In much the same way that extroverts cannot make sense of the thoughts and motivations of introverts (and vice-versa), secularists have a difficult time accepting that religious people can actually act on the basis of religious beliefs and motivations.
Nowhere is this more evident than when the political, media and law-enforcement worlds, firmly in the grip of secularist thinking, are faced with the reality of a jihadi terrorist attack. Finding it impossible to believe that the terrorist could truly be motivated by his Islamic convictions, they search high and low for some “more logical” assessment: the perpetrator was moved by poverty, or by anger over Western imperialism, or by social injustice, and so on. But certainly, the motivation could not come from actual religious convictions, because no sane person actually has such strong religious convictions (at least not among the average reporter or politician).
Perhaps the most popular diagnosis offered by official, secular, Western mouthpieces for jihadi atrocities is mental illness. This stems not from any deep psychological assessments by professionals but rather from the inability of secular observers to believe that any human being could hold a set of religious beliefs which would permit the slaughter, maiming, rape or enslavement of another human being.
Thus, it doesn’t really matter what the perpetrator says about his/her motivations, because that can’t be the true reason. If those calling the shots can’t pin the “real” motivation on poverty or some social injustice, they pull out the mental illness card, and in the process show their ignorance of the power of religion (in this case Islam) to inspire behavior.
Consider just a few of many news reports over the last decade:
- In 2009, Major Nidal Hasan, himself a psychiatrist, shoots and kills 13 and wounds 30 more at Ft. Hood, while shouting Allahu akbar (Allah is greater). Despite his prior interaction with a radical cleric and his official work seeking to justify the Islamic concept of jihad to his fellow Army mental health professionals, his rampage is officially labeled “workplace violence” and his mental health is questioned (“deeply troubling, schizoid behavior”).
- In September, 2014, a young Muslim woman in Colorado was pled guilty to conspiring to assist ISIS. Judge Raymond Moore repeatedly asked her if she understood both the charge and what a guilty plea would mean. In spite of her affirmative responses, the judge delayed sentencing and ordered psychiatric testing, saying about her mental state, “I desire more information.”
- In October, 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32-year-old, Canadian Muslim who recently had a religious awakening, attacked Parliament Hill in Ottawa, killing a defenseless soldier before being stopped by Parliament Police when he stormed the building. Being dead, he could not supply his own motivation. Authorities, however, were quick to conclude that he had recently become “mentally unstable,” and fit the profile of men who are “isolated, disturbed and deeply troubled….”
- In January, 2016, Edward Archer ambushed and wounded Officer Jesse Hartnett in the City of Brotherly Love as the policeman was driving his squad car. After being apprehended, Archer told detectives, “I follow Allah. I pledge my allegiance to the Islamic state. That is why I did what I did.” Despite this, during a press briefing Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney declared that whatever the motivation of the shooter, it had “nothing to do” with Islam. Archer’s mother, Valerie Holliday, acknowledged in a phone interview that her son was a devout Muslim who had been practicing the faith “for a long time,” but also believed he was recently suffering from some form of mental illness, hearing voices in his head.
- On Nov. 28, 2016, Abdul Razak Ali Artan rammed his speeding car into a crowd of students on the Ohio State Columbus campus, then exited the stopped car wielding a butcher knife so as to stab more victims, but he was shot dead by a police officer before he could do further significant damage. Just prior to his act of terrorism, he had posted a rant on his Facebook page referring to “lone wolf attacks,” radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and declaring that he had reached a “boiling point.” “America! Stop interfering with other countries, especially Muslim Ummah [community]. We are not weak. We are not weak, remember that,” he warned. Later at a press briefing, a senior law enforcement official remarked that investigators were trying to determine whether Artan had personal problems or something else that might have pushed him over the edge.
Let me skip over scores of other similar stories to the most recent one to grab my attention and illustrate this point: on July 28, 2017 a Palestinian Muslim (known publicly only as Ahmad A.) seeking asylum in Germany entered a market and engaged in a stabbing spree, killing one and wounding six others while yelling Allahu akbar. Though he confessed to terrorism, German authorities were hesitant to believe him, saying instead that he suffered from mental illness. This, in spite of the facts that a friend acknowledged that Ahmad had become significantly radicalized in the past month, and that investigators discovered a homemade ISIS flag in his apartment, and that he was already known to authorities as a Muslim radical. According to Hamburg’s Interior Minister Andy Grote, Ahmad A. “was known as an Islamist but not a jihadist,” whatever that means – apparently you’re not a jihadist until you’ve already spilled the blood of innocents.
In a sadly fascinating display of bureaucratic incompetence, Ahmad’s asylum application had been rejected prior to the attack, but German authorities couldn’t deport him because he had come to Germany in 2015 without any identification papers, and he had “mental health problems.” Not knowing what to do with him, they did nothing.
Yesterday, Ahmad A. stood trial for his crimes. Contrary to early police reports of mental illness, the defendant corroborated his initial confession to authorities, “Yes, I am a terrorist.” He asserted that his Muslim faith led him to want to kill as many Christians as possible. Ahmad’s lawyer read a letter in which the defendant pled guilty to all charges, and then went on to say his client believes that the deeds done were motivated by his religion. “He made this decision as a contribution to the global jihad,” the attorney summarized.
No verdict has yet been rendered. It will be interesting to see whether the court sees Ahmad A. as sane and takes him at his word that Islam led him to his jihadi terrorism, or whether, following the secularist narrative, he must be insane and so needs treatment for his psychological condition rather than punishment for his crimes.
As we continue to see, secular thinking has no native category in which to place religious motivations (of any sort), except perhaps that of mythology, and of course mythology cannot really inspire people to drastic actions. When a religious person commits heinous acts and attributes it to his/her religious beliefs, a secularist naturally concludes that the perpetrator must be mentally imbalanced or insane, because no sane person (as defined by a secular outlook) could be deeply motivated by religious beliefs.
Those who deeply believe in God know differently of course, but what self-respecting secularist is going to accept lessons on sanity from a religious person? In their minds, that would be like an iPhone user going to a Morse code operator seeking help. The motivations of believing Muslim jihadis will continue to stump the irreligious Western world.