all prim and proper and then, with a tip of a bucket, drookit and stupit. All your friends will laugh, point and jeer at your expense, grab the video and post it on the internet before you have even got your undies changed. (They’ll video that too, given the chance.)

What could be a bigger laugh than that? Let’s face it, folks, unless you are appearing at the Fringe, your chances of making all your mates laugh till their 
bellies wobble are pretty much zip. And a bit of water on the head? Nothing much more than you are already used to when you try to do some winter shopping.

So loosen up, people, get the bucket and towels at the ready, the ice bucket challenge is surely headed your way. It is the internet phenomenon that we should all welcome.