Newspaper article International New York Times

War Abroad with Serious Risk at Home

Newspaper article International New York Times

War Abroad with Serious Risk at Home

Article excerpt

As they weigh joining President Obama's air war against Islamic militants, the British authorities must also contemplate the effect on homegrown terrorists.

The images have become as familiar as they are repellent: a victim, swathed in orange, kneeling, forced to recite a propagandist's script; a black-clad, masked executioner rearing over him, knife in hand, declaiming his own lines from a litany of anti- Western grievances before seeming to perform ritualized murder in front of a video camera in the desert.

The intended symbolism is unmistakable in these excerpts from the uneven war against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State: The victims, emblems as much as they are citizens of Western lands, must kneel before a newer power. The grisly act of decapitation represents the inexorable nature of that power.

With the executions first of the Americans James Foley, reported on Aug. 19, and Steven J. Sotloff, on Sept. 2, then of the Briton David Cawthorne Haines on Sept. 13, the militants acted out a parable of their own dominance.

In Britain, there was another dark strand to this deadly narrative. In all three beheadings, the hooded figure speaks with what seems to be a British accent. A British militant, in other words, is depicted as ending the life of a British aid worker equally far from the land that molded both the jihadist dream of one and the philanthropic vision of the other.

In the wings, a fourth victim, Alan Henning, a 47-year-old former cabdriver from northwest England, kidnapped after he delivered medical supplies to northern Syria in December, awaits the next act in this lurid drama. (On Thursday, a new and macabre scene did unfold, showing another British hostage offering a scripted explanation of the militants' views.)

The unavoidable message for the British authorities as they weigh President Obama's quest for allies in his air war against the militants is that they must contemplate not simply one more far- flung campaign as junior partners to America, but also its impact on an enemy within -- the newest heirs to the homegrown terrorists who attacked London's transit system on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people. …

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