Brendan O’Neill

MI5 didn’t make Jihadi John; he made himself

MI5 didn't make Jihadi John; he made himself
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Poor Mohammed Emwazi. One day he’s your average 'beautiful' young man, nose buried in his computer studies books, looking for a job and looking for love. The next he’s being harassed by the security services, so intensely that — BOOM — he weeps and wails his way to the deserts of Syria where he changes his name to Jihadi John, dons an Islamic ninja outfit and starts chopping people’s heads off. Happy now, MI5? See what you did? Shame on you for pushing this studious, handsome London lad to become the Charles Manson of the Middle East.

That, at least, is a rough outline of the script being hawked by the organisation Cage. Yesterday, at the weirdest press conference since Eric Cantona said that stuff about trawlers and sardines, the heads of Cage reminisced about what a swell guy Emwazi was. Asim Qureshi, Cage's research director, remembered him as ‘extremely kind’ and ‘a beautiful young man’ (get a room). That was until Emwazi, following 'what was meant to be a safari holiday to Tanzania' was asked some questions by MI5 about the small matter of his desire to join al-Qaeda’s angrier kid brother, al-Shabaab.

Then he went from beautiful to bonkers, turned by the harassment of heartless spies into the blood-spattered psycho that now haunts Isis videos and Western politicians’ nightmares. ‘When we treat people as if they are outsiders, they will inevitably feel like outsiders,' said a crying Qureshi.

What we have here is the grating teenage cry of ‘Now look what you made me do!’ elevated into a political statement. Like hormonal pubescents who always claim some other person or power is responsible for their little act of wickedness, jihadists and their apologists say they aren’t really morally culpable for priming that bomb, or firing that gun, or removing that Western infidel’s head from his shoulders. No, we made them do it. Our security-service harassment, our interventions overseas, that time we walked past one of their Koran-promoting stalls on Oxford Street and said, ‘Nah mate, I have to get to the sales at Topman’ — it will have been something we did or said that tipped them over the edge from normality to nuttiness.

There’s now a litany of lame excuses trotted out by jihadists keen to absolve themselves of responsibility for their mad acts, and dutifully repeated by their teary-eyed sympathisers in the press. ‘MI5 made me like this.’ ‘Iraq made me do it.’ ‘Palestine made me do it.’ That last one is a favourite. Every aspiring Islamo-martyr put on the spot to explain why there’s a tonne of Semtex in his garage or why he’s been Googling ‘one way ticket to Raqqa’ can always play the Palestine card, secure in the knowledge that many in the media will nod along sagely, agreeing that it’s perfectly natural, maybe even a little bit genetic, for Muslims to feel so furious about Palestine that they will occasionally feel the need to blow themselves up. The Palestine card got a boost this month when a German judge ruled that the firebombing of a synagogue by two German-Palestinian men was an act of protest designed to ‘bring attention to the Gaza conflict’. ‘Palestine made them do it.’

A lot of liberal observers blamed the 7/7 attack on Blair, on Iraq, as if those four guys had no choice but to strap bombs to their backs and murder their fellow citizens; as if they were less than human, attack dogs effectively, programmed to go off by forces beyond their ken or control. In 2013, Glenn Greenwald described various acts of terrorism in the West, from the Boston marathon attack to the failed underwear bombing of a plane, as ‘the inevitable outcome’ of Western wars in the Muslim world. Inevitable? Wow. So those bomb-planters and aspiring mass killers of airplane passengers couldn't have stopped themselves? Put their weapons down? Seems not. Seems that, for some reason, they lacked the powers of reasoning enjoyed by Greenwald and others, and did their disgusting deeds as ‘inevitably’ as a lemming leaping off a cliff.

This apologism for jihadists presents itself as cool and caring. Those who weep for the beautiful men made murderous by MI5 / Blair / Homeland’s portrayal of Muslims believe they ooze sympathy for the beleaguered Muslims of the modern West. In truth, they practise inverted bigotry. They promote a view of Muslims as so child-like, so suggestible, so bereft of the moral agency us non-Muslims are lucky enough to possess, that they can be propelled into bloodlust and bomb-making by the merest slight or hint of harassment or TV images of American airplanes bombing Baghdad. They slam the West for allegedly painting all Muslims as evil (which the West doesn’t do), but you know what’s worse? Depicting Muslims as being incapable of evil, as lacking the ability to make conscious moral judgements and to decide whether to do good or bad, and instead holding them up as pathetic creatures driven to do this or that by their surroundings, as if they were cells in a petri dish slavishly responding to the lab technician’s stimuli.

It would indeed be bigoted to say all Muslims do wicked things; it’s equally bigoted to absolve them of sentient culpability when they actually do wicked things. MI5 didn't make Jihadi John; he made himself, through making conscious and profoundly immoral choices for which he, like all adult humans who err, sin or kill, must be held solely responsible.

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