With Canada still reeling from last week’s unprecedented terror attacks, can we make ourselves safe from the threat of “radicalized” Muslims?
It is now pretty clear that both of Canada’s two terrorist attackers last week were mentally disturbed men. Their acts of violence were not caused by a religion the police can censor or a terrorist organization the military can bomb.
These two men weren’t “radicalized.” They were losing their minds.
Wednesday’s Parliament Hill attacker, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was a drug addict who once robbed a McDonald’s in the hope that he could “get to jail to atone for his sins and get clean from a crack addiction.”
In other words, this man suffered mental torment. He decided that by attacking others, he could force them into a response that would cleanse his guilt and silence his troubled mind. When getting locked in a cage didn’t do the trick, Zehaf-Bibeau decided to up the ante and get himself killed.
Monday’s hit-and-run attacker, Martin Couture-Rouleau, apparently underwent a radical personality change two years ago. He lost his car wash business and became alienated from his friends, his father, and his wife. Only later did he convert to Islam, start talking to his horrified friends and family about the redemptive power of suicide terrorism, and then run over two soldiers with his car.
At the time of his car attack, his wife was seeking sole custody of their child because of the changes in her husband’s behavior.
This was not a functional Muslim man who decided to take up arms because he saw some beheading video on YouTube. He was a superficial convert dealing with, at the very least, some serious emotional changes and relationship problems.
The kind of personality transformation Couture-Rouleau apparently underwent seems to be consistent with the onset of schizophrenia, which usually happens in a man’s early 20s. Couture-Rouleau would have been 23 when the changes started.
These men were not good Muslims on the accepted path of proper conduct in their faith communities. Couture-Rouleau’s imam had been meeting with him in an attempt to talk him out of his interest in acts of violence. Zehaf-Bibeau had recently been kicked out of a mosque in British Columbia for his erratic, drug-induced behavior.
These were unstable men living with intense mental and emotional turmoil.
From the point of view of the mentally disturbed person seeking to end his psychological suffering, authentic religious devotion has a downside: you have to keep at it day after day. You pray, you work, and you still have to face your inner demons every morning and every night.
Suicidal violence has the advantage that you only have to do it once.
That these recent attacks have more to do with insanity than with Islam or ISIS may not be convenient for Western governments. It does not provide a shadowy supervillain against whom to defend ourselves. It provides no outlet for the Western public’s fear and anger, and it provides no justification for war. We cannot bomb our way to sanity.
This fact is also not advantageous for ISIS propagandists, who would prefer to congratulate Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau as holy warriors rather than express sympathy for them as mentally ill.
But there’s a plus side for those who prefer peace. The mental instability of last week’s two Canadian terrorists is a reminder of why suicide terrorists are really not that dangerous. The desperate people who usually carry out these attacks are likely not capable of the kind of delicate, slow-moving, secret operation required to set off a dirty bomb or a biological weapon in a Western city.
They have what Ludwig von Mises would call a high “time preference.” They want to end their own suffering and they want to end it now.
These terrorists (if we want to use that word for such tormented souls as Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau) were not actually trying to achieve mass casualties. They were trying to end their own pain and shame.
Suicidal violence with a hastily adopted patina of Islam was just the rope they chose to hang themselves with.
Originally published in Anything Peaceful.