The Corner

A Briton Dies for a Cause: Fighting the Islamic State

Ryan Lock came from Chichester, a typically British town with a cathedral and a well-known theatre. Aged 20, he left his job as a chef and told his family he was going on vacation to Turkey. Not the case. Secretly he was off to join the Kurdish peshmerga fighting Islamic State (IS) in what used to be western Iraq and anticipating replacing it with Kurdistan, a nation-state of their own. He had no military experience. Photographs show a face that is the picture of innocence. All he could offer the Kurds was his commitment.

Hostility to the idea of Kurdistan has made Turkey the ally of IS. Turkish aircraft killed twelve members of Lock’s unit, one of them a German, another an American. When eventually Lock engaged with Islamist fighters, he found himself surrounded. He saved himself from certain torture and a hideous death by turning his gun on himself. He is the third Brit to have lost his life as a volunteer in this International Brigade of a sort.

A cause is born when individuals feel that government policy is so wrong that they must do something about it. Ryan Lock is this generation’s successor of previous cause-mongers who have entered the history books, for instance Wordsworth who supported the French Revolution, Lord Byron dying for Greek independence, or Julian Bell killed in the Spanish Civil War.

Compare and contrast the attitude towards nationalism of Ryan Lock and Alexandre Bissonnette. The latter is the 27-year-old student of anthropology and political theory who has just shot dead five Muslims in a mosque in Quebec, and wounded a number of others. He gave himself up to the police. At his trial, his defense is surely likely to be that he aimed to save the nation from the government’s wrongful Muslim policy.

The moral is simple: Have nothing to do with causes.