The social media exchanges of British jihadis in Syria and Iraq, as just revealed, are perfectly riveting, don’t you think? Fancy worrying about things like where to leave your luggage and internet connections when you’re a jihadi. There’s scope here for TripAdviser.
But when it comes to jihadists from Britain, I’d rather like a bit more pertinent information about them than their currency exchange problems. I rather get the impression it’s BBC policy to describe the Brits fighting for ISIS and similar just as British citizens, or Britons, presumably on the basis that to describe them as being something like ‘of Pakistani/Nigerian/Syrian origin’ would invidiously distinguish between one citizen and another and somehow compromise their civic standing. But I think it tells us a good deal about the problem to know where people come from. If an Islamist is, say, a recent Nigerian immigrant or Muslim convert, it is a pertinent and interesting piece of information – though, to be fair, the BBC does sometimes describe Islamist terrorists as ‘Muslim converts’. Indeed, I’d quite like to know something about how Islamists actually come here and become British citizens – if they came originally as asylum seekers, or as beneficiaries of those periodic Home Office amnesties, well, it would tell us something quite useful about policy in this area.
It may be that we have absolutely no idea where someone like the amusingly named AbuHussainAlBritaini (billed on Twitter as Random British Mujahid) comes from but once we do, I think broadcasters should abandon the notion that they’re blanket Brits and be specific about their or their family’s culture and country of origin. It may of course be that like ‘the White Widow’, Samantha Lewthwaite, they’re British/Irish, in which case their marriage and conversion is the interesting feature. The more we know the better. And yes obviously it applies to other situations too: if I had ever been arrested in an Irish republican context, I should rather have expected my origins and religion to be disclosed.