It’s all in the face, apparently. Just check out that terrifying mug shot of Mohammad Atta, the so-called “ringleader” of the 19 hijackers who staged the 9/11 attacks. His face, wrote the novelist Martin Amis in a short story about Atta, was “gangrenous” and “almost comically malevolent.” Hateful, too:
The detestation, the detestation of everything, was being sculpted on it, from within. He was amazed that he was still allowed to walk the streets, let alone enter a building or board a plane. Another day, one more day, and they wouldn’t let him. Why didn’t everybody point, why didn’t they cringe, why didn’t they run?
In his investigative study Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, Bernard-Henri Levy described Pearl’s convicted murderer, the British-Pakistani Omar Sheikh, as “handsome,” his face showing no “vice or malice though somewhat veiled.” He looked “intelligent and rather frank ... a strong chin under a well-trimmed beard, a good man it would seem, slightly tart smile, an intellectual demeanor, very Westernized—nothing, in any case, that signals the obtuse Islamist, the fanatic.”
So it’s not, apparently, all in the face, although the implication in Levy’s portrait, as in Amis’s fictionalized account of Atta, is that it should be, and that Pearl’s killer was somehow an aberration.
The idea that human evil is inscribed into the body and face of the criminal offender has deep roots, and is in fact the animating throb behind modern scientific criminology and its founding document, Cesare Lombroso’s The Criminal Man, published in 1876. It is also an underlying assumption in much of the news coverage of the Kuwaiti-born Londoner Mohammed Emwazi, who was exposed recently as the ISIS executioner “Jihadi John.”