Monday, 4 January 2016
English shame and joy in black and white
Oh dear. It was bad enough when papers persisted in calling Mohamed Emwazi "Jihadi John". The nickname, bestowed before we knew his real identity, gave an air of Hollywood hero to a calculating murderer.
As hostage after hostage met their fate in the desert, we disseminated Isis propaganda in the form of their orange-robed humiliation as they knelt before man-in-black Emwazi and his machete. It took a long time to grasp that this was not the way to portray those men murdered simply because they were from the West.
But the "Jihadi John" habit was too hard for most to break, even after his real name was released. It was a convenient shorthand, instantly recognisable. But that didn't make it right.
Now, six weeks after the death of Emwazi, another Briton in a black balaclava has appeared in another Isis snuff video. And what do we do? Proclaim him the "new Jihadi John". Shame on you Daily Telegraph. You should know better. Don't you realise that this is propaganda. You are doing the terrorists' job for them.
This new murderer, brandishing a gun rather than a knife, also stares out at us from the Guardian, without the nickname, while the Mirror and Sun focus on a little boy in combat fatigues, also apparently English, who appears at the end of the film. The Mirror pixellates the face, the Sun stays true to form and decides not to protect the identity of a minor.
I wouldn't argue too strongly against that on principle. But it's a shame that those four papers chose to make these people their main image.
The Independent papers, Mail and Express meanwhile go in the opposite direction and keep the killings off their front pages altogether. That seems perverse.
So hats off to the Times, which has the right splash and the best picture subject - double centenarian Ben Stokes in South Africa.
It's not only more uplifting to celebrate the Englishman in whites over the Englishman in black. It is also more informative. After all, we can see his face.