Friday, October 19, 2012

Doctor one day, jihadist the next

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

The most ossified reactionary on the Cretaceous fringes of the Tory backbench couldn’t have imagined the British National Health Service had come to this. In what is certainly an inventive interpretation of the Hippocratic oath, it appears a public sector doctor in London has recently taken some time off – to kill the enemies of Allah in Syria.

Readers may remember the case of the fantastically-named British journalist, John Cantlie, who was abducted along with a Dutch colleague, Jeroen Oerlemans, by British and other foreign Islamists in northern Syria in July, and who described upon his FSA-assisted escape how he ran “for his life, barefoot and handcuffed, while British jihadists – young men with South London accents – shot to kill”.

It now transpires that one of his captors may be Shajul Islam, a 26-year-old NHS doctor who was arrested upon arrival at Heathrow last week and charged Tuesday with Cantlie’s kidnapping under the Terrorism Act 2000. According to the Guardian, Cantlie recalled that one kidnapper claimed to be an NHS doctor, and indeed used NHS-labelled saline drips. “I asked for his help as we were both from London,” Cantlie later told the Daily Mail, “but he refused to even send a text to my girlfriend to say we were alive”.

What exactly are we to make of this whole episode? It would be easy to throw our hands in the air, say Syria is obviously too complicated and too dangerous and the sensible policy is to stay the hell away. This increasingly seems to be the thinking in Washington nowadays, and has of course been the line of Guardianistas and related “anti-war” types from the beginning. But such a half-baked pseudo-analysis ignores the crucial positive in the story: Cantlie and Oerlemans were freed not by accident but by a deliberate and courageous effort on the part of the FSA, a brigade of which also reportedly killed the leader of an al-Qaeda-linked group near the Turkish border last month. There are factions on the ground, in other words, that are fighting both the regime’s death squads and the benighted soldiers of the Caliphate. This is not something to which the “international community” ought to be indifferent.

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