Last week, the man called “Jihadi John” by the world’s media was unmasked as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born Muslim and naturalized British citizen from London. Not only that, but the Islamic State’s most notorious Western recruit was identified as a graduate in computer science from the University of Westminster.
Majid Nawaz claims that the University of Westminster is well known for being a hotbed of extremist activity. He states that the university’s Islamic Society is heavily influenced, sometimes controlled, by the radical Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir and regularly gives a platform to preachers of hate. On the very day of the Emwazi revelation, the university was to host a lecture by Haitham al-Haddad — a man accused of espousing homophobia, advocating female genital mutilation and professing that Jewish people are descended from apes and pigs. The event was suspended not by the university authorities, but by the Islamic Society, which pulled it only because of security concerns.
The leap from being an ordinary British teenager to joining the Islamic State is huge. But it is a much smaller step for someone raised in a climate in which dreams of resurrecting a caliphate and enforcing a distorted form of Islam are normalized. Until we confront this seeming legitimacy of Islamist discourse at the grass roots, we will not stop the scourge of radicalization.