This article was first published by the Washington Post here.
Before traveling to Syria and becoming “Jihadi John,” the masked English-speaker who beheads Islamic State captives on video, Mohammed Emwazi graduated with a computer programming degree from the University of Westminster. I studied international relations there, and although I never met Emwazi, I wasn’t surprised he had attended my alma mater.
Despite boasting an inspiring academic staff and vibrant student life, the university has a dark side to its campus culture. The ideological climate feels conducive for radicalization; even though the university never intended this, it seems to be a place where extremism can fester. I don’t know if that climate is what turned Mohammed Emwazi into Jihadi John, but Westminster was probably a factor in his radicalization.
When I enrolled there in 2010, the year after Emwazi graduated, my classmates were from every corner of the world, including Britons from a range of ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds. It was a welcome change from my homogenous secondary school in the London suburbs. And during the three years I spent at the university, I found the academic life to be intellectually stimulating; the teaching staff was insightful and knowledgeable. My first impression was that the university was an example of multiculturalism’s success.