Even when militants rage, we should uphold our own values

Wednesday 18 December 2013 05:03

The British-born and educated Omar Sheikh has been found guilty of the murder of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and then killed by having his throat slit by a razor, after uttering the words: "My father is a Jew, my mother is a Jew, and I am a Jew."

Mr Pearl, of course, was much more than that. He was a fearless and fair journalist who had a genuine curiosity about the Muslim world – a desire to understand it and to explain it to his readers. His murder was more than the destruction of a single human being; it was an assault on the values of objectivity and fairness that underpin the best of Western journalism. It was also committed, in Mr Sheikh's own words, in pursuit of "a decisive war between Islam and infidels".

What captures the interest of a British reader is that Mr Sheikh was born and educated in this country. He attended an excellent private school and went on to the London School of Economics. He knows, therefore, at first hand the best of what the West has to offer; nonetheless, at the age of 21 he was charged in India with kidnapping three British and one American tourist in Kashmir. He was freed from prison there in an exchange of passengers from a hijacked Air India plane and has now been sentenced to death in Pakistan for his role in Mr Pearl's kidnapping and death.

Although questions can be raised about the judicial procedures in his trial in a special terrorist court in Islamabad that held its proceedings in camera, no one doubts the essentials of Mr Sheikh's curriculum vitae. He was recruited in Bosnia by Muslim extremists and sent to Afghanistan to be trained by al-Qa'ida, and was soon planning and taking part in terrorist actions against Western targets.

The Foreign Office has objected to his death sentence. Some might think such concern misplaced in the case of Mr Sheikh, but the Foreign Office is right. It is the respect for every individual life that has led to the abolition of capital punishment in Britain. In the end, it is only an adherence to the best of our own values that will undermine Muslim support for those extremists who have declared war on us in the name of Islam.

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