Suzanne Moore Guardian/UK 2 March 2015
We can stop contributing to Isis’s propaganda efforts and refuse to promote Emwazi as a celebrity jihadi or icon of evil. Mohammed Emwazi is ‘an awkward young man wearing a baseball cap that is too big for his head’.
I am not going to call Mohammed Emwazi by his cuddly nickname as the BBC headlines continue to do for some strange reason. I do not want to see any more pictures of him in his murder outfit brandishing a knife. I do not want to read any more details that seek to explain what turned him into a serial killer. He looks ill at ease in a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap. All the self-assurance of the feared executioner disappears when he is unmasked. Let’s keep it that way.
Abu Ayman, an Islamic State defector, has said of Emwazi that “Isis play him like a piano. He’s a celebrity to attract our Muslim brothers in Europe. But some think he is showing off: they think he’s being used by Isis.” Indeed. But none of this could happen if Isis weren’t playing the global media like a piano. If we did not fixate both on his own image of himself in the murder videos or we didn’t grab on to the smallest details of his life to try to make sense of his barbarity. It is a futile task and one that reminds me of how serial killers such as Ted Bundy or Peter Sutcliffe become notorious, while their victims remain nameless and forgotten. It is a bang on the head, a lonely childhood, some kind of dislocation, mother issues, father issues, a persecution complex, increasing paranoia. Such pathologies have always existed.
Now though there is a ready made ideology in which these traits can be exploited to make individuals feel special instead of ordinary, part of a bigger cause instead of being utterly alienated and now infamous for much longer than 15 minutes. The need to locate radicalisation in one place: a mosque, a school, a university is futile. We have enough evidence to show that there is no one route, nor is it the poorest or those without opportunity who are attracted to extremist ideology. They can be polite graduates, or high-achieving schoolgirls.
Yet ideological grooming operates much as sexual grooming does: the promise of the association with powerful people who will give you attention and make life’s confusions vanish. Someone out there sees that you are very special; you will be taken care of. It offers escape from complexity. Severing heads from bodies will make you more famous than being a diligent IT worker.
So isn’t our responsibility to stop adding to this “fame”? To see Emwazi actually as a man who is not in charge but someone who has been used. To see him is to see that he is not actually even that interesting. His unmasking has involved the unmasking of Cage which was utterly necessary. Inevitably it has unmasked all kinds of fearful questions about the signs to look out for and how we stop such radicalisation. As the internet seems such a determining factor in all of this, there is no simple answer here.
We could, though, stop contributing to Isis’s own propaganda efforts and refuse to promote Emwazi as a celebrity jihadi or an icon of evil. Instead, we could ask what motivated some of his victims to become aid workers and journalists in one of the most dangerous places in the world. What kind of person does that? These are extraordinary people. Emwazi, on the other hand, is a very ordinary monster, an awkward young man wearing a baseball cap that is too big for his head.