The name of Jihadi John, aka Mohammed Emwazi, has been added to the roll-call of national hate-figures. There he stands, alongside Myra Hindley, Ian Brady, Ian Huntley, Harold Shipman, Jimmy Saville, and one or two others, condemned quite rightly for acts of subhuman barbarism.

What turns a person into a monster? This is one of the great unanswered questions about human nature. But answers to this question inevitably fall into two categories, the first stating that such people are born bad and are innately bad, the second that they are driven to the bad by external forces, powers and influences.

Mohammed Emwazi doesn’t appear to fall into the first category. Reports suggest that while he may have been a quiet and somewhat withdrawn young man he showed no early signs of sadistic or sociopathic behaviour. But if he was drawn towards evil, did hypnosis somehow play a part?

If we’re talking about formal hypnosis then I would suggest that the answer is a resounding NO, tempting though it may be to imagine Emwazi transfixed by the mad, fanatical gaze of a hate preacher. You cannot hypnotize someone to do something which they do not wish to do. If hypnosis was involved then it would have been at a more mundane level, the sort of hypnoidal state we are in and out of all of the time, rendering us more susceptible to suggestion than we would be if our full cognitive / analytical faculties were fully engaged.

Aristotle once said that everything we do is directed towards some good. If Emwazi was not a depraved monster from birth, and I’m prepared to believe that he wasn’t, then the “good” at which his actions were aiming at would have been a vision of an alternative way of life. In Emwazi’s case, and in the case of many like him, this positive suggestion gets reinforced to a level at which it overrides normal, commonsense, human morality. If the path to Utopia requires a few beheadings then so be it.

However abhorrent we find their ideology, however sickened we are by their brutality and callousness, we can, perhaps, understand why Emwazi and his ilk seek a wholly different way of living.

At the time of writing, there is a general election looming. We are hearing an awful lot from politicians. Scratch the thin varnish of their words and underneath it is plain to see that their only value is material. Their only value is money. The importance and value of a person is directly proportionate to their ability to earn, save, spend and invest. If you cannot do that then you are not only worthless, you are also undeserving. The business of earning and acquiring is becoming harder with each year that passes. Wages soar at the tip of the iceberg. Below that tip they are stagnant or falling. The goal of property ownership is receding for a generation faced with vast personal debt levels and soaring property prices. To stay at home and raise a family is now a luxury reserved only for that minority which can afford it.

The front page of today’s Daily Mail says that Jihadi John’s family spend most of their time in Britain on benefits and handouts. If this is true then it is not hard to see why someone like Emwazi may have felt that success in Britain was virtually unachievable.

Where and how was the positive suggestion of a new way of living implanted in his mind? Possibly in a religious context. I’ve never been inside a mosque but I do know that Christian churches are, or can be, powerfully hypnotic places. I only have to think of the dark lighting, the swinging incense burners, the slow enunciation of prayers, or even Gregorian chant, and I start going into trance. If the atmosphere in a mosque is anything similar then it is not hard to see why and how Emwazi bought into the idea of the possibility of a moral, virtuous, non-materialistic, non-decadent society.

Or maybe he got the idea off the internet, spending hour after hour staring at the content of extremist websites. Computers induce hypnosis. Usually this is no more dangerous than staring at the television or daydreaming out of a window. But if what you encounter online starts to feed some deep hunger within then you could be drawn far from the path of safety. The hypnoidal state induced by staring at a computer screen can then become the medium for all sorts of suggestions, good or bad, positive or negative. People with money problems become trapped by on-line gaming sites, lose what little money they have and get up to their necks in debt. People with relationship problems become addicted to on-line pornography. And people who believe that the county they’re living in not only offers them no hope but is actively blocking the path to fulfilment can, in some cases, be seduced into taking up arms or making bombs, all in the deluded belief that it is bringing happiness, whether in this world or the next, a little closer.

None of this, in any way, excuses Jihadi John. If he is ever caught and brought to justice then let his punishment be as severe as society sees fit to impose. But I do think that it is important to understand his motives and the influences which acted on him.

Many years ago, the then prime minister, John Major, said that society should condemn a little more and understand a little less. I’m quite happy to condemn a criminal such as Jihadi John but I think that understanding them is crucial. I think that the most effective way of deterring these people is to attack the very ideal at which they are aiming, or at least expose it as false.

There will be no “Caliphate”. Emwazi will probably die in an allied bombing raid. The three young London schoolgirls who absconded to Syria will soon tire of a life of domestic and sexual slavery. Because happiness is only possible where there is peace and freedom. And, at present, there is peace and freedom in Great Britain.

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