It is hard to understand why the British print media, almost without exception, felt it was necessary yesterday to describe Ken Bigley's final moments, all over again. The ostensible reason - or news hook - was that press reporters were describing the footage that had been posted onto a website used by Islamic extremists. But since the same footage, two days before, had been submitted to Abu Dhabi Television, whose executives had described its contents without broadcasting them, these descriptions added nothing, except further "colour", to our understanding of what had befallen Mr Bigley in his last, terrible weeks of life.
If any normal person, after all, suspected or knew that an acquaintance of theirs was actively seeking to find this footage on the internet and look at it, they would surely be concerned for that person's mental health or criminal intent. Yet, there seems to be no questioning at all of the idea that it is perfectly fine and desirable to offer for consumption edited extracts from this vile recording in the form of prose and in the cause of ... what?
Certainly, it is not in the cause of allowing the Bigley family the time and space to mourn and grieve that they asked for on Saturday. Since Mr Bigley's kidnap, and before his death, the continuing interest of the British media must have seemed like a lifeline. Yet all those editorial splashes came to nothing. And now that it is no longer possible that they will save this man's life, they continue all the same.
The justification may be that intense public interest is creating a demand for as much information as possible. But how much do people need to know in order to understand that this man suffered, at the hands of his fellow humans, the most ghastly fate imaginable?
The dwelling on the details of the Bigley case is not humane, but sensational. Rather than giving a caring public the complete picture that it needs in order to comprehend (or is believed to need by journalists), it shows how the media has come to rely on sensation in order to promote emotional rather than intellectual responses in readers and viewers.
I see little indication that the suffering of Mr Bigley has inspired a new, more sober examination of the situation in Iraq. The focus on what the war has done to a British civilian going about his business there may provide a way of helping people to identify personally with the widespread suffering being undergone by thousands upon thousands of people.
But the need to dwell on one individual fate in order to achieve new comprehension of the horror of war is perhaps an indication of how convenient it is to view Iraqis, soldiers, whomsoever finds themselves actually facing violence, as different enough for it not to be so awful for "them". That, at least, seems to be the message given out by Mr Blair, whose own belief in a hierarchy of human importance appears to be forever at the forefront of his mind.
There has been much talk of the "sophistication" of the hostage-takers in manipulating the British media. Making Mr Bigley wear an orange boiler suit, and cower in a cage, in a reference to the inmates of Guantanamo Bay, was hailed as some sort of indication of fiendish marketing genius. Rather it is a crude symbol of a popular belief in the region, sadly legitimate, and nothing to cause gasps of admiration. Perhaps it is the media's need to believe in its own sophistication that finds it conferring such gifts on these butchers.
Likewise, I suppose, some commentators might be tempted to point out simple, mawkish, proverbial, genius in the title under which the murder of Mr Bigley was put out on the internet. It was called "The slaughter of the British hostage who was not helped by Blair or by his people despite being given enough time". Reading like a whimsical caption to a satirical cartoon, or like the title of a conceptual work by Damien Hirst, the content suggests, of course, that the killing is the responsibility of Mr Blair and of Britain and not the responsibility of these savage men.
This message is likely to appeal to no one at all though - not even those who do blame Mr Blair but will bridle at also being blamed themselves by virtue of their nationality, not even the fundamentalists who haunt the dreams of Bush and Blair and who despise "weakness" above all. The sentence is merely childish and petulant. The sophistication of this organisation is a gross myth.
Yet, that crude viewpoint is mirrored, worryingly, by some intelligent people - especially on the left. Whatever bitterness one feels about Mr Blair's support for the United States in entering into this war, it is surely unproductive to suggest that Blair is the man responsible for the killing of Mr Bigley
Each new horror in this terrible war seems to make those ranged on either side of the theoretical debate about the legitimacy of the invasion entrench even further. Yet, this act of unspeakable brutality, along with so many others, is an indication only of how desperate things are right now. It does not give us the ability to change the past, only the future.
Even people on the left who were completely against war a year ago, must see that the idea of standing by and not intervening in a country as dangerous and unstable as Iraq is now is an act of vile inhumanity. How can anyone consider the idea of withdrawing troops from this anarchic country, and leaving the people of Iraq at the mercy of men like these?
The prospect of pulling out now, just as all the worst possible predictions about the fate of post-invasion Iraq are coming true, is obscene - just as obscene as it seemed, little more than a year ago, to be introducing Iraqis to "shock and awe".
Whatever Mr Blair may say, this was not what he envisaged when he decided that the strategy of unseating Saddam would usher in an era of peace and democracy in the Middle East.
Even most of those who were against the war did not envisage this. Before the war began, the anti-war press in Britain was pointing out how no firms but American firms were being offered contracts to rebuild Iraq, and how massive fortunes were going to be made by the corporations who got to divide up the spoils of this invasion. There was disgruntlement about how, despite, Blair's hagiographic support of Bush, even British companies were not getting a look in. But the truth now is that if Iraq is to be rebuilt by civilians, they will be more desperate adventurers than even the West probably has to offer.
It is doubtful, for sure, that anyone considering going out to work in Iraq will not have been swayed by the fate of Mr Bigley. The brutal murder of one man has indeed had far-reaching consequences, whether those who insist that we must never give in to terrorism wish to acknowledge that or not. Terrorists perpetrate their dreadful acts in order to promote fear among populations.
To that extent, these men have succeeded, and the British press has assisted them. Terrorists know now that British hostages get the most publicity. This is one detail which Mr Blair cannot be blamed for, even though he is a fine example of the sort of person who is swayed by the kind of emotionalism peddled by the press more than he is by facts.Reuse content