By Wasif Abu Yusuf
As reports identify ‘Jihadi John’ to be Londoner Mohammed Emwazi, concern is being raised over the effects of his treatment at the hands of the British security services, prior to his alleged transformation to ISIS poster-boy. This comes as it is revealed that Emwazi contemplated suicide as a direct result of his ordeal in shocking email exchanges with a Mail on Sunday journalist, where he states, “Sometimes i feel like im a dead man walking, not fearing they (MI5) may kill me…Rather, fearing that one day, I’ll take as many pills as I can so that I can sleep for ever!! I just want to get away from these people!!!’
David Cameron has condemned “reprehensible” comments by campaign group Cage after it blamed MI5 for radicalising Jihadi John.
The campaign group was criticised after accusing the British security services of “systematically” harassing young Muslims, leaving them with no legal avenue to redress their situation.
However, when historical and contemporary cases are observed, we see that disproportionate and heavy handed tactics of security forces consistently ferments anger, unfortunately a key contributor to further criminal violence. The government and mainstream media’s attempt to provide cover for institutional misconduct and divorce the connection between state harassment and violence simply fails to account for the available information.
If lasting security is to be achieved, a sincere study must be conducted to understand whether the aggressive approach by security forces solves the problem of “radicalisation” or exacerbates it.
Irish ‘Troubles’ and Internment
Blowback from individuals and communities who suffered from unjust policies is not new. During the early hours of August 9,1971 British authorities launched “Operation Demetrius”, marking the reintroduction of internment to Northern Ireland. Internment was the imprisonment or confinement of enemy citizens in wartime or of terrorism suspects. In a statement made to the BBC later that day, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Brian Faulkner said that the government was “quite simply at war with the terrorist…the terrorists’ campaign continues at an unacceptable level and I have to conclude that the ordinary law cannot deal comprehensively or quickly enough with such ruthless violence. I have therefore decided…to exercise where necessary the powers of detention and internment vested in me as Minister of Home Affairs.”
Throughout Northern Ireland, police and members of the military rounded up 342 men suspected of being republican terrorists. Those arrested could be held indefinitely without trial. According to Faulkner, who explained that the decision to reintroduce internment to Northern Ireland was in response to the “escalating violence and increased bombing in the province and the threat to Northern Ireland’s economy,” the main focus of Operation Demetrius was the Irish Republican Army. The action, however, would prove to be a complete and total failure.
Internment sparked four days of violence in which 20 civilians were killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes. Seventeen civilians were killed by British soldiers – 11 of them in the Ballymurphy Massacre. No loyalists were included in the sweep and many of those arrested were ordinary Catholics with no IRA links. Many also reported that they and their families were assaulted, verbally abused and threatened by soldiers. The operation led to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence over the following months. Internment lasted until December 1975 and during that time 1,981 people were interned.
The New York Times called the level of violence “the worst in the miserable recent history of Northern Ireland,” saying “the factors that produced the gunmen are all still there – and probably made worse by the new security measures.”
Despite such a tragic period in recent British history, it is peculiar to see that in the new “War on Terror”, the contributing factors between oppressive security measures and violence by Muslim individuals is disregarded.
In a damning indictment of the mass surveillance measures and policy to criminalise Islamic ideas, years of MI5 monitoring of Emwazi failed to identify him as a potential threat. As with any study in criminology, how can the trajectory of events prior to Emwazi’s radicalisation be ignored?
Emwazi first came to CAGE in 2009 after being detained, interrogated with attempts to recruit him by MI5 on what was meant to be a safari holiday to Tanzania. Thereafter, the harassment continued and intensified which led to him losing two fiancée’s, his job and new life in Kuwait. The harassment and abuse he suffered, was all without criminal charges ever being brought against him, with the legal remedies available to him failing, he attempted to start a new life abroad in Kuwait only to be blocked by the UK security agencies continually.
He was told: “You’re going to have a lot of trouble …you’re going to be known…you’re going to be followed…life will be harder for you.” In 2013 he was missing, suspected of being in Syria.
While making it clear that “nobody is apologising or trying to make an excuse” for Emwazi’s alleged beheadings, Cage’s Cerie Bullivant said it was important to debate the causes of radicalisation. He added that British discourse on the issue had “failed to look at the causes of radicalisation in an honest manner” for years, and said perpetrators of attacks often quote foreign policy as “the key pushed“, as well as harassment and domestic policy.
“We keep on ignoring that, it’s not about justify it, its about looking at the causes of it so we can make everybody safer, both here and abroad,” he said.
However, we are being presented with a picture of the world which continues to defend and inculcate the economic, social and political agendas of the privileged groups that dominate the domestic economy, and who therefore also largely control the government.
In her response, Mr Cameron’s official spokeswoman attacked the comments by Cage in the strongest possible terms. Effectively shutting out any room for criticism or accountability of the intelligence services, she said: “It is completely reprehensible to suggest that anyone who carries out such brutal murders – they are the ones responsible and we should not be seeking to put blame on other people, particularly those who are working to keep British citizens safe.
“The people responsible for these murders are the people we are seeing in the videos.””
Road to Radicalisation
Unfortunately, Emwazi’s story is not unique.
A case which has been cited frequently in the press and groups representing Muslims is that of a Muslim man who was detained by police in London. He was forced to prostrate with his arms in his cuffs, and asked ‘where is your God now?’ It is alleged that the detainee suffered over forty injuries including a black eye and severe bruising. Such treatment has the potential to push certain individuals to react unjustly through acts of violence.
Reports often point to MI5 officers falsely accusing Muslims of links to Islamic extremism. On each occasion the agents said they would lift the travel restrictions and threat of detention in return for their co-operation. When the men refused some of them received what they say were intimidating phone calls and threats. Some cases were brought to British MP Frank Dobson whereupon he concluded, “…it seems that from what I have seen some of their (security services’) methods may be counter-productive.”
More prominently, after Lee Rigby was killed in Woolwich, it was soon revealed that the murderer Michael Adebolajo had already been known to MI5 for eight years! Claims were made that “Michael Adebolajo was tortured in Kenya and harassed by MI5 – who asked him to spy for them” as reported by the Guardian Newspaper 25/5/13
The recent revelations have also led senior Conservative MP David Davis to accuse the British intelligence agencies of using “ineffectual” tactics.
He said,“Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?
“The problem is not new. The fact is that the intelligence services have long utilised tactics that have proved ineffective.
“The issue dates back at least to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, where the intelligence agencies relied on disruption and interference more than prosecution and imprisonment.”
Mr Davis went on to say that the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which will look into MI5’s handling of the case, had “shown itself incapable of holding the intelligence agencies to account“.
This understanding was compounded by a major study on the link between community relations and counterterrorism published in December 2006. In it the think-tank Demos concluded that the, “growing sense of grievance, anger and injustice (among British Muslims) inadvertently legitimises the terrorists’ aims”.
If the security services are blackmailing, bullying and alienating British Muslims who are then found engaging in brutal acts in Woolwich or Syria, it is counter-productive for British society to neglect the contribution and not prevent it.
Of course there are those who would prefer not to talk or even think about such things; who would rather continue with the divisive and dangerous policies like Prevent, anti-toddler radicalisation programs and Trojan horses; who only want to work with opportunists like the government’s pet Muslim think-tanks; who would prefer to talk about ‘death cults’ and ‘preachers of hate’ rather than consider that the actions of the British state may have contributed to the mess it is in.
With the anti-terror policy under fresh scrutiny, frenzied reactions and statements from the politicians and the media alike amounts to little more than the establishment absolving itself of any blame – whether they are foreign policy disgraces or the oppressive and unaccountable actions of their security services. Sincere attempts to analyse the events leading up to Emwazi’s alleged transformation is depicted as empathy for ISIS. When reviewing the actions of the authorities it is claimed that only the people in the videos are responsible.
Yet how much time, energy and resources have been spent studying and dissecting the causes of radicalisation through government officials and self-styled ‘experts’ as long as the blame was fixed onto Muslims and Islamic values. It is the dominance of this discourse that has materialised into David Cameron’s much espoused “conveyor-belt” theory and draconian legislation which collectively punishes an entire community; a duplicitous approach, tied only to political expediency.
Unless a serious investigation is undertaken to acknowledge the empirical data, the establishment will continue to have a role – intended or unintended – in the unsavoury paths of many would-be Jihadis. Any calls for perpetuating heavy handed security measures only echo the disastrous policies of Northern Ireland, which is widely recognised to have alienated communities and only promoted support for paramilitarism.