A few days ago, gunmen representing IS murdered more than 30 tourists on a beach in Sousse, Tunisia. Yesterday, 1 July, the first bodies were returned in a C17 strategic airlifter of the Royal Airforce to a major British airbase. They were received with solemn ceremony, practised hundreds of times as a result of the war in Afghanistan, and more will follow in the coming days.
I wonder if it isn’t a mistake to ‘militarise’ the repatriation of IS murder victims in this way. The images of coffins being carried from a military transport, by uniformed men, travel the global media and are open to distortion by IS as justification or evidence of the victims being legitimate state, military, targets. As it stands, all that distinguishes these repatriations from those of fallen servicemen and women from Afghanistan is the lack of a flag on the coffin. These poor people were civilian victims of a senseless, murderous, act not combatants.
While I’m all for showing collective respect by managing the return of bodies, my opinion is that this would be better served by doing it in a secular way using unmarked civilian aircraft and dress. Unless, of course, the British Government is deliberately using this to stoke public opinion to support an escalation of military action against IS (with inevitable innocent civilian deaths wherever that may be). However hurt and angry they must feel right now, is that what the families of the dead would really want?