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We Would Rather Believe Jihadi John Was Always Evil

11/03/2015 12:28 GMT | Updated 10/05/2015 10:59 BST

By its very composition, the term "radicalised" accepts a past tense. A past where such a person was not radical, where he or she was normal.

Despite this, all hell broke loose when Asim Qureishi, a director with UK prisoners' rights group CAGE, said "the Mohammed Emwazi that I knew [based on correspondence between 2009 and January 2012] was extremely kind, extremely gentle... the most humble young person that I knew."

Admittedly, it was a PR failure by CAGE. They should have picked their words more carefully on such a sensitive issue. Their naivety has cost them dearly. But that was their only crime, being naive.

The general public reacted with disgust. Instead of front-page headlines on the newfound identity of Jihadi John, many outlets focused on some variation of "Important human rights group or apologists for terror?" In reality, CAGE's role merely sought to highlight the potential reasons behind Emwazi's radicalisation. They discerned security service treatment as a possible factor, among many.

However, this goes against the perpetual narrative that terrorists are evil "because they are evil". The masses would rather perceive a dichotomy between Isis and the West which makes one inherently evil, just because they are. And the other morally superior, because they are. Cause and effect become irrelevant. Past and present are blurred into oblivion.

We would rather believe Jihadi John was always evil. He always wanted to behead people. Bomb others. Burn innocents. To argue otherwise is to be an apologist for terrorism, it makes you "part of the problem". And thus the parameters of discussion are severely constrained; a large chunk of freedom of expression is eroded by baseless stigma.

Yet Owen Jones, on last week's Comment is Free, indicated an interesting analogy. He said: "Is examining the role of, say, Versailles and economic crisis in the rise of Nazism making excuses for it? If we provide such context for the most barbarous ideology in human history, why not elsewhere?"

The same way, exploring root causes and any possible factors which could acclimate the occurrence of "radicalisation" is not necessarily an exercise in vindication.

If we do not agree with CAGE's deduction, we should constructively criticise their approach after reading all of the evidence involved. It does no one any favours to lampoon abuse while offering nothing to the discussion at hand.

It is also worth noting that at no point does this absolve the individual perpetrator of any crimes. As Peter Oborne wrote, in a blog about CAGE on the Telegraph last year, "Indeed one of the most important tests of a robust legal system is the way it defends unpopular minorities."

The same way, one of the most important tests for any government or people, is how we can tackle emotionally charged issues in a rational way which contributes to the overarching discourse. In a way which helps everyone involved, rather than serving to feed and propagate the most simple-minded and impulsive of reactions.