The decapitation of American journalist James Foley sent shock waves across the world, not least because of the appallingly gruesome character of Foley’s execution. Another point of astonishment arose when viewers and intelligence officials alike realized that Foley’s murderer speak fluent English with an unmistakably British accent. Linguists have confirmed that the assailant spoke with what they agree is South London accent, a distinctive division of the English language’s multifaceted British dialect. Throughout the media, debate has ensued as to what factors have led up to the breakdown of postwar Iraq into quasi-civil war. Right-wingers have been quick to blame the Obama Administration for its withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi soil in what they deem to be an irresponsible and hasty exit from a nation unprepared to assume both political and defense-related responsibility for its affairs. By contrast, the left has retorted by stating that Iraq’s present crisis could have been avoided altogether had the U.S. and Britain refrained from their preemptive invasion of the country in 2003 on faulty intelligence concerning dictator Saddam Hussein’s alleged stockpile of weaponry. In their infighting, both conservatives and liberals have failed to grasp the actual threat posed by the ISIS terrorist organization.
Moving beyond these political divisions which—given ISIS’ unbelievably speedy advance across Iraq—seem arbitrary as nothing can presently be done about either Bush or Obama’s Iraq policies, I want to return to the fact that Foley’s assassin is likely British. To be sure, the word is not out on the masked assassin’s identity. But MI5 (U.K. Intelligence and Britain’s equivalent to America’s CIA) have a prime suspect in mind: Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary. Bary was born and raised in Britain. But this comes as little surprise. The fact that Britain’s Muslim minority has been vulnerable to extremism was discussed and finally settled following the London tube bombings of July 7th, 2005, after which a video of terrorists claiming responsibility for the attack (which killed 52 people and wounded an additional 700) revealed a young man with a thick Yorkshire accent bragging of his role in the attack. For the first time, Britons and other Westerners were forced to look inwardly at their own societies to ask how someone born and raised under the Western umbrella of democracy and social tolerance could be convinced to kill his fellow citizens. What resulted was a Europe-wide discussion about the failures of multiculturalism, the inability of European democracies’ to properly integrate their immigrant populations, and the complementary connections between poverty and religious extremism. But with the revelation of Foley’s executor’s British background, additional questions have emerged. This is largely because suspect Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary does not fit the description of someone “vulnerable to violence and extremism” as outlined by Western academics and intelligence officials.
Bary is wealthier than the average member of Britain’s indigenous white population. He is educated and, before leaving to join ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria now known by the shortened acronym IS or “Islamic State”) lived in wealthy West London in a home whose value exceeds $1 million. I do not list these aforementioned facts to detract from the certain fact that low-income immigrants are at risk for developing extremist tendencies. But the fact remains that Bary defies long-held views of who fits a potential terrorist profile. Further investigation has revealed that Bary’s father is an Islamic militant who was granted asylum by the British government after being subjected to torture and imprisonment in his native Egypt. He is currently being held on charges for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 people. His story can be accessed in the book, “Shadow Lives: the Forgotten Women of the War on Terror” written by his wife Ragaa Bary, mother to Foley’s murderer. To face his charges, Bary was extradited from Britain to the U.S. after a lengthy legal battle. The younger Bary himself previously performed as a freestyle rapper under the name L. Jinny, his music was even featured on BBC Radio 1, which is among the U.K.’s most popular radio stations. A wealthy British Muslim and West London resident goes from rapper to religious extremist, leaves his country to fight for a terrorist organization which is attempting to unite war-torn Syria and war-weary Iraq into a militarized theocracy so brutal even Al-Qeuda members have distanced themselves from it, and rises to international fame by beheading an American journalist. How does this happen? The answer lies in Britain and western Europe’s attitude toward its Muslim minority.
Post-World War II Western Europe was a shadow of its former self. The French, the Belgians, the Dutch, the Danes, the Norwegians and so on…these peoples played a mostly passive role in a conflict in which their countries were the prime stage: invaded and occupied by one set of foreigners (Nazi Germany) and liberated by another (the United States). Their economies—once the beacons of developed civilization—were in tatters; their infrastructure was, by and large, utterly ruined; their cities resembled post-apocalyptic visions from the Book of Revelations; their ruling, educated classes had either been exterminated in concentration camps or else been barred from public life due to collaboration with the occupiers; their populations had been disenfranchised, degraded, and ultimately decimated by five years of occupation and war. Set against this backdrop, their once mighty empires quickly unraveled due to a combination of factors: broke European governments’ financial inability to maintain overseas territories, the European peoples’ disinterest in imperialism, and American refusal to subsidize it. For Europeans, one radical ideology—namely fascism or Nazism—was behind them and a new one—Soviet Communism—was emerging. No amount of American aid could bolster Europe’s declining workforce and so, to offset the inevitability of an economic collapse that could potentially lead to communist revolution or the outbreak of another war, Europe became—for the first time in her history—a place of immigration. Having just returned from a backpacking trip across Europe myself, I can attest to the multicultural character of the much of thecontinent. On the surface of things, the countries of the European Union seem relatively progressive and tolerant. Yet this is not the case. In European governments’ enthusiasm to promote multiculturalism, they have sleep-walked into a politically correct version of segregation. Immigrants throughout Europe, from the British Isles to the Balkans are encouraged, from the moment of their arrival, to maintain their homelands’ values. They are told to build an identity vaguely defined by where they came from. They are told from an indirectly racist and xenophobic immigration system. In the face of German wartime atrocities and the embarrassing fact that many Europeans did little to resist (and oftentimes actively participated) in the Holocaust and the subjugation of their fellow citizens to totalitarianism, a postwar disillusionment with patriotism in any of its varieties has evolved. The result is a cynical Europe so disparaging of its own heritage that it sees no need to integrate newcomers into a society whose inhabitants consider their culture to be discredited, folkloric rubbish that, by and large, doesn’t really even exist and hasn’t since 1945. This last point is sharpened by a European sense of inferiority when contrasted with easily-exportable, overwhelmingly affluent American culture, against which Europeans have come to define themselves. It is for this reason that even second and third generation offspring of Islamic immigrants (like Bary) are so vulnerable to terrorism. Muslims in France, Britain, Germany and elsewhere do not—and cannot be expected to—identify with societies that don’t include them. In short, European Muslims have nothing to hang onto and in this postmodern, valueless vacuum Islamic terrorism has discovered an entire populous of angry and disaffected young men searching for something to believe in. The unfortunate chain of events has not been addressed by Europe’s Christian churches who have all but vacated this particular field and accommodated themselves to cultural breakdown rather than emerging as a bulwark against it.
Western intelligence services roughly estimate that around 3,000 Europeans have left for Syria in the wake of ISIS’ sudden expansion. The French government, one of the first to publicly discuss the matter, claims a minimum of 800 French Muslims have exited the country to fight for ISIS. Regardless of how the conflict in Iraq and Syria plays out, these Western-born and Western-educated radicals will return to their countries at some point bring the war against the West to the streets of Western countries, from Norway to the Netherlands, from the U.K. to the U.S.A., from Italy to Australia and on and on. As one German volunteer for ISIS so coldly put it in his video encouraging Western Muslims to join ISIS: “Are you happy with your life in Germany? Going to the nightclubs with female friends?” His words struck a chord with many a Muslim whose latent rage against a society which excludes them has finally found an outlet in extremism. In a Europe and (increasingly) a Western world infatuated with narcissism and consumerism, ignorant of its own values and history, and perfectly content to avoid discussion of politics and culture in the public sphere, it is not surprising that those who reject these values (or lack thereof) will look elsewhere for something in which to believe and find spiritual sustenance. Bary is but one face among a sea of disenfranchised, rejected young people whose long-ignored plight has turned into something which may well result in headlines about street violence being about London or Los Angeles rather than Syria or Sudan.