Why did Mohammed Emwazi behead people? Expect no Western self-flagellation coming from me. He’s a sadist. Simple.
Sadism robs me of sleep. It’s not that I’m especially caring person. In fact I would like to reciprocate it to its practitioners. It unnerves precisely because of this desire. And also because I fear torture: being locked in a confined space, tied down to a chair, with a monster free to vent whatever repulsive impulses drives him.
Recently, it seems the media has inundated us with stories of sadism: a gay man being hurled from a rooftop while baying crowds applaud, men breaking into someone’s home and beating a pregnant woman with baseball bats, bullied schoolchildren committing suicide, acid attacks on the innocent. Movies offer no escape; recently I caught parts of Twelve Years a Slave where some poor soul was tied to a tree and being whipped to death. Violence is everywhere; even the Pope admits he’d take a pop at someone who insulted his mother.
Barbarism also challenges our belief system. Believe in God or goodness if you like but, let’s face it, when you face several hundred lashes or the prospect of being burned alive in a cage, can your faith overcome such terror? Can any belief system hold when rats are nibbling out your eyes? There comes a point where it’s simply insurmountable, just as O’Brien said in 1984.
Most people who designate themselves as centre-left believe that mankind is fundamentally nice and decent, that given a choice between good and evil, between mercy and violence, that people will opt for the former. So if people behave in a way that challenges this assumption, they tend to look for reasons. Hence the ridiculous debate on Emwazi emanating from the usual suspects. But, once you accept that a fingernail-puller or potential beheader could be on a street near you, your political thinking changes. You realise that it’s important to have a strong foreign policy, a tougher criminal justice system and non-porous borders. You may take self-defence classes. You wonder if you should arm yourself. You start to doubt that the world can be transformed drastically for the better and you think more in terms of containment, of trying to ward off evil rather than banishing it altogether.
Many years ago my mother was viciously beaten when she put out the rubbish. And I realised that this was the final part of my journey from Lefty to Righty. People’s views, you see, tend to be shaped by their practical experiences, not through books.
Should the media feature the graphic of the likes of Islamic State, or should it deprive them of publicity? Some people say – “Don’t show it – it’s what they (IS) want.” Yet if our eyes move instead to pictures of some supermodel, we’re accused of being flippant. Such are the dilemmas of the information age.
I really worry about the exposure of our children to such barbarism, even on a screen. Some time ago I asked a colleague if he had children. His reply startled me. “Would you bring a sentient being into this world?” For the first time recently I started to wonder myself. Especially if followers of IS are coming to a neighbourhood near us in Europe soon.