By Richard Spencer
04 Sep 2014
If the rapper known as L Jinny is also the executioner known as Jihadi John, should anyone be surprised? In the past two weeks, a knife-wielding, faceless man in black has become perhaps the most notorious Briton on the planet, the protagonist of two real-life snuff movies as he kills James Foley and Steven Sotloff, American journalists.
His aggressive, grandstanding words have been repeated across our airwaves, their Britishness only too obvious, threatening President Obama and other world leaders like a street-corner hoodlum. He does so in the name of his God.
L Jinny, aka Abdel-Majed Abdel-Bary, is the man whose name has been bandied as the killer. Some details match, and some do not. But the modus operandi of the public rap star and the concealed beheader is the same, and can teach us something about the manners that makyth not just this man, but those like him. As we all – Western leaders and peoples alike – ponder what to do with individuals like this, and the threat they pose, there is much to learn.
L Jinny pontificated too, as he turned from rap to war. Earlier this year, he posed online holding a severed head – of a regime soldier, rather than a Westerner, as with the majority of such corpses. “Chillin’ with my homie, or what’s left of him,” is how he captioned it. Two years before, back in Britain, this is what he rapped: “I’m trying to change my ways but there’s blood on my hands and I can’t change my ways until there’s funds in the bank. I can’t differentiate the angels from the demons, my heart’s disintegrating. I ain’t got normal feelings.”
Then, he was already starting to pronounce himself a Mujahid, a holy warrior; but that was a recent development. Before, he had been a common or garden urban warrior, talking about the drugs ’n’ gangsta lifestyle, a worthy successor to Britain’s highly successful mock-revolutionary music greats, according to friends. Except that he was not common or garden at all. His background of alienated childhood, brought up in a large family by a struggling mother while his father rotted in prison, is no doubt common enough for violent criminals, but in his case it was with a twist.
“Give me the pride and the honour like my father, I swear the day they came and took my dad, I could have killed a cop or two,” was one of his lyrics. “Imagine then I was only six, picture what I’d do now with a loaded stick. Like boom bang fine, I’m wishing you were dead, violate my brothers and I’m filling you with lead.”
His father, though, was not a gangster, but an Islamist, arrested in 1998 when the young Abdel-Majed was indeed six at the start of one of the most extraordinary and controversial episodes in British legal history. An exile for his Islamist activities from Egypt, where according to his family’s account he had been repeatedly imprisoned and tortured, his father Adel had been granted asylum in Britain five years before. But he was an associate of known jihadist sympathisers, and when al-Qaeda blew up the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya the police came knocking. Adel Abdel-Majed, an alleged associate and devotee of Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of first Egyptian Islamic Jihad and now al-Qaeda itself, was acquitted of all charges, but then rearrested to face conspiracy charges in the United States. It took 14 years to deport him.
In a remarkable interview given to the journalist Victoria Britain for a book on women whose husbands are detained, L Jinny’s mother, Ragaa, described those 14 years of her children’s adolescence. “Ragaa, unprepared in language or custom, overnight became a single mother, linked to her husband only by the daily telephone call from prison, or visits when a Muslim charity drove the family to Belmarsh, Brixton, Manchester or Long Lartin prisons,” the author wrote.
Stuck inside her home by the stringent dictates of her version of Islam, Ragaa became depressed and frightened by the world outside, so remote from the Egyptian village where she grew up. “As the children got older she began to hear about the London world outside her flat from the older ones, with stories about drugs, violence, knife crime and truancy among their school friends. It terrified her. She took most of them out of school and taught them their GCSEs at home. The exhaustion of doing all this, the weight of the responsibility, took a big toll on Ragaa’s health. Money was very short.”
Her son, then, grew up with the main influences on a young man’s life as follows: a father he knew from brief prison visits; a home dominated by the misery of his devout, alienated mother; and his outside world the streets of 1990s London.
Shiraz Maher, who with his colleague Peter Neumann at King’s College London has become one of Britain’s best-known Jihadi-watchers, compiling detailed lists of extremists who have gone to fight in Syria, says there is little evidence to suggest that the children of jihadis are leading other disaffected young Muslims into travelling to Syria.
Londonistan is how the capital came to be known in the 1990s, as many of the Arab world’s exiles, traditionally drawn to Britain as a former colonial power, became involved in militant activity. Abu Musab al-Suri, the Syrian-born strategist of post-9/11 al-Qaeda atrocities, operated openly from London during this time. Oddly enough, though, many of their children seem to have assimilated into the variegated world of London street culture; too well, in some cases – the sons of Abu Hamza, the hook-handed cleric extradited to the United States at the same time as Abdel-Bary senior, have been jailed for secular crimes ranging from fraud to armed robbery. It is the alienation, it seems, that creates the moral confusion, rather than the genes.
Given the nature of L Jinny’s crimes abroad, even leaving aside whether he is or is not Jihadi John – Mr Maher thinks not – he is more likely to be heading for prison should he return rather than one of the proposed new schools of Jihadi deradicalisation. But what is to be done with his comrades? An estimated 500 Britons have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for Isil; thousands more from other European countries. Many have already returned – 260, according to the King’s College researchers.
Political talk has focused on the legality of whether the jihadists can be barred from re-entry, stripped of their passports. It seems a ludicrous idea for every other, non-legal reason: what is to happen to these thousands of Europeans, and maybe others, barred from returning home? Either they must stay or fight – itself a threat to Western interests, we are told – or they must move on to another battlefront, which is just as bad. A final option, setting up some giant, international Guantanamo Bay-style internment camp, seems too far-fetched to contemplate. And if they are already back, what does this debate mean anyway?
When it comes to deradicalisation programmes, officials point to Channel, an attempt to find young people at risk and tackle the ideology before it takes root. More than 1,000 have been through it in Britain, and not one has offended since. But there is a problem with this: it has not been attempted with someone who has already been to fight. With the Syrian returnees, we are in uncharted territory.
David Cameron has not looked comfortable dealing with the ISIL threat. It is only partly his fault: since his plan to bomb Syria was vetoed by Parliament almost exactly a year ago, he has not had a Middle East policy to speak of. His foreign secretary, William Hague, to whom he had delegated the grind of coalition-building in the Arab world, retired hurt two months ago.
He cannot be blamed for the fact that hundreds of British Muslims are drawn to a conflict in which their co-religionists still overwhelmingly form the majority of civilian victims, despite the horrors of Isil, nor for their conversion to bloodthirsty hardliners when they get there – a process which the experts see happening in real time, online. Now Mr Cameron has the added complication that a British life has been very directly put in his hands by “Jihadi John”, whoever he is.
But in his “tough talk” of taking the fight to Isil, Mr Cameron has raised expectations that he can stand up for British values and keep Britain safe at the same time. He had better work out quickly how he might do that.