Behind the headlines, more mothers weep. Three young lives cut off: two full of hope cut down by one full of hopelessness. Rage cannot make sense of it.
I would have preferred it had the man been arrested, but I will not weep for his fall. His was a suicide. He went out knowing the day would end in his death in this way – “suicide by cop” they call it. I want to understand what brought him to end his life in this way, and to take other lives as he did so. We cannot sit inside his head though. Those who tried, failed.
The murderer this time was Usman Khan, a Muslim militant radical. He joins an ignoble list of lone-wolf killers of the last few years seeking fame or mayhem by these atrocities. Those who drove trucks driven into crowds in Nice and the Berlin Christmas market in 2016, and the Orlando shooter of the same year, or several other I could mention, had things in common; they were young men, at that wild, confused age, displaced from their own culture, if they could be said to have a culture. They were convinced Muslims but not devoutly practising: they had indulged in drink, drugs, loose women, and other sins of the flesh. As they sat and compared their lives with their religious ideology, they disgusted themselves. Usman Khan was not like that but maybe his past failure disgusted him, and like them, he was watching the time tick by.
The authorities thought he was cured. He was not. Those who taught him to deradicalize him were everything he despised, so of course he sat through and nodded, and laughed at them. The ‘Archbishop Cranmer Blog’ had a telling insight into this process yesterday.
Going off the rails is not uncommon in young men. The rails are constricting and instinct is for freedom away from the one-dimensional line. For those who have been wrenched out of a parent cultural framework and thrown into a new society into which they cannot properly fit with their existing understandings and cultural preconceptions, then there are no the rails for them in the first place.
What is a young man thrown into a big, anonymous city? He is a drop in the sea, going unwillingly with the tide. What all seek though are power and voice. They must be in dejection, which Hobbes defines as “Griefe, from opinion of want of power“.
We know that:
The Passions that most of all cause the differences of Wit, are principally, the more or lesse Desire of Power, of Riches, of Knowledge, and of Honour. All which may be reduced to the first, that is Desire of Power. For Riches, Knowledge and Honour are but severall sorts of Power
The desire for power does not distinguish in the mind those forms which Hobbes enumerates. The base, animal instinct to destroy a thing in the public eye, whether smashing a bus shelter or burning down a building, is to feel an exercise of power as it effects real change. That is fleeting and tends to destroy any opportunity to achieve real power in the future, but young men are impatient. They fight, they break things; they paint crude messages on walls; and in our latter days they make women afraid on social media. It is all the same; an exercise of irresponsible power.
‘Irresponsible’ seems not a bad thing for the powerless man: responsibilities are constricting and breaking free of them is liberation. Society is constructed to restrain, for the public good, and to channel the energies of youth into positive channels, without which life is “continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short“. When they step outside society they step into “Warre Of Every One Against Every One“.
For Muslims, with those carnally-driven men who nevertheless identify themselves as adherent to Islam, their doctrine has a warning at the end: they are heading for Jahannam, Hell.
Each pint of beer, each temptress and each morning woken in shame, is a weight on the balance against them, for Islam, like Mediaeval Rome, has no grace or salvation but teaches that at the Day of Judgment they face a tilting balance of good deeds and evil, and those who have descended to carnal deeds believe the balance is weighing them toward the inferno. Every time a lorry passes by too close they think of how close is death; each time they are startled in a dark alley or they are gripped with disease, they fear that the end will rush upon them with no time to rebalance the scale. An emergency action is required. It is not for Islam: it is for themselves.
Waiting for them are the teachers who sell them snake-oil salvation – a get-out-of-Hell-free card. If you live in dread of a swift end and eternal flame, there can be no more joyful teaching than the idea that you just perform one act and all the alcohol, drugs and women are washed away. If it is an act of violence, it chimes with a young man’s desires, and if it is an exercise of power, without responsibility, then it is all they could dream of. The crusades were powered by just such a teaching, and the radical Muslim teachers are no different from the cursed priests of those days.
Here Islam is very distinct from Christianity. The Roman pontiffs could not call on any Bible verse to justify their own indulgences for slaughter, while the imams can. That is a powerful difference. However the act and the motivation are independent of the book – they come from the rotten heart of man.
For the desperate believer who has been thinking of his own death for years on end, now given this one hope of Heaven there is another element. If they perform the act and walk away, the temptations of the world are still there. They may empty the balance, but begin at once to fill it up. If you score a goal, you may still lose the game, but if you score just as the whistle goes, it is secure. Therefore for them the motivation is clear: perform the act and die at once so salvation is secured.
Against this motivation, who can reason?
- Warre Of Every One Against Every One
- The Noble Savage, Caliban, and Hobbes
- Of the Natural Condition of Mankind (Hobbes)
- Quarrel of a dying empire poisoning modernity
- In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World by Tom Holland
- By Thomas Hobbes:
- By Anthony Burgess:
- The Confessions – St Augustine
- Augustine: Conversions and Confessions by Robin Lane Fox
- By H G Wells:
- By Aldous Huxley:
- By George Orwell:
- By Jordan Peterson: