Mass Killings and Mental Illness

Gary Fouse

Recent events around the world, including the US, have caused many of us to consider the question of mental illness when especially heinous crimes are committed, particularly involving mass murder. As I write, the US, just yesterday (May 24), has experienced a horrific elementary school shooting in Texas. Ninteeen children and three adults (including the 18-year-old shooter) are reported dead. Just a couple of weeks ago, we were shocked by a racially motivated shooting in Buffalo when ten people were shot and killed by a young white gunman targeting black people. In addition, the US in the last couple of decades has suffered a number of mass-casualty school attacks that defy explanation.

We are also dealing with the issue of terror attacks at the hands of Islamic terrorists, which often result in mass casualties, but just as often with only one or two casualties, attacks committed either by suicide vest, gun, or simply using a knife or car if that is all that is available.

In Europe, being politically correct, the politicians, police, and media are very quick to describe a Muslim attacker as "mentally ill". Just two days ago (Monday), a man shouting, "Allahu Akhbar" entered the embassy of Qatar in Paris, and beat and strangled a security guard to death as police had to wait outside almost an hour for official written permission to enter the embassy and intervene. As usual, the assailant is being described as having a history of mental illness. It's not just in France, but also in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, and other Western European countries dealing with a massive influx of Muslim migrants, mostly, single young males. Aside from periodic terror attacks, the rate of murder, aggravated assault, and rape has skyrocketed. In Europe, the powers that be would prefer to label them as individuals with mental problems (which have nothing to do with Islam, of course). Apparently, they are all crazy. But are they?

It is pretty much a given that we have a mental health crisis in the US. When you consider the amount of violent crime, senseless attacks, homelessness, and drug abuse, I fully agree that we have a mental health crisis, and crime is a component of that.

Recently, one of my anonymous reader/commentators took me to task for, according to him or her, being (among those) ready to assign mental illness to white racist perpetrators but not to Muslim attackers when they murder someone to the cry of "Allahu Akhbar". In other words, killing non-Muslims in the name of Islam. 

While I think my critic was off-base (I don't excuse murder by anybody), the point merits some reflection. 

Mass murderers generally by definition have a few screws loose. That applies both to serial killers and one-timers who explode and take out as many victims as they can in one fell swoop.  (It is also true that serial killers and mass killers tend to be white.)

The issue of Islamic radicalization and acts of violence against non-Muslims (or Muslims of other sects) seems more complex because they are following an ideology. An ideology they interpret as requiring them to wage violent jihad against infidels. Of course, not all Muslims subscribe to that ideology, preferring to live peacefully with their neighbors and make a living to support their families.

But many do feel called upon to join the jihad-the "lesser jihad" as the Prophet Mohammad was quoted as saying as he returned from a battle: The "greater jihad" was the inner struggle to be a better Muslim. It is this latter jihad that you hear about when you talk to Islamic apologists. The fact is that both jihads exist.

So the question begs: Are violent Muslim extremists, the members of al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic State-and those who act independently, such as this week's attacker at the Qatari embassy in Paris-insane? Are they all deranged individuals who are incapable of acting rationally? Were the 19 hijackers of 9-11 all insane? They carried off the biggest terror attack in history. They had a motive. They apparently acted very calmly and methodically. In that case, you had 19 "crazies" who all found each other and coordinated their operation perfectly.

The critics of Islam-those who have either left it or studied it in detail- would tell you that a perfectly sane, rational person can attend certain mosques, listen to certain imams, learn the Koran, the Hadith, and the life and sayings of Mohammed, and come to a perfectly rational conclusion that his or her religion compels him/her to take up arms and kill people in the name of Allah. Again, not all Muslims follow that call, but we need to be on our guard for those who might.

So the question of which murderers are mentally ill and which are simply evil is a bit tricky. We should differentiate according to sound reasoning and not assign labels selectively.

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