Why government assassinations are wrong

Earlier this week we had the revelation that British military forces had targeted two citizens of this country in Syria and killed them using a remotely controlled drone.

I’m aware of some concerns being expressed by the usual suspects – ie lefty guardian-reading knit your own sandals people who can be relied upon to object to such action. However, I’m also aware that such such action is also wildly popular in the country. Indeed, there are reports that the action is backed 2 to 1 by the general public.

At that point, the Prime Minister might feel that he can sit back and relax, job well done. He has removed a perceived threat cleanly and without any great risk to British military personnel and he is backed by the British people. In any case, the opposition in parliament is in disarray – Labour electing a new leader, the Liberal Democrats annihilated by their inability to be seen as liberals and the SNP famous more for playing musical chairs in parliament than anything of any substance.

However, it seems to me that whilst the views of the moderate UK majority are interesting they are certainly not the only views that need to be thought about. I’m not particularly thinking of those whose knees jerk like mine to oppose the military action either.

I’m more concerned with those who are our opponents.

I don’t believe that we can necessarily defeat religiously motivated terrorism by military might. I think we have to defeat it with ideas too. And by persuading people, constantly persuading people that the rule of law, expressed in a democracy is a better thing to live under than any other system of government. If we dare to think that the rule of law can become legitimately blurred on the edges of our jurisdiction (not sending people across the Syrian border but sending a drone is as blurred as it could get) then we start to find our own legitimacy more easily questioned by those who are opposed to our freedoms.

To put it bluntly, I think we are better than this. Or at least I did. I think we need to be a society which does not allow its government to assassinate its citizens without a fair trial. Yes, I know there is “intelligence” and I also know that intelligence can be wrong. Remember Weapons of Mass Destruction anyone?

If we become a society in which such behaviour is normal, how are we going to win any argument with those who currently live amongst us who have some sympathy for the ISIS cause, who are tempted to throw in their lot against the freedoms that the west possesses? If, in their minds, Britain can cross borders with weapons and wipe someone out arbitrarily, why shouldn’t they?

Why shouldn’t they? That’s a real question that not nearly enough people have been asking this week.

The actions of the Prime Minister in ordering this action brutalise our world and will make our opponents better able to recruit people who believe soft UK targets to be legitimate.

To whom shall we be compared? Shall we be like them or are we better than that? Is it true that Putin’s Russia, sent out state assassins to kill Alexander Litvinenko on the streets of London? If it is, are we any better by targeting Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin in Syria.

I believed we were better than this. I still think that should be our aspiration.

At Number 10

There was something a little bit surreal about the party I went to last night.

It was as though one was having a dream in which loads of great people were gathered in a beautiful garden. You started to recognise people from past struggles. Then all of a sudden someone stood on a small stage and gave a speech that would not have been at all out of place at a gay pride rally. But then you realise that the person rallying the troops for Equal Marriage is not one of the usual suspects, not a drag queen, not one of your regular gay activists but is actually the Prime Minister.

I can honestly say that I was absolutely thrilled to have been invited to the PM’s reception to celebrate the LGBT Community. It was the most beautiful hot evening and the reception was outside in the Rose Garden at the back of Number 10. That meant going up to the famous front door (which opens for you from within) and then through the house, past some nice paintings, down the famous staircase with the portraits that presumably leads up to the formal rooms and then out through the back. There was wine and posh nibbles and people milling around on the lawn.

The interesting thing was that at first one recognised just a few people. Then gradually you realised that you knew more people there than had first seemed apparent. For we were, without doubt the gay twitterati. Quite a lot of us had engaged with one another either personally or through campaigns that we had run online and it was a delight to meet people in person whom one had known or known about for years.

I don’t know who had drawn up the guest list but they had certainly done their homework with the church. There were lots of dog-collars in evidence and lots for those of us there in that capacity to talk about. However it wasn’t all church shop talk. I also met people behind the online Equal Marriage campaign that has been running in England, the folk behind the out4marriage videos (who really seem know what they are up to), someone who does Schools Out and LGBT History month campaigning and of course some politicians and civil servants.

I was very pleased to meet Lynne Featherstone who will be piloting the marriage legislation. She is clearly determined that this will happen within the life of the parliament. Her determination over this shone through but she also had time to be generous in praising people from other parties who are passionate too.

And yes, I did get to meet the Prime Minister. It was a great chance to hear what he had to say. I was hugely impressed with his determination to see legislation enacted that will allow gay couples to wed. He was speaking more positively than I expected about religious same-sex weddings being made possible in England. He was also speaking very positively about his own experience of church and spoke very warmly about his vicar, Fr Gillean Craig. With some pride I was able to say that Fr Gillean had been my vicar when I lived in the East End.

I took the chance to challenge David Cameron on the often repeated notion that we must allow churches to opt out denomination by denomination. My position is that this isn’t equality and it is equality we are after. It was good to get the chance to say to the PM that what was needed was legislation on the same basis as straight wedding law allowing all religious celebrants to marry anyone legally entitled to do so or not and leave the question of whether they marry certain categories of couples up to the discipline of the faith groups involved.

I felt listened to and was 100% convinced that the political climate and culture in this country in relation to sexuality has changed utterly from what it was not so very long ago.

Most interesting was hearing the Prime Minister say that he had something to say to the churches. He said that the Conservative Party had got it wrong on LGBT issues for many years and was now changing and getting it right. Furthermore there were now people who wanted to vote Tory who are LGBT folk and their friends. Previously they simply found themselves unable to vote Tory. Very gently, he said, very gently, he has something  to say to the churches – if you want people to engage with the message you have and come back to the church, you can make that happen by learning a lesson from the Tory party on changing attitudes to gay people.

Then it was more socialising, more networking and trying to comprehend how far we have come and how much has changed.

And the real social contact I was proudest of making? That would have to be the chance to make friends with Larry on the way out.