Category Archives: Terrorism

Creative talent

Alban Denuit

Today the Washington Post is running portraits of the victims of the massacre last weekend in Paris. Beside each name, usually matched with a photo, is a stifled litany of these young people’s accomplishments and promise (the big majority of victims were in their 20s and 30s):

  • Alban Denuit, 32, a French sculptor and Ph.D.
  • Amine Ibnolmobarak, 32, an architect and teacher of architecture, “the quintessential young Muslim intellectual”
  • Anna Liefrig, 24, a graphic designer, “a cheerful and brilliant young woman”
  • Djamila Houd, 41, who worked in the fashion industry
  • Elodie Breuil, 23, a design student who’d marched in the Charlie Hebdo rallies last January
  • Fanny Minot, 29, an editor at a TV show who “just loved life”
  • Kheireddine Sahbi, 29, an Algerian-born “virtuoso violinist … involved in all forms of traditional music”

And the list, like others lists before it, goes on and on.

So many young lives snuffed out, so inexplicably.

Unless we accept as an explanation the fear and hatred of a paranoid religious ideology that can not tolerate any deviance whatsoever.

Deviance from its own deviance, that is.

No love of the things of this earth, its earthly pleasures, its wine (swirled in the bowl), women (uncovered), song (uncensored).

How easy, then, to pick up a gun and fire indiscriminately into a crowd?

An AK-47, say, which is takes how long to learn to play, compared with the violin that Ms Sahbi mastered?

With Mr Denuit’s sculptor’s chisel and hammer?

With the years of study and dedication that the big majority of victims had put into their careers and contributed to society?

Never mind all that, the terrorists would say. You infidels. You dogs. Now you shall die.

If ISIS is in fact looking for an end-time game, an apocalyptic battle in Syria, they may soon have their hands full, as the Western powers gather for a showdown. And if this battle doesn’t materialize, so what? The ignorant and violent will have their day again, shedding blood, which is so much easier to do that learning sculpture, or design, or words, or loving your fellow man despite all differences.




The mind of the mass murderer

James Holmes
James Holmes, the Batman killer of the Colorado theater.

We’ve all been attuned to mass killings in the US lately. The names James Eagan Holmes, Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, Dylann Storm Roof,  Aaron Alexis, John Zawahri, and Adam Lanza may not exactly roll off the tongue. In fact, we may prefer to entomb them in oblivion and not resurrect them at all. But whether we remember them or not, they are there, in oblivion and latency also.

The mass killings in Paris this weekend only serve to remind us that terror exists on many fronts, geographical, psychological, and ideological.

Terror begins at home, in the minds of each of us individually, and the more we tolerate violence and promote it in our own lives the more we promote it everywhere, consciously or not.

I’ve been researching the mind of the mass murderer and finding all sorts of fascinating things. From Psychology Today to Freudian treatises, students of this problem have tried to descry what makes a mass murderer a mass murderer.

One illuminating article, by James L Knoll IV, MD, suggests that the mass murderer, or “pseudocommando[,] is driven by strong feelings of anger and resentment, flowing from beliefs about being persecuted or grossly mistreated. He views himself as carrying out a highly personal agenda of payback. Some mass murderers take special steps to send a final communication to the public or news media….”

These communications may be among the most interesting phenomena in connection with the commandos, for they reveal their unreal sense of grievance and despair. The world has wronged them — them and their narcissistic egos. And now comes payback time, when they will be revealed in their full glory and true potency.

Isn’t this same thing happening, on a larger, ideological scale in the Middle East? Islamists, who have been told from birth that Islam is the one true religion, the only way of making sense of the world, are assaulted on all sides by signs of the progress of the West. The vaunted West with our material superiority, our secular values, our libidinal and other pleasures on full display in the media. (Our women, our whiskey, our song.)

Adam Gopnik, in a piece in The New Yorker, attributes the attack on Paris especially to radical Islamists’ desire to attack our capital of pleasure. An ISIS communique boasts, “Targeting the capital of prostitution and obscenity . . . Paris shook under [the attackers’] feet, and its streets were tight upon them.”

How dare they enjoy themselves, these white young men and women while we sit back in the shadows of our ideology and stew? We don’t exist, in comparison. We are nothing. Nothing if not nihilists. We kill, and only then and therefore, in the potency of destruction, we are.

To return to Dr. Knoll, the mass murderer experiences “revenge fantasies … inflexible and persistent because they provide desperately needed sustenance to his self-esteem. He is able to feel better by gaining a sense of (pseudo) power and control by ruminating on, and finally planning out his vengeance….. fantasies may lead the avenger to ‘experience pleasure at imagining the suffering of the target and pride at being on the side of some spiritual primal justice.’”

Yes, he who in the face of Western pleasure willy-nilly suffers anhedonia is able to achieve pleasure — indeed, a kind of orgasm of meaning and potency — only in the death of those he kills and, since he too is likely to perish, in his own death.

Individual and ideological mass murderers merge in this portrait. Whether a failure by personal fault or ideology, or both, the murderer is impotent … until, he thinks, he kills.