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The big news this morning is that “Jihadi John” has been identified. According to the Washington Post, the barbaric executioner who has featured in several ISIS beheading videos is Mohammed Emwazi. Born in Kuwait, he is a British citizen who grew up in a well-to-do family in London and earned a British degree in computer programming.
For anyone who understands how the world works there is a parable here: it is hard to imagine any Japanese or Korean citizen ending up as ISIS’s Lord High Executioner. Both Japan and Korea have worked with extreme diligence to minimize the number of foreigners in their midst and their proportion of Muslims is vanishingly small.
China is a more complicated story in that Muslims have for centuries been an important factor in its Western provinces, and tensions with the majority Han community have often been ignited. Nonetheless it is hard to imagine any Chinese-born Muslim taking such a provocative role in world affairs. China’s system of constraints is just too effective (among other things, China believes in holding someone’s family responsible for deviations from prescribed behavior).
It appears that Mohammed Emwazi was not always a radical. His radicalization seemingly was triggered by less than sympathetic handling at the hands of British counterterrorism officials, who detained him and searched his belongings. It is easy to see how British officials could have created the problem they were trying to avoid. The majority of British Muslims rank at the low end of the British income scale, and this may have influenced how the authorities treated Emwazi. Meanwhlie Emwazi probably had a chip on his shoulder from countless previous slights.
Again this is a sharp contrast with how things work in East Asia. However concerned Japanese or Korean officials might be about a foreign-born potential terrorism suspect, they would have taken care to avoid unnecessarily ruffling his feathers.
At the end of the day, there is a fundamental divide here. In the East, nations have clung to traditional concepts of nationhood, can administer themselves easily and their counterterrorism activities rarely create unintended consequences. In the West, we strive to honor the ideal that individual citizens of various ethnic and religious backgrounds be treated equally. In practice when our efforts fall short, the consequences can be distressing.
One thing is for sure: for better or worse, East Asia has no plans to join the West in opening up to more liberal immigration policies.