Of Savile and Emwazi: the "monsters" in our midst.
With that in mind, I honestly can't think of a few days of media coverage so utterly lacking in apparent wider awareness as the ones we've just been through. It's a toss-up as to the most evil person to have ever lived: is it Jimmy Savile, apparently the most prolific and depraved sex offender of all time, and whom despite his proclivities being so widely known, whether by hospital staff, journalists who couldn't get their exposes past lawyers or just through rumours, managed to escape justice? Or is it "Jihadi John" (the last time I am ever going to refer to him as such), aka Mohammed Emwazi, Islamic State's propaganda executioner de jour, at last unmasked so we can know every last detail of his utterly banal life and attempt to pinpoint just when it was he decided he wanted to behead aid workers for a living as opposed to continue his career in IT?
The weight of evidence against Savile being an abuser at places where he was in a position of authority is overwhelming, as proved by the report into his activities at Stoke Mandeville hospital. What has most certainly not been proved is that he acted the same way wherever he went, as documented by Anna Raccoon bothering to read all the other reports produced by various NHS trusts, and which the media have bunched together as being similarly damning. Even taking into consideration how faulty memory is, not least when the events under investigation took place anything up to 50 years ago, the lack of almost anything turned up by the various people behind the reports suggests Savile was a very ordinary sex offender, just one given extraordinary opportunities by his fame, charity work and patronage by politicians and royals among other powerful figures. He attacked the vulnerable when he was certain of not being caught, or when he knew others would cover for him, in the exact same way as the vast majority of sex offenders have and always will.
Clearly though such findings aren't what's required when Savile has been worked up to be the monster to end all monsters. The Stoke Mandeville report shamefully reproduces the rumours about Savile not just being content with the living but also going after the dead, as obviously such a man with access to the mortuary couldn't have a simple fascination with death as opposed to wanting something else. His reported time spent with his mother's corpse could similarly only be about one thing. The Guardian, in what has to be one of the most ridiculous editorials the paper has ever published, reflects it is "difficult to comprehend the existence of such a completely unrestrained id". Well yes, it might be if half of what has been written or claimed is true, as opposed to the febrile imaginations of journalists taking the already shocking and deciding the ante has to be upped.
And so the editorial goes on, in what can be taken as being the general tenor of much of the coverage. The writer manages to weave in the exhumation of the judges who condemned Charles the II's father to death, obviously primitive behaviour to us now "but the savage, theatrical desecration captures and discharges something of the rage that Savile’s wickedness inspires today", before moving on to mention Pol Pot, who oblivion is also too good for. One way of addressing the need for closure or something like it robbed of us by Savile's death could be a "public ceremony of what used to be called commination, a ritual expression of public condemnation and disgust". Or we could just let the nation's hacks carry on as they have been and leave it at that.
From a larger than life monster we move to one previously identifiable only by his gravelly London accent. If making Savile out to be evil incarnate is daft or rather distraction, when no one seems to really want to inquire into how it was Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles were taken in by his charms, especially curious when the likes of Leon Brittan are cast to the dogs without a scintilla of evidence being presented against them, then the frotting of Emwazi, as that's what it's been, has been jaw dropping in its stupidity. In the space of four days nearly every aspect of Emwazi's life prior to his joining Islamic State has been set out, no detail being too slight to be ignored. He went to school with Tulisa, didn't have any social media accounts, worked in Kuwait where he was a model employee, was a "beautiful man", had a collision with a goal post, played Duke Nukem, joined a gang, was bullied, had bad breath, "borderline stalked" a girl he was supposedly infatuated with, used both drink and drugs, was "painfully shy", has a Chelsea tattoo on the back of his neck, was allegedly choked by an MI5 officer, played five-a-side football, got a second from the University of Westminster, and took anger management courses as a teenager.
That I've only made one of the above things up is testament to how unrestrained by any notion of well, sanity the detailing of Emwazi's past has been. Some of it has no doubt been prompted by how up till now he has been the face of Islamic State, and the obvious shock that comes from someone who grew up in Britain killing on camera out of political-cum-religious motivation, but all the same. Emwazi is not the Islamic State; he most probably is not even above a middle ranking position in the organisation; he's a propaganda prop, utterly disposable, and that's it. He's a tool (in more ways than one), just as the cadres of extremist organisations in the past have carried out the orders of their leaders. Making him out to be something more is to fall completely into the gaping trap of turning him into a hero for bedroom jihadis and other fellow travellers, which is of course precisely what IS wants. It's why he was the centrepoint of the mass beheading of Syrian officers, with other foreign fighters at his side, why the camera zoomed on his face as he carried out the act. What the media hasn't reported is the fear in those eyes, instead of the defiance and belligerence they were meant to convey.
There is next to no need to understand how he came to be Islamic State's chief prop. Perhaps there's something in the stories of his time at school, but equally perhaps there's not. The important facts are the all too familiar ones: he was part of a wider group of extremists who no doubt reinforced each other's beliefs; they were known to the security services; they had some contact with him; he ended up going to Syria. Exactly how he came to be radicalised is of slight interest, but only slight. Maybe it somewhat happened at university, perhaps he was already going down that path. Perhaps the bull in a china shop actions of MI5 had some influence on his decisions, perhaps they didn't. If there are questions deserving answers, it's on just how serious MI5 is when it suggests to those it encounters they become informants, as it does seem to have been offered to almost every individual who has subsequently launched an attack. Does it ever work? How does MI5 know it isn't being played? Has it really, honestly, prevented attacks?
All too predictably with the election coming, much hay is being made by all parties over just who can best protect the nation from such people. The Tories say they know better than universities who should and shouldn't be allowed to speak on campus, the Lib Dems say no, they do, and Labour says control orders should be brought back, as they were just as big a success as TPIMs. The reality is no one has the first fucking idea on how we can stop more Emwazis, only they're a massive threat and something ought to be done. Instead it's easier to detail Emwazi's life up to now in much the same vein as a MTV "behind the music" docu would, only in this instance everyone's looking "behind the terror". Because it couldn't be there just isn't anything to find, could it?