I suppose by now we’ve all read as much as we choose to read about the beheading of James Foley. Horrible of course and as far as one can tell Mr Foley accepted his appalling fate with a dignity his murderers perhaps did not perceive.
As for the wider message, I’m not sure there is one apart from a certain resigned acceptance that this is something the world has to deal with without itself falling in love with extreme violence.
There is however a strong temptation to condemn Islam as a whole and a corresponding temptation to regret that it ever took root in this country. As an atheist, these are temptations I am less and less inclined to resist.
When I see the faces of those young men sucked in by the insane rhetoric of older men, I’m reminded of the theory of the youth bulge. Certainly the pattern fits. If sound, then we may presume that Muslim violence is something which will decline due to demographic change. An excess of stupidly frustrated testosterone will have drained away. Maybe time will tell.
As for the present, I get no sense of fear in the wider population. No sense that terrorism actually manages to terrorise anyone but those in the direct firing line. Instead I get a sense that traditional Islam is failing to deal with an increasingly materialistic and secular world where women are not chattels and ancient books are merely ancient books. Failing because it has no orthodox response to these trends.
This inevitable failure plus the crazy young men and the evil-minded old men have come together in a particularly ghastly way. So it will continue, but not forever.
In which case, Mr Foley did not die in vain. His death was even heroic because it represents progress. Any failure of naked barbarism is progress. The world is changing and his death reminds us that his murderers belong to the past. A savage past but not frightening – simply because it is the past.
It may well point to a future where, within a couple of generations, the Islamic extremes we see today are gone. The old men have passed away; the crazy young men are now old - those who contrived to survive their own stupidity at least.
If so, there is not much to be gained by accommodation or appeasement. It won’t work and may even delay the slowly grinding wheels of social change.