|Mohammed el-Araj on the left; Abu Hujama al-Britani on the right. |
Both from London, both adopted false names, both killed fighting
for al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in Syria
[Image Source: Times of London, September 5, 2014]
On Monday last week British Prime Minister David Cameron proposed legislation to prevent citizens who joined the Islamic State and other terrorist groups from re-entering Britain to "wreak havoc." His proposal followed the Aug. 19 release of a video showing a jihadist who spoke with a British accent appearing to behead American journalist James Foley. One day after Mr. Cameron's announcement, the Islamic State posted a video showing the murder of American journalist Steven Sotloff, ostensibly by the same Briton. The jihadist's nationality shocked Britain and the world. It shouldn't have. Scotland Yard estimates that at least 500 Britons have traveled to the Middle East to join the Islamic State. British-born terrorists have been the most numerous, violent and influential of European jihadists since well before 9/11. [WSJ]
The South London accent and intonation of the apparent killer of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines, and the manner of the murders, have shocked and horrified people in Britain. Very little is known of the man, not even his ethnic origin: In London, a third of whose population was born abroad, there are so many possibilities, even among Muslims. But his joy in his own brutality, his sadistic delight in doing evil with the excuse that it was for a supposedly holy cause, in inflicting such a death under the illusion that it was a duty rather than a crime, was obvious. His “faith” allowed him to act out the fantasy of every dangerous psychopath dreaming of revenge upon a world that was not good enough for him and that otherwise failed to accord him the special notice or place that he thought he merited.
Not only is the British contingent the most numerous among the Western jihadists, but by all accounts they are the most brutal of the brutal. That, at any rate, is the conclusion of researchers at King’s College London who have followed the evolution of the jihadi temptation in Britain, the latest instance of what Jean-François Revel called “the totalitarian temptation.”
Two questions call for answers. The first is why there should be proportionally more jihadis from Britain than, say, from France. The second is why they should be more brutal. Since the premises of the questions themselves are somewhat speculative, depending on information that is itself far from proved beyond reasonable doubt, any answers must be even more speculative. In any case, the uncovering of the why of any human conduct is seldom straightforward.
Are there more British jihadis, for example, because the condition of Muslims in Britain is worse than elsewhere? In answering this question it is well to remember that Muslims are not just Muslims and nothing else. The Muslims in Germany are mainly of Turkish origin; in France, of North African; and in Britain, of Pakistani or Bangladeshi. Any difference in their collective behavior, therefore, might be attributable to their origin as much as to the country of their upbringing.
The position of the Muslims in Britain is not “objectively” worse than that of their coreligionists in France; if anything, the reverse. It is considerably easier for a young Muslim man to obtain a job in Britain than in France, and social ascent is easier. Britain is more obviously a class society than France, but also more socially mobile (the two things are often confused, but are different). And there has been no legislation in Britain against the public use of that cherished Muslim symbol of male domination, the veil. But failure is not necessarily easier to bear in a more open society than in a closed one: On the contrary, resentment is all the stronger because of the additional element of personal responsibility for that failure, actual or anticipated. In some ways, life is easier, psychologically at least, when you can attribute failure entirely to external causes and not to yourself or anything about yourself.
The relative failure of Muslims (largely of Pakistani origin) is evident by comparison with Sikhs and Hindus: Their household wealth is less than half that of Sikhs and Hindus (immigrants at more or less the same time), and while the unemployment rate of young Sikhs and Hindus is slightly lower than that of whites, that of young Muslims is double. Sikh and Hindu crime rates are well below the national average; Muslim crime rates are well above. Racial prejudice is unlikely to account for these differences.
Jihad attracts ambitious failures, including those who are impatient or fearful of the long and arduous road to conventional success. Jihad is a shortcut to importance, with the added advantage of stirring fear in a society that the jihadists want to believe has wronged them, but that they are more likely to have wronged.
But why should the British be the most brutal of European jihadists, by all accounts the doctrinally most extreme among them (supposing that reports of this are true)? This, I think, is explicable by the nature of contemporary British culture, using the word “culture” in the widest sense. It is the crudest, most aggressive, and most lacking in refinement of any of the Western cultures, at least of any that I have observed.The longer piece provides a thought-provoking and painful read, and a viewpoint we have not seen expressed elsewhere.
Nowhere else known to me do so many young men desire to look brutish and as if the slightest disagreement with them, the first thing denied them, the first word they deem offensive, will cause them to become violent. In no other country in the world are so many doormen and bouncers necessary to keep order in places of entertainment; in no other place in the world does collective enjoyment so quickly turn to fight and riot. Eye-to-eye contact is regarded as a challenge and can lead to an attack of murderous intensity, while sexual crudity and incontinence are accompanied by furious jealousy, a common occasion of violence among young men.
Meanwhile the UK government has escalated its terrorism alert status ["29-Aug-14: The British now call risk of a terror attack on the UK 'severe'"] to the second-highest possible level, meaning it assesses that an attack is now considered “highly likely.” In The Times of London, they had a curious article entitled "Let us come home, say young British jihadists" in their September 5, 2014 edition. And British news consumers are growing accustomed to reports, like this one published today ["From London banker to ISIS militant - one man's terror trail"] in which a man, now described as fighting for the Islamic State (ISIS) in western Iraq, says “I look forward to death with a smile.” Not so long, this particular British terrorist, who has adopted the nom de guerre Abu Antaar, was - at least according to his own claim - a business analyst working in London's banking industry. So why is the banker now serving the Islamic State? Because
he hated “being ruled by laws other than Allah’s” and that the territories currently controlled by ISIS are “the only place where the shari’a of Allah is applied fully.” “I hate democracy and the self- indulgence of the rich... I hate inequality... I hate the corporations who are trying to destroy this world because of tyranny...” For him, peaceful protest is not an option. “I hate that Palestine was never freed for 70+ years whilst we ‘peacefully’ held placards on the street”. But now, according to A'ntaar's sacred belief, “IS are leading the way as how we should have acted from the beginning.” [RT, September 16, 2014]As Dalrymple's thesis puts it: generally it's easier to attribute failure to external factors and not to yourself or anything about yourself.