Editor: I hate using the term ‘Jihadi John’

GCAsponsorTHE parliamentary candidates in Hampstead and Kilburn renewed their election argument at the Belsize Square Synagogue last night. I say argument, but they are all very civil to each other at these hustings. Beyond the rosettes from Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP, the sixth panel member was Ham and High newspaper editor Geoff Martin, who had been invited in the same vein that a journalist often pops on the end of the table on Question Time.

He answered the same questions as the candidates, speaking on how he thought Labour’s mansion tax was unfair and that “if Tulip loses this election by 50 votes, she can blame the mansion tax”. On housing, he made the point that if people are serious about increasing the stock of affordable homes in London amidst the housing crisis, they cannot oppose every single new, large development which may change the look of their local neighbourhood.

As somebody with less experience but in the same field, I was interested when the subject of terrorism and Isis came up, and his dislike for the term ‘Jihadi John’, the cartoon name given to Mohammed Emwazi by the majority of newspapers. In the CNJ newsroom, I’d agree and argue not that Emwazi’s story goes untold, but is told without that de-sensitising nickname. It somehow puts a movie script, computer game sheath on the brutality of it all; it spurns waves of ill-coloured Twitter one-liners like ‘is Jihadi John Jilted John’s brother?’. I don’t really buy the idea that he’s feeling bruised and mocked somewhere by an unwanted moniker forced on his mask. Notoriety had always been sought.

There may be a charge of hypocrisy, given the hundred times I’ve used the term ‘Camden Ripper’ in the paper when describing Anthony Hardy. Again, this invention turns him into some sort of baddie you’d find on television, say an episode of Luther or something dimly-lit Film Four would show after 11pm on a Sunday. But, damnit, in real life, he murdered three women by squeezing the life out of them, photographed two of them in demonic masks and Mr Men socks, before chopping their bodies up and throwing them out with the rubbish. In tandem, the national tabloids instantly called him the Camden Ripper and that was that. At some stage, he probably liked the idea of having a horror book sobriquet. 

You can sometimes see in the New Journal’s back issues, a dithering, halfway house attempt by myself to skirt around this by writing ‘Anthony Hardy, the so-called Camden Ripper’.

Yet somehow with the Emwazi story, it feels different.

The nickname risks soaking the entire, complicated, terrifying problem into one man, as if stopping Emwazi before he had left the country would have meant none of those hostages would have been killed in the brutal ways they were. With some honourable exceptions that have made reasoned attempts to understand how a kid from QK can reach the killing scene in Syria, the coverage in the last few days has been shock horror, man was once a boy and he didn’t always kill people. And: He smiled in a school photograph once. In another one, he looked grumpy. 

Geoff had been saying last night that he was more worried about home grown terrorism, incubated in our own communities, rather than people from overseas which UKIP’s Magnus Nielsen had told the room “were coming here to cause us problems”. He replied: “I’m more worried about the Jihadis John and I hate using that term because it is altogether too playful.” He’s right. It is.

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