Among others, the Metropolitan Police in London are trying to figure out who murdered Jim Foley, the journalist from New Hampshire who should be remembered more for the noble way he lived than the horrific way he died.
On Monday, I was talking to an antiterrorism detective for the Mets who I got to know in 2005 while covering the bombings of Underground trains and a double-decker bus that murdered 52 people.
He said his colleagues have consulted with all sorts of language and linguistics experts and are pretty sure that Jim Foley’s hooded killer is from London, that he was one of three British jihadists who guarded and sometimes brutalized hostages. The hostages called them the Beatles because of their accents.
They called the guy who murdered Jim Foley “John,” as in John Lennon, which is pretty ironic when you think about it. John Lennon was a lot more like Jim Foley than he was like Jihadi John, which the British tabloids have taken to calling him.
If you want to understand what kind of person Jim Foley was, you don’t have to do much more than listen to his parents, John and Diane. They have carried themselves through all this with a grace that is humbling.
Jim Foley grew up in a house where an emphasis was placed on being kind and considerate and decent and conscientious. He was taught that there is a big, wide world out there and that you had a responsibility to be something bigger than yourself. That’s why Jim taught poor kids in Chicago. It’s why he turned to war reporting.
The sheer decency of Diane and John Foley in the face of the obscenity visited on their son stands in such shocking contrast to Jim Foley’s masked, soulless killer.
Jim Foley’s last communication with his family, dictated from memory by a freed hostage who had been held with him, is remarkable, a goodbye infused with love for his family and a deep spirituality.
It is obscenely ironic that the man who beheaded Jim Foley used his own twisted spirituality to justify that murder. Jim Foley’s Catholic faith inspired him to help people, to bear witness to the suffering of ordinary Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Syria. Their race, their nationality, their religion were totally irrelevant to him. They are human beings, and they deserve better. His images of ordinary people suffering was his way of being true to his own faith, a heartfelt belief that most people are good, that when confronted by the suffering of others, they will respond.
For the man who murdered Jim Foley, religion, or at least his contorted view of it, was the only relevant point. The murder was justifiable in his eyes because Jim was a kaffir, a nonbeliever of his own views. And yet he, the murderer, has twisted his own faith to the point that it is unrecognizable.
“I know you are thinking of me and praying for me,” Jim Foley told his family in that last figurative letter home. “And I am so thankful. I feel you all especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.”
Jim Foley signed off, reminding his grandmother, a woman he called Grammy, to take her medicine and promising to take her out for a meal at a Margaritas when he got home.
But he never made it home, and I wonder, what would Jihadi John tell his own grandmother? Would he tell his grammy that he cut a man’s head off in the name of his God?