Friday, 27 February 2015

JIhadi John and breaking the human bond

It seems that Westerners have flocked to Syria to fight with ISIS – maybe as many as 3500. But the saddest spectacle of all, certainly for anyone in Britain, was the three girls, a sixteen-year old and two of fifteen, who travelled out there last week. Bright, well-adjusted, educated girls, who have left loving and now distraught families behind them.

Voluntarily travelling towards a miserable –
and probably short – 
life with ISIS
And now the real identify of Jihadi John has been revealed. He’s Mohammed Emwazi from West London, educated, with a promising future, now turned into someone who likes to behead innocents with a knife. In fact, his victims aren’t merely innocent: in many cases, they fell into ISIS hands because they had travelled to Syria to bring aid and comfort to the victims of the conflict there. They put their comfort and their ease at risk; he made sure they paid with their lives.

The organisation Cage speaks out for radicalised Islamic extremists from Britain. It spoke out for Emwazi, claiming it was his bad treatment at the hands of the authorities that made him what he has become.

Now I can understand that many have been mishandled by the security services, and might well be deeply bitter as a result. But to claim that this somehow justifies taking someone who has done him no harm, cutting his throating and then keeping on cutting till his head comes off, strikes me as pushing the argument just a tad too far. Like the three girls, something in him, and something in ISIS must have seemed attractive enough to make the trip and accept the harsh conditions that awaited them out there.

What is it they find attractive?

It certainly isn’t Islam. There are 44 million Muslims in Europe. 3000 have chosen to fight for ISIS. Only a tiny proportion sees anything in their faith to justify that cause.

Nor is it personal hopes of a better life. Women under ISIS, even the supporters, suffer a life of crushing oppression. Even the (male) fighters are locked into the fate they chose: there’s no way back from Syria for them. Indeed, the most likely outcome they face is death though some may in time be captured and face life imprisonment – genuine life imprisonment, without parole – as the reward for their sacrifices.

So what’s the draw?

It seems to me that it’s only the sense that cruelty represents some kind of strength. The man, or the movement, that is prepared to behead an adversary has shown a commitment to a cause and a determination to pursue it which suggests courage and strength of resolution.

In people who stop far short of these acts of brutality, we admire those qualities: Churchill standing firm in the face of Hitler, though he knew it would require huge sacrifice of life, even among his own people let alone among the enemy; George Washington freezing in Valley Forge with his men dying around him, in order to resist British rule; Chinese nationalists and communists killing and dying in a savage war against Japanese occupation.

It doesn’t take much to extend such admiration further, and find merit in brutality, by thinking only of the resolution it expresses.

Sadly, that isn’t a simple extension. It isn’t just more of the same. Take your admiration of strength that far and you step over a line into savagery. And forfeit the right to be indulged and accepted back.

For the girls, it may not be too late. For Emwazi, there is no hope of return. The families of his victims have called for him to be arrested alive and face trial then imprisonment. It’s not going to happen. He doubtless seeks a martyr’s death; I suspect he’ll find a sordid one – the reality of death in war being that it is far more likely to be sordid than heroic.

And my view of that? The same, whatever Cage may believe, as Hannah Arendt’s, about another man who broke the human bond and ultimately died for it. She believed his judges should have told SS bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann:

…just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations… we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.

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