The point I was making is about this, the fine line. And yes, perhaps my reaction was out of anger for those children and parents whose lives have been truly perturbed and filled with fear due to the Paris events- and his claim to have been attacked made their lives even more perturbed and even more full of fear. The point which ensured, about the fine line... is a separate issue:
All this does not apply to the so called “home-grown jihadists,” such as the Tsarnaev brothers or Michael Adebolajo of the horrific London incident. Their connection to Islam is tenuous. The Tsarnaev brothers grew in a family of non-believers. The Muslim beliefs of the Chechen people, like the religious
beliefs of all the other peoples of the Soviet Union, were basically extinguished during the 70 years of the Soviet regime which was militantly atheist. Perhaps, the generation born before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, kept their religion (though there is much evidence that many did not), but they could not even transmit it to their children, because such transmission was considered criminal activity. Most of the Tsarnaev family members remain non-believers until today; those who turned to religion did so in the United States. Similarly, the family of Michael Adebolajo, a second generation immigrant from Nigeria, is Christian, the young man converted to Islam ten years ago, in Britain.
This means that, rather than being the motivation
(and cause) of these men’s actions, Islam in their cases becomes a puzzle that must be explained. Moreover, with the causal chain reversed, their actions can no longer be considered rational: their identities are not defined by Islam, and the political goals of the ideology are not their personal goals.
Could it be that they have turned to Islam, in the first place, because they felt uncomfortable in their original identity (as non-believers, in one case, and as Christian, in the other), in their social environment
? Research I have done for my recent book (see below) on mental illness in the modern world, leads me to conclude that such was the case indeed. What we have here is young people suffering from a profound psychological malaise, expressed as discontent with what one is (a sense of inferiority, in fact) and social maladjustment—regularly presented both with depressive and schizophreniform disorders—which provokes in them violent emotions, rage against both themselves and the environment, and in their attempt to make sense of these emotions, they clutch at the available and salient ideologies (such as Islam, widely believed in our society, as well as in Britain, to motivate rage against the West), which then justify their emotions in their own eyes and allow them to express these emotions. Their acts are expressive, not instrumental; they help to achieve no goal beyond that.
Therefore, they are not political acts at all and cannot be characterized as terrorist. Instead, they are symptoms of a widespread mental dis-ease. In fact, when the spurious connection of the “homegrown” terrorist acts, such as the recent Boston Marathon bombings and the London incident, to Islam no longer channels our investigations away from the focus on the personal history of the people who commit them, we observe how similar both the background and the nature of these violent acts are to those of Adam Lanza (of Newtown) or James Holmes (the Aurora theater shooter).
If this is so, it may be up to the mental health
professions, rather than anti-terrorist agencies, to prevent similar tragic events in the future.
Liah Greenfeld PhD, is the author of Mind, Modernity, Madness: The Impact of Culture on Human Experience (link is external)