Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Pathway to Becoming an Eternal Horror

If you've been following the news at all over the past months, you're well aware of the atrocities being perpetrated by ISIS in the Middle East, ranging from military assaults on civilian targets to the systematic execution of anyone who doesn't subscribe to their particular ideology. Front and center in a number of the videotaped beheadings of hostages is "Jihadi John", who has been identified as Kuwaiti-born Londoner named Mohammed Emwazi, educated in a fairly typical English school system and university before becoming radicalized into his current persona.

What was interesting was how little of Mohammed Emwazi's upbringing foreshadowed his foray into radical and murderous religious fanaticism. He grew with up with parents and siblings in West London after immigrating from Kuwait, and even his parents have expressed shock of what their son has become.

Some speculate that Mohammed's radicalization began during his perceived mistreatment by British authorities during a planned holiday to East Africa shortly after graduating from university, and that this led to a smoldering bitterness and distrust towards Westerners and desire to strike back at real or perceived injustices.

There's a theory called the Butterfly Effect, which posits that seemingly small changes in state in a period of time can have much broader and significant ramifications in the future, illustrated by the flapping of a butterfly's wings ultimately having profound impacts upon weather systems further down the road. Applying the Butterfly Effect to Mohammed Emwazi's evolution to Jihadi John, it's interesting to think that an overzealous British airport security staffer struck such a nerve in a 21-year old boy to the point that a confluence of emotions, rhetoric and paranoia yielded the man who gleefully beheads hostages on video.

To be clear, I'm not in any way casting blame upon the atrocities committed by Emwazi or another radical Islamist on Western prejudice, aggression or racism. What I am pointing out is that terrorists are not merely born, but they encounter things in the course of their lives - both good and bad - which mold their heart, minds and souls towards particular callings and principles. For Emwazi, his external stimuli (encounters, education and indoctrination) mixed with his own perceptions and predispositions led him to radical Islam. And it's entirely conceivable that there were those (both Muslim and non-Muslim) who, through word and deed, didn't dissuade him from the perception that Westerners hated Muslims and radical Islam was a necessary response.

C.S. Lewis once said, "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors." I've always read that as an encouragement to take seriously every interaction I have with someone, recognizing that because of the Butterfly Effect, my words and actions can have downstream effects on that person's life and impact upon others. Can my words and action motivate or somehow encourage one to live an upstanding and righteous life? Or will my encounter leave another angry, bitter or darkened to respond to this world with strife or harm?

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