So we all now know that Jihadi John, the infamous master of masked ceremonies, is Mohammed Emwazi - a Kuwaiti-born West Londoner with ‘…anger-management issues.’
The revealing of his identity precipitated an intense debate around how he should be viewed: as a villain or a victim? For some, it must be said, he is but a hero: the ultimate expression of Muslim manhood; a diamond among false stones. Side-stepping that constituency, a more interesting tension lies between those who see him as the distilled manifestation of Islamo-fascism, and others who insist he is a victim, a reluctant fundamentalist: a one-time ‘beautiful young man', turned by the heavy hand of fate (i.e. MI5).
Stepping back from the heat surrounding present debates, one notes the historic precedent for different groups viewing the same figure, through polar lenses. William Wallace, a leader during the wars of Scottish Independence, is someone who can still divide opinion. After his capture in 1305, the English tried and convicted him on charges of treason and, in an eerie echo that resonates through to the present with Alan Henning, ‘…for atrocities against civilians that spared neither age nor sex, monk or nun.’
Back to Emwazi, and the consensus that he is a brainwashed extremist - one whose innate violence was given a homecoming within the corpus of Islam, and thus for whom there can be no remorse, no mitigation. Fine. Now let’s switch focus to Chris Kyle, the decorated Navy Seal and veteran of the Iraq War, whose life story was made into the hugely successful film, American Sniper. In his autobiography, he wrote:
Clearly he bought into a popular narrative, but even a cursory look into history makes this admittedly neat perspective, seem ridiculous. Here’s an executive summary of recent Anglo-American/Iraqi relations:
Following the 1991 Gulf War to ‘liberate Kuwait’ after Saddam Hussein's invasion, decade-long sanctions were imposed that, according to UNICEF, resulted in the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. Then in 2003, the US and UK initiated Gulf War II after successfully peddling what transpired to be a deliberately manufactured lie about weapons of mass destruction. According to Iraq Body Count, the invasion led to 112,000 violent civilian deaths. A group of US, Canadian and Iraqi University researchers reported a figure of 500,000. And due to the use of depleted uranium, doctors have since observed a massive spike in cancers and congenital deformities. All of which, for Chris Kyle, got collapsed down to ‘…they hated us cause we weren’t Muslim.’
The question that now surfaces is this: what is the difference between Jihadi John and Chris Kyle?
In both cases they willingly killed, their conscience cossetted by seductive fantasies: on the one hand, Jihad and al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State, and on the other, holy war and '...they hate us cause we're not Muslim'. Indeed the similarities are so striking, it would be easy to re-cast the eponymous American Sniper as a brainwashed fanatic: the sort of individual deserving execution, imprisonment, or at the very least, compulsory registration onto some de-radicalisation programme.
And the parallels continue - just as Western governments are concerned about shady figures radicalising young, impressionable minds via grainy videos of Jihadis and martyrs, Muslims are aghast at the effects of the West’s propaganda machinery - a.k.a Hollywood – on Western youngsters:
There is, however, one arresting difference: there is currently a vigorous and free-ranging debate among Muslims about Emwazi, and all that his very existence entails. In stark contrast, there is no mainstream discourse concerning Chris Kyle, and whether he deserves his heroic status. Indeed the very suggestion of the same would, in much of Pax Americana, be met by a brick wall.
A recent article suggested that ‘…terrorist ideologies would only be stopped when young people are taught to think for themselves.’ It’s a good point. However, boxed-in thinking and the export of terror may, in reality, be more deeply woven into the Western world, than the Muslim world. How’s that for irony?