It is difficult to know what to say after the horrendous attacks on the innocent citizens of Paris on Friday. The horror we all feel is not only because we feel sympathy for the victims but also the all too obvious reflection that if this could happen in Paris in the sorts of place where there isn’t normally an apparent need for security then it could happen to any of us anywhere in the world: not just Beirut, Baghdad and Kabul where we have become inured to such carnage, but also in Paris and no doubt London, New York, Berlin and Moscow.
However, little analysis has been done as to what type of person becomes attracted to commit these crimes. An article in the Guardian gives some insight as to what incites this Teenage Jihad, and what it reveals is that the stay-at-home terrorists who carry out such atrocities have rather more in common with fantasists like Anders Breivik and the bored American teenagers who at least once a week shoot up fellow students and cinema-goers.
You could say for Breivik and for the teenage followers of Islamic State that there might be an element of ideology underpinning their relish for massacre, but I would say that the tenets of Islam, just like those of the radical Right, are not necessarily a set of instructions to take AK47s into the street and shoot down strangers. In fact, I think the real motivator is the attraction of inflicting violence on other people and the means to do it. In all these cases, Anders Breivik, the American teenagers and the ISIS jihadists, there is a very similar pattern.
First there is the motivation, which as we know from the countless cases of American teenage mass-murderers, is often a very weak kind of excuse that becomes hardened over time more by a process of reinforced self-delusion than brainwashing or even ideology. Although many of the teenage jihadists may well think their reward lies in the afterlife, my guess is that it is rather more nihilistic and much more about going down in a blaze of glory. It is likely that it is more images of a Hollywood hero dying in the final few frames of a movie with a grim smile and suitable background music than images of an eternity worshipping Allah that motivated them towards what most of us would consider the ultimate sacrifice.
Secondly there is the means. In America, these are bought over the counter at Walmart and other reputable stores. It’s not that difficult to buy weapons in Sweden and Norway (although mostly as protection against bears and wolves). And Islamic State has the necessary stash of weaponry in Syria and Iraq and also has the means to distribute these lethal weapons to French, Belgian and other teenage militants should they show the willing to use them.
Thirdly, there is the planning which when stretched over a long time and conducted sufficiently dispassionately, will make the whole exercise into a kind of game that appeals to an aspect of human nature that we all share and that is the need for a kind of purpose and meaning to our daily lives. The problem with the planning involved here is that the end result isn’t to pass an exam, catch the right combination of trains and planes to get on holiday or organise a pension, but to be involved in action that will almost certainly end in the perpetrators’ death.
The preparation and cost ultimately leads to a sequence of events that for those engaged is probably more like a video game. It is exciting, it is deadly and, for the kind of people most attracted to it, the carnage and chaos is undoubtedly fun.
Which it most definitely wasn’t for those in the cafes, restaurants and concert theatre where the guns and bombs were used.
I don’t know what the right response to all this should be and I guess the security services and the elected governments have a duty to apprehend the criminals and secure the safety of ordinary citizens. And after so much provocation, I would be surprised if the conflict in the Middle East doesn’t lead to a more conventional kind of warfare. But this has all become very ugly, will become uglier still and there will be much injustice perpetrated on both sides before it’s resolved.
What I don’t expect to see is the same restraint practised by the National Rifle Association and the American Republican Party towards the continued sale of lethal weapons in the United States extended towards the rights and freedoms of Muslims whether in America or on the other side of the globe.