Did we cause Mohammed Elwazi to become Jihadi John or would it have happened anyway

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March 7, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith


Here’s some stories that might explain a current one.

1) Before I became a teacher, London was hit by four coordinated bombings on July 7th 2005 that turned out to have been carried out by Islamist Fundamentalists born and brought up in the UK. Two weeks later, on July 21st 2005 four more Islamist Fundamentalists tried the same thing, but failed. A policeman told me a story that day that he and many of his colleagues were assailed by members of the public shouting at them that it was their responsibility to stop these things happening and they needed to do their job better.

2) In the early stages of my career, I taught at a state school in London where a teaching assistant (TA) had just left. I was told by quite a few of the boys there that this teaching assistant had attempted whilst he was there to radicalize them and recruit them into Jihad. There is no way of proving this, but I remember the conversations vividly as the boys indicated that had he stayed he may have completed his job.

3) When I was a tutor at a different state school, I used to have a boy in my class who got into a lot of fights and arguments. He would come running to me to tell me about this person hitting him or that person insulting him. You would have thought that he spent his life being mercilessly bullied. Only, whenever I went to investigate his claims it would turn out that he was telling me about the retaliation that had taken place to his provocation. Eventually, I learned to immediately ask what he had done first, and in almost every occasion whatever he was complaining about was a response to his behaviour

4) In 1993, just after Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin had shaken hands on the White House law and there was genuine optimism for the peace process, and the USA’s only foreign involvement was trying to rescue Muslims in Bosnia, I started at Leeds University. Hizbut Tahrir speakers (the forerunners to Anjem Choudry’s Al-Muhajiroun, a now banned fundamentalist Islam group) would preach openly inside and outside the student union. They would talk of global injustice against Muslims and tell us that Khalifah (the global Muslim state) was coming. In 1993.

5) Back at the school I was working at, I had an all-boys sixth form economics class at this school and sometimes, towards the end of a long afternoon lesson, we would talk a bit about global politics, because they were very interested in it. The boys, many of whom were Muslim, would regale me with stories of injustice around the world that they had heard from people they were coming into contact with at their mosques or youth clubs. I asked them what they knew about Bosnia and Kosovo (where Western forces had gone to save Muslims from ethnic cleansing) and they looked at me blankly. It turned out that somehow this rather inconvenient story had been omitted from the narrative on global injustice. Next lesson they returned and told me that they had asked their youth workers about it and been told that the West waited far too long to rescue the Muslims and would have intervened quicker had it not been Muslims (with no question about why it wasn’t a Muslim country that intervened).

6)In Spring of that lower sixth year, some of those boys went to New York on an official school trip. The teachers taking them had felt the need to plan for them to be detained at immigration (one would take the rest of the group to the hotel, the other would bring a book whilst they waited). Sure enough, three hours after the rest of the group had gone, the boys were let go, having had their motives for the trip aggressively questioned by immigration officers and having been made to feel like potential terrorists just because ofheir names, clothes and skin colour.

Put those vignettes together and it helps me to understand the press conference given by Cage (click here for this) and the emails from Mohammed Emwazi (recently unmasked as the man known as ‘Jihadi John’) to the Daily Mail (Click here for this) in which both attempt to argue that it was the security services’ attentions that drove Emwazi to end up being the homicidal maniac that he is in the ISIS videos. Emwazi reports how being monitored by MI5 after they had reason to believe he was going to join terrorist groups made him feel suicidal. In a recorded conversation with Cage, he relays a conversation with an MI5 agent in which he is asked about 9/11, Jews, 7/7, and why he had gone with three friends to Tanzania (he says for safari, MI5 say to join Al-Shabaab, the East African terrorist organisation). Cage argued in the press conference that it was the attentions of the intelligence services that turned what Asim Qureshi (their leader) called “this beautiful young man I knew) over the edge.

Each numbered vignette above helps me understand this and try and come to an opinion over whether Cage’s claim was true.

Vignette 1 reminds me that the police and the security services have a job to do, and get criticised for it whether they do it right or wrong. Bear in mind that with many of our home grown terrorists, we simply cannot wait for them to actually commit a crime before we start acting against them, because with many of their crimes, once they commit it, many people could die.

Vignette 2 confirms in my mind that for many years in this country there may have been people attempting to radicalise our young men and women, and they have been working in many of our workplaces. For too long nothing was done about it (Abu Hamza used to preach Jihad in the street in Finsbury Park, watched by TV cameras), but actually doing something about it DOES infringe some civil liberties. Now, I am prepared to give up some civil liberties if it keeps me alive, but other may not feel that way.

Vignette 3 comes to my mind every time I hear Emwazi speaking in his beheading videos. He talks of the actions of Western military as if they have absolutely no reason to be doing anything, yet he is the figurehead of an organisation that is murdering anyone who doesn’t share their world view. Too often I hear of people justifying terrorism on the basis of something a security or military service has done, without any context as to why they were doing it.

Vignettes 4 and 5 reminds me just how much the narrative of victimhood used as justification for grievance relies on any inconvenient facts being either completely missed out or glossed over, or twisted. There ARE injustices happening around the world, and sometimes involving Muslim people, but when I think about what those boys were being told, I would imagine they arrived at adulthood with a very fixed idea of the world being against them.

Which brings me to vignette 6. Those boys were treated like terrorists. The questions they were asked and the way they were spoken to, because of their names and the colour of their skin, made them feel utterly alienated from the country they were just trying to visit as tourists. They meant no harm, and I know now that they live here in the UK with normal jobs leading normal Western lifestyles. But I do remember them saying how it made them feel, even if only for a few second. If they were going to be treated like terrorists then they might as well be terrorists.

What I am saying is this: We cannot just ignore that young men and women are growing up here and then wanting to kill us. We need to look at every reason why and what we can do about it. Given the same things were being said in 1993 it is not just about foreign policy, and it won’t just go away. I would like to think that maintaining our country as a peaceful, pluralist democracy where everyone can be included will help, but others will argue that this is what created the circumstances under which Jihad spread among our young people. There are simply no easy answers.


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