I haven't watched the video of James Foley's murder. I do not want to watch it. But Scotland Yard is wrong to ban the "viewing, downloading or disseminating" of the video under terrorism laws. We should not ban British citizens from viewing, reading, or listening to anything, no matter how unsavoury. We're better than that.
There are a number of arguments in favour of banning the video. Firstly, experts agree that the video has been created and shared in part as a mobilising tool, to recruit people to the Islamic State (IS) who quite fancy joining a group in which they can harm and kill with little fear of punishment. There is also an argument that the video is a publicity generator, and allowing people to watch it unpunished would only drive up viewing figures, rewarding IS with the publicity it craves, and encouraging them to do it again.
However, these arguments rest on the assumption that if you make it a criminal offence to watch, download or share a video, people will not watch it, download it, or share it. Surely, we have enough experience of the internet by now to know that this is simply not the case? Anyone who was inclined to seek out that particular video, for whatever reason, is unlikely to be dissuaded by a press release from Scotland Yard. And if we are hoping to discourage our compatriots from joining IS, we should be tackling the problem long before they watch the video that finally encourages them to book their plane tickets.
In reality, banning the video simply makes it more powerful.
Some people will watch this video and, unfortunately, give IS exactly what they want, but we won't prevent this by banning it. Far more people will watch the video and see it for what it truly is.
This video shines a light on the flawed reasoning behind murders committed 'against the West' and 'in the name of religion'. It shows the poorly justified murder of an innocent man. The wider context of religious fundamentalism, Western intervention in the Middle East and the recent advance of the Islamic State does not make Foley a martyr, nor does it make his murderer a soldier. It is a video of a murder.
We can only maintain a proportional view of this horrible incident by keeping it out in the open. We can only defeat it by engaging with it. Any attempt at censorship by the British establishment bestows upon IS in general, and this horrific act of murder in particular, a mystical element and power that is thoroughly undeserved.
Nothing is easier to solve by pushing it into the shadows, no unsavoury thought is made more dangerous by shining a light on it and increasing our knowledge of it. Knowledge and understanding are the most powerful tools we have, and banning this video is the most dangerous and empowering thing we can do with it.
James Foley understood the significance of knowledge. Speaking to the Boston Globe in 2011, after being released from capture in Libya, he said, "I believe that frontline journalism is important. Without these photos and videos and first hand experience, we can't really tell the world how bad it might be". In the aftermath of his murder, the Metropolitan Police should listen to his words.
[You Know How James Foley Died. This Is How He Lived. - Huffington Post 22.8.14]