Jihadis Invade London

We are no wiser as to who indoctrinated ‘Jihadi John.’

Jane Miller

The home in London where Mohammed Emwazi, the knife wielding ‘Jihadi John,’ lived. (Photo by Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images)

That mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure in a bal­a­cla­va, wield­ing a ser­at­ed black knife to cut off the heads of jour­nal­ists and aid work­ers, always had a rec­og­niz­able Lon­don accent, which is why he was nick­named Jiha­di John.” Now that he’s been iden­ti­fied as Mohammed Emwazi and we’ve learned some­thing about his life, we are no less baf­fled. Described as qui­et, rea­son­ably hard-work­ing and aspi­ra­tional” by his head­teacher, he was remem­bered by anoth­er teacher as in need of anger man­age­ment train­ing (which he lat­er received). I vis­it­ed stu­dent-teach­ers in that school reg­u­lar­ly and may have glimpsed Emwazi skulk­ing in the back row of a class­room there. Appar­ent­ly, he was bul­lied and short of friends. He is remem­bered for get­ting blind drunk and abu­sive on a flight from Ams­ter­dam to Tan­za­nia, and as cold” and a lon­er” by fel­low jihadists. He com­plained that in 2009 in Ams­ter­dam, MI5 accused him of being a rad­i­cal Islamist and threat­ened him. Oth­er scraps of infor­ma­tion have him as the best employ­ee we ever had,” accord­ing to a Kuwaiti employ­er; as being charged and acquit­ted of pet­ty crime in his teens and painful­ly shy”; as some­one once ambi­tious to be a foot­baller who earned a degree in com­put­er pro­gram­ming; and as a child in Kuwait like­ly to have suf­fered because his fam­i­ly was Bedoon, a state­less eth­nic group denied full Kuwaiti citizenship.

It’s been nearly impossible for journalists to report from ISIS territory, which, Cockburn suggests, has 'been convenient for the U.S. and other Western governments because it enabled them to play down the extent to which the "war on terror" had failed so catastrophically in the years since 9/11.'

We are no wiser and probably never will be. Yet we continue to worry about just who indoctrinated Jihadi John and those three London schoolgirls who slipped across the Turkish border into Syria in February, presumably to northern and western Iraq and eastern and northern Syria. The government responds with schemes to spy on students in universities and to lecture the young, as Home Secretary Theresa May has done, about “fundamental British values,” while refusing to accept that British foreign policy, racism or revenge have anything to do with it. Through its so-called Prevent Strategy, the government has, it seems, trained 130,000 volunteers since 2003 to identify and prevent extremism. Dal Babu, until 2013 a chief superintendent of police, describes its tactics as “toxic.” He notes that most of the Prevent recruits are white and regarded as intimidating by those who are confronted by them.

I’ve been reading the journalist Patrick Cockburn’s The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, and he doesn’t pull his punches. It’s been nearly impossible for journalists to report from ISIS territory, which, Cockburn suggests, has “been convenient for the U.S. and other Western governments because it enabled them to play down the extent to which the ‘war on terror’ had failed so catastrophically in the years since 9/11.”

It happens that I’ve been listening to yet another voice on the subject, Aimen Dean (not his real name), who has been interviewed by the BBC. He grew up in Saudi Arabia, fought with the mujahideen in the Bosnian War when he was 16 and ended up with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. There, he recruited al Qaeda volunteers and taught them to read and write and learn something about Islam, of which, he says, they knew little. But the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, which killed huge numbers of Africans unconnected to the embassies, prompted a change of heart. Since then and until fairly recently, he was a double agent, working for MI5 while teaching Islam to students in Mosque schools–some of whom may have chosen to fight for al Qaeda or ISIS. Asked whether he sleeps easily, he assured his BBC interviewer that he does and that he saw it as his duty as a Muslim to save the honour of Islam as it suffers its current “identity crisis” and to “extend Islam’s existence in the West.” A position that is, to my mind, morally superior to one that simply tells Muslims that they’re traitors to Western values.

I believed him and was moved to think of the courage and intelligence such a person must possess to try, as he has, to get at least something right in this impossible conflict.

Jane Miller lives in Lon­don, and is the author, most recent­ly, of In My Own Time: Thoughts and After­thoughts (2016), a col­lec­tion of her In These Times columns and interviews.
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