My Son the Jihadi: What turns teenagers to terrorism?
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When some young Briton decamps to a far-off land to join a terrorist organisation, there is inevitably disbelief at how such an ostensibly ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’ person could do such a thing. You’re probably aware of this cliché by now. Thomas Evans, a Man United fan-turned Jihadi, was just as ordinary and normal as everyone else until he took an interest in radical Islam, or, as may be the case, until radical Islam took an interest in him. His short life and pointless death is examined in a moving documentary, glibly titled My Son the Jihadi, which aired on Channel 4 on 22nd October. It describes Thomas’s rapid conversion to Islam when he was just 18. Although his mother Sally initially welcomed his interest in a deep subject, it soon led to tension within the family. Thomas excised all the trappings of his comfortable Western life. He refused to eat the same food as his mother and younger brother, telling them they would burn in hell if they did not convert to Islam. In 2011 he left his home in suburban England supposedly to study Arabic in Egypt, but later turned up in Somalia as a member of the radical terrorist group al-Shabaab. Changing his name to Abdul Hakim, he was involved in multiple atrocities in eastern Africa. Earlier this year, he was killed in a fire-fight with Kenyan forces. He was 25. Upon hearing such stories, the words ‘good riddance’ can very easily spring to mind. (They can also evoke Billy Connolly’s assessment of suicide-murderers: ‘every time there’s a bang the world’s a wanker short’). Furthermore, it is common to assume that, if people like Thomas were so eager to join Britain’s declared enemies, then they can’t have loved their home country much in the first place. Then there is ethnic prejudice. You can never really tell, some people are happy to admit, whether a rather shifty-looking man with dark skin on the train has a bomb in his backpack. One thing that can be said for Thomas, a white middle-class boy from High Wycombe, is that his actions helped disprove the racist suggestion that only people of Middle Eastern extraction have a propensity for terrorism. But then why do people turn to such wickedness in the first place? Do they go to groups like al-Shabaab, or do these groups suck people in?
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