Mohammed Emwazi, aka Jihadi John, the masked, British-accented butcher of hostages on ISIS videos, makes an unlikely victim, to say the least.
The entire point of the videos is to advertise his savagery and that of the hellish cause he serves. Yet, shamefully, even he can claim the expiating status of victimhood and get a sympathetic hearing.
According to his own self-pitying emails prior to his star turn as a knife-wielding executioner, Emwazi was harried by British intelligence beyond human endurance. Some so-called civil libertarians have picked up on his plaint to argue that a good, promising young Muslim man was pushed into the arms of a medieval terror group by the Brits.
“Jihadi John: ‘Radicalized’ by Britain” was the title of a press release from the terrorist-defending, British “human rights” group Cage. It maintains that young Muslims like Mohammed Emwazi have “turned to violence because of British counter-terrorism policies coupled with long standing grievances over Western foreign policy.”
The Washington Post, which broke the news last week that Emwazi was Jihadi John, ran a piece about his run-in with British authorities when trying to travel to Kuwait in 2010 headlined “The moment Jihadi John may have become a terrorist.”
In that incident, Emwazi had traveled back to London from Kuwait and then found that British authorities wouldn’t let him fly back to Kuwait again (he was Kuwaiti-born, but raised in Britain). This is when he supposedly began to feel intolerably squeezed by the tentacles of the British security state.
There were, of course, many alternatives available to Emwazi, if he were an innocent harassed by an out-of-control security service. He could have started a blog devoted to civil liberties. He could have joined an advocacy group fighting against such abuses. He could have gotten a law degree and fought for his rights and those of others falsely accused.
He could have done any of a thousand things, including — it is worth adding — forswearing any association with Islamic radicalism. What he chose to do was to abscond to Syria — so much for the all-knowing British surveillance state — and decapitate people.
What was the extreme provocation that allegedly drove him to such barbarity? He wrote to Cage when he was still in Britain that he felt like “a person imprisoned.” He had to feel like a person imprisoned because he wasn’t actually imprisoned. It was just that his ability to travel overseas was apparently blocked.
This, in effect, trapped him in Britain, one of the greatest countries in the world, where many millions of people would be happy to immigrate on any given day.
Not to mention that his surveillance seems to have been entirely justified, and — given subsequent events — inadequate.
Around the same time he was complaining about his unjust treatment at the hands of the British authorities, Emwazi expressed sympathy for “our sister Aafia Siddiqui.” She is an al-Qaida operative who is serving an 86-year sentence in the U.S. for trying to shoot her interrogators after her capture in Afghanistan.
Reports are now emerging of Emwazi’s radical associations going back years, suggesting, unsurprisingly, that his turn to ISIS wasn’t made on a whim.
What accounts for the impulse to find excuses for even the most bloodthirsty monster? It’s another way of denying the Islamic character of Islamic terrorism, as if any random person — whether Episcopalian or Buddhist — could have been driven over the edge by such treatment.
It is another way of blaming the West for the enemies besieging it, and so cloud the moral picture.
And, finally, it is another way of denying the agency, and ultimately the evil, of fiends who choose to kill, maim and terrorize. The real victims, obviously, are the unfortunate souls who happen to fall into their clutches.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com.