Tag Archives: Jihad

Moderate and Extreme Religions – An Easter Blog

By Dr David Laing Dawson cartoon

Today in the local paper I read a well written, thoughtful op-ed extolling inclusion, the multi-cultural tolerance of Canada, our peaceful acceptance of one and all. And this article, of course, was written as a bulwark against over reacting to the recent crimes in Brussels.

In the article the author referred to “extremists”, “extreme Islam”, and “radicalization.” – words that appear regularly in our papers and magazines and internet posts.

And I thought about them. The words themselves.

Extreme and extremist. Inherent in these words is the implication that there can be something that is “moderate”, or “in moderation”.

A moderate diet can become an extreme diet. Inherent in the concept of the moderate reduction of sugar in one’s diet, there exists the possibility of extreme reduction, elimination. Similarly inherent in the “reduction of calories” is the possibility of the elimination of calories. Which could be called a “radical” diet and would be suicidal.

I can make the same point with exercise and sports. We have moderate forms of both, and extreme forms. The extreme forms are a little crazy but harmful to no one but the participant.

There once was an extreme Christianity as harmful as extreme Islam, but not today as far as I know. Today extreme Christianity implies a gross excess of forbiddens. Thou art forbidden to dance, uncover thy hair, swear, drink, have transfusions, work on Sunday, use electricity, drive a motor car. It does get dangerous when it includes in its forbiddens, vaccination, medical treatment, planned parenthood and homosexuality. And like all closed systems, such rule-bound extreme collectives are vulnerable to takeover by a charismatic psychopath.

But the point I am making is that when we find an extreme form of something, extremist views and actions, radical views, the seeds of those ideas and actions can be found in the moderate form. They are already there.

There are violent, crazy, criminal ideas in the Old Testament of the Bible. There are violent, crazy, criminal ideas and directives in the Koran. These are the seeds of extremism that moderates ignore, re-interpret, and gloss over. But they remain available to form the foundation of thought and action for the dispossessed, the angry, the lost, and the sociopathic. And, to a horrifying degree, they inform the civil law of many Muslim countries.

It behooves all moderates of all faiths to look carefully at the seeds of extremism in their own holy books and teachings and remove them. Teach love and forgiveness, kindness and generosity. Tell fables that illustrate these lessons. Dump all the stupid stuff about retribution, apostates, infidels, purges and pogroms, stoning, beheading and an exclusive heaven. It would be a start.


Primitive DNA in the Young Male Brain

Gus and WallyBy Dr David Laing Dawson

In the 1960’s we sat on the beach around a fire looking across the inlet to a few lights on the north shore, the moon rising in the east. The guitarists among us played freedom songs, folk songs, union songs, anti-war songs, love songs. We passed a joint or two around, drank cheap beer and wine, and sang.

We were confident, I think, that eventually the Americans would see the folly of the Vietnam War, there would not be a World War III, the iron curtain would collapse, and Russia would eventually find its way to the virtue of a mixed economy and full democracy. Universal health care was on its way. The women among us used birth control, looked forward to careers of their own.

We may have imagined having children at the time, though certainly not grandchildren. But had we imagined having grandchildren I think we would have imagined bequeathing them a world made up of mostly civilized countries gathering at the UN to discuss their mixed economies and their inclusive democracies. We could have guessed, I think, that they would also be discussing excess use of petroleum (or running out of it as some thought would surely come to pass), preserving the forests and wildlife, protecting endangered species, providing education for all, and eliminating poverty.

Fast forward to 2015 and a few countries, including Canada, do have universal health care. The Iron Curtain is gone. Despite Vlad’s wish to be Czar, Russia is getting there. We are certainly talking about petroleum, wildlife, forests and oceans. We continue to argue about the right mix in ‘mixed economies’. Not such high marks on education and poverty.

And then we have ISIS/ISIL and terrorism. Who would have guessed?

In Egypt the army is once again in control. A generational slippage, a step backwards, as often happens in the long, tedious, evolutionary road to an inclusive democracy and a better social contract.

But ISIS and terrorism. That’s not slippage, a step backwards, a pause, a stall. That is some unleashing of the remnants of very primitive DNA in the young male brain. Some instruction that may have served them well as they rode with Genghis Khan, or fought over a watering hole in the jungle, or reverted to cannibalism when other protein was scarce. Some thousands of years ago.

We have two boxer dogs. They can bark at perceived intruders, chase squirrels up trees, make birds take flight, but they are gentle, crave touching and play, and they are overly affectionate with friendly humans. Lovely dogs. But last summer an overweight ground hog, probably the patriarch of a brood in the nearby bushes, wandered onto our dogs’ territory looking for mulberries. The dogs moved quickly. Working as a team they cornered this hapless creature. And then they tore him apart.

Well, as a species our dogs are only a few hundred years from a time when this particular behaviour was required of them to eat, protect their families, and survive. So we have forgiven them. Besides, they don’t have language. It is impossible to teach them and explain to them that level of differentiation, consideration and nuance. And they did not invoke God and his ancient texts in the act of killing.

To be continued:

Jihadi John and The Radicalization of Youth Part II

David Laing DawsonBy Dr David Laing Dawson

Recent events have brought about much hand wringing and soul searching. Six teenagers from Quebec fly to Turkey on route to Syria. Jihadi John is identified as a British Citizen who has been described as gentle and kind before radicalization. Someone hints that harassment by MI5 pushed him into adopting this murderous personae. Someone else suggests that these youths are “alienated” by their western societies, meaning England and Canada in these cases.

How can this happen? How can a young person transform or be transformed in a matter of weeks or months from a fun loving, music loving, facebooking, photo sharing, academically successful teenager into a Jihadi fanatic?

How much of this is our fault? How real are their grievances? Do these grievances explain anything?

Well, these are not adults making a decision about their life trajectories. They are adolescents. And in the evolving socialization and developing brain of every human adolescent there comes a moment (a moment that can last a few months or a year or two) when the pathways of teenage idealism and teenage opposition intersect. This can be a moment of creativity, a moment when a teenager sets off on a good path, determined to do better than her parents, maybe save the environment, stamp out racism, help the poor, invent the personal computer or a new form of music. But it can also be a dangerous and vulnerable moment. And a moment that can be exploited by an unscrupulous adult – a cult leader, a criminal gang, the propaganda of Madison Avenue or slick videos from ISIS.

Reflexive opposition to parents is a natural phase of individuation, of becoming separate, of developing independence. “She argues with me about everything,” a parent will say. Or, as my son-in-law said to me recently, regarding my 15 year old grandson, “He never listens to me; how come he listens to you?”

And then we have idealism. CBC has an annoying habit of interviewing 10 year olds about a progressive program in the school system. I watch these kids on TV, microphone before them, struggling to remember and then repeat the platitudes they have been fed by the adults in charge. All well and good. But there will come a time in their adolescence when these kids notice that the adults around them, especially their parents, don’t really live up to those platitudes. Not completely anyway. In the Christian home the teen will shout at her parents, “How can you call yourself a Christian? You only go to church on Easter Sunday.” “How can you eat meat when you know how badly these animals are treated?”

I don’t know first-hand the equivalent in a Moderate Moslem home but I am sure it happens.

Add some confusion, some anxiety about the future, to this teen who is now able to discern the wide gap between the platitudes, the instructions and admonitions and recipes for life spelled out in our holy books and the actual lives of her parents and other adults, perhaps living Moslem-lite, perhaps drinking some alcohol, perhaps not fasting religiously. This child will prove fertile ground for the propaganda of ISIS: Playing to the teenager’s natural opposition to her parents; playing to her idealism; promising to staunch the confusion, to alleviate the anxiety; offering a role, a defined role and purpose, a part in a bigger play. To say nothing of everlasting life, joy and fulfillment, and, for some, a righteous excuse to wreak havoc and revenge.

So parents, brothers and sisters, community and religious leaders, family doctors, teachers and counselors, be aware of this vulnerability in all teens. Monitor. Watch for the signs of undue influence by cult leaders, drug dealers, middle aged men in another city, and this new horror in our town: ISIS.

Editor’s Note – For Part I see Rat Brains, Youth, and Jihadists. Dr Dawson is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the author of The Adolescent Owner’s Manual. Library Journal said of his book “Dawson’s understated sense of humor translates well to text. While there are a plethora of books available on parenting teens, his to-the-pointness recommends this for busy readers.” For a video book trailer see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VCrKf1lV2o

Rat Brains, Youth, and Jihadists.

David Laing Dawson

By Dr David Laing Dawson

There is something wonderfully insightful about our parliamentary form of government. We have a queen. We could have a king. She lives in luxury surrounded by symbols of history and power. She, or her representative, is visible at all major ceremonies. Her representative delivers the throne speech. She can be honorary leader of our soldiers, open libraries, commission battleships. And she has absolutely no power. It is even considered bad form should she express an opinion on anything save motherhood and endangered species.

Because of this we can give some power to our prime minister. We limit his term in office. We can challenge him publicly. Because we have a Queen, we can think of our prime minister as just another self-serving politician. He is not us. He has no divine right. He may fall from grace without damaging either the institution of Parliament or our self-esteem. His office is far more important than the current occupier. And he occupies this office entirely at our whim. And because we have a Queen, we need not project unto our prime minister all those two million year-old impulses, fantasies, wishes and hungers that we might otherwise project unto our leader.

I was thinking of this, oddly, because of ISIS and the recent videos and pictures of all those young mislead men. They have bought the insanity and delusions of ancient documents and a charismatic psychopath.

Slick videos and a bearded all-powerful leader with a simple formula have tapped into a hunger deep within the rat brains of these young men. Brotherhood, purpose, an unleashing of all that masculine aggression – clearly the best first person shooter video game on the planet. The only other ingredient these young men need is a sense of immortality, invulnerability, which they might have until age 22 or so, and after that, well, a promise of life everlasting as a revered martyr.

I am sure it is too late to save them. That level of primitive tyranny will provoke competing tyrannies, unleash other hatreds, and ultimately, self-destruct.

But, back to our parliamentary democracy. How wonderful it is that for all but a few of us, we have managed to develop a form of governance that does not allow, would never allow, a single man with an ancient text under his arm to command our loyalty, our fealty, our love and our sacrifice. How creative and insightful we humans have been to create a system of governance that does not, will not, allow the blossoming of those primitive needs and impulses.

Editor’s Note – Dr Dawson is the author of The Adolescent Owner’s Manual where he discusses how a parent’s goal should be to get your adolescent child into adulthood, alive, healthy, preferably educated and skilled, without a major drug problem or criminal record or pregnancy. Anything more is icing and a pleasure to behold.

On the Radicalization of Youth – Written Before the Ottawa Events

benchDr David Laing Dawson

Why on earth would a young man, for even an hour of madness at four A.M., come to the conclusion that the way of ISIL/ISIS/IS is better than living peacefully in a liberal and secular Canadian democracy, no matter his ethnic and religious background?

When confronted by inexplicable outrageous behavior both writers and psychiatrists search within themselves for minor echoes, for nascent experiences that might shed at least a little light on the conundrum.

I hated medical school, at least until I discovered or developed some skill and competence. During that first year the faculty took us on a retreat, which meant sitting in small groups to air our grievances, and share our hopes. The question was asked of our group, “What had we given up to enter Medical School”. I don’t remember in detail what I said when my turn came, but I do remember being surprised by the extent of my anger and my grief. I was 23 at the time. Three of us were sharing a two-bedroom apartment. We lived on Kraft dinners at nine cents per serving, and augmented this on weekends with something we found in the grocery store labeled, enigmatically, “neck bones”. But what we had really given up was childhood: the sports, the comradery, the bands, the jam sessions, the Sundays at the beach, the parties, the security, flirtations, seductions – the endless summers.

Though always a small particle of courage away from dropping out and pursuing an alternative dream (which for me would have been notebook and canvas and a one-way ticket to Paris), I channeled my anger into making sure I got a passing grade.

Young men. Still angry at the end of childhood. Craving a life of significance with insignificance beckoning. Craving some security no longer provided by a family home, and only available through grinding work. Craving some certainty not provided by a liberal education, a multicultural society, and a profoundly complicated set of laws and rules to live by. Saddled with a set of aggressive and competitive instincts, no longer having an outlet on the soccer field. Craving a father, an elder, who will show us the way. Craving a good woman without all the trouble of seeking and impressing one. Craving some control over our lives, our future.

Most of us get through this, find our communities, discover love and the small pleasures, come to terms with being, more or less, insignificant within a vast mysterious universe, take pleasure and pride in working, in creating, in helping, and occasionally going on vacation.

But think what IS has to offer: a life of absolute certainty, a promise of profound significance, a very simple set of rules to live by and die by, no ambiguities, all the big questions answered with certainty, brotherhood, a father, adoring women, sex slaves, eternal life, and, people you can righteously kill.

The last phrase may be the most significant. The propaganda of IS taps into the rage and the primitive instincts of the young man on the sidelines facing a life of insignificance.