The ISIS militant known as "Jihadi John" (pictured above as a boy in London, left, and last year in an ISIS video) was identified this week as Mohammed Emwazi, 26, from London. Of course you know by now that he was responsible for several of the beheadings of British, American, and Japanese hostages, which ISIS videotaped and put online in order to further intimidate and terrify its enemies (e.g., the rest of humankind).
It's difficult to reconcile Mohammed Emwazi's ubringing in England - where he loved football as a kid and graduated from the University of Westminster with a degree in IT - with his radicalization. He was born in Kuwait and moved with his family to London when he was six. He apparently remained an observant Muslim, and was mild mannered and polite. So while retaining his religion and culture on the one hand, he seemingly adapted to life in Britain on the other. And maybe he did, for a while.
And this is why the problem is bigger than this particular British Jihadi: because he only seemingly adapted to life in the West. One question is, what did Islam have to do with his inability to assimilate, or to fall out? I'm not being rhetorical. I am thinking of the history of immigration, in particular to the U.S., (which I happen to know a lot about), in general terms. In the U.S., we believe in the myth of the melting pot, but the truth is much uglier and very violent. One hundred years ago, Italians and Sicilians were barely considered white, and many WASPy suffragettes used their own white Protestant pedigrees as a good reason to have the vote, in order to counter the non-white (immigrant) one. Yet eventually the Italians assimilated. Although we have only had one (Irish) Catholic president (and no professed atheists), you don't need to look further than Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio to see how successful Italian Americans have been. Arpaio would have made the most rabid anti-Italian immigrant protesters proud.
One blog post is too short to address this complex issue. There are questions about the differences (and similarities) between Islam and - what? Christianity? The post-Enlightenment West? Yes, both of those. But there are also questions about policies in countries like England that allow for integration or subvert it, about official harassment, about incitement from radical Islamic preachers, and about nationality itself versus other forms of identity.
My mother-in-law also moved to England when she was six (seven, actually). I won't say from where, but I will say that she is fully British. There was an adjustment period. Then she adjusted.
Photo credit: Jonathan Hartley Associates (left)/Isis screen grab (right)