Reading Robb Leech‘s poignant article about his stepbrother: “My brother wanted to be a jihadi – and society is creating many more like him” in The Guardian this morning, one paragraph has struck me as particularly significant .
After his brother Rich had converted to Islam, he constantly talked about fighting Western oppression, but according to Leech:
“I never saw Rich as a terrorist, and didn’t see any of the people he surrounded himself with as terrorists either. What I saw were, and I hate to say it – vulnerable young men – with massive great chips on their shoulders. With their radical new status they felt empowered, superior and perhaps most annoyingly for me, righteous”
Leech chose not to see what had become of his brother and not to listen to his words, he admits that he had not taken him seriously. Instead, it was easier for him to continue treating him as the same confused young man, whom he had known for so many years.
Leech regrets that he had not seen it earlier:
“In hindsight, Rich’s arrest and subsequent conviction shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me: he set out to do what he had always talked of. As I stood in the public gallery and heard the evidence put forward by the prosecution, I looked into the dock to see Rich’s stony face (which would shortly afterwards utter the word “guilty”), and felt let down and sad, but also unexpectedly stupid. The proverbial wool had been pulled over my eyes – our last meeting at the coffee shop had filled me with hope and optimism, but Rich knew it was potentially our last. In retrospect, maybe I should have taken him more seriously.”
This blindness (and deafness) about a family member, which Leech describes, is understandable and universal. It is also the cause for so many errors of judgment. Often parents are the last ones to realize that their child has a drug problem, a woman is the last one to believe that her husband is cheating on her, etc.
In Israeli society similar blindness and deafness about our own people had prevented many of us from recognizing, until it was too late, the actions of the settlers as terrorism. I had a chance to personally experience it . Last year I took part in a bus tour organized by Peace Now to educate the public about the effects of Israeli terrorism in the occupied territories. The tour’s destination were the areas which were the targets of settlers’ terrorism. We visited the Palestinian village of Kousra where only few days prior to that tour ten settlers from a nearby settlement were caught after they had come to vandalize the village.
Then we drove up to the next hill to see the area where the settlers came from. On the way up we saw a group of young women and men with their small children engaged in some educational activity. They seemed peaceful and devoted to their children. Yet, the 10 extremists who attacked their Palestinian neighbors were probably part of that group..
They were right in front of us, still it was almost impossible to see them as terrorists or to believe that they were responsible for the vicious attacks. Robb Leech is right we had to pull the wool over our eyes much earlier.