Tag Archives: Terrorism

Thoughts on the Making of a Suicide Bomber

By Dr David Laing Dawson

After the Manchester bombing I read some articles in which the authors despaired of ever understanding any suicide bomber, any killer of “innocent children”. (I don’t know why we need the modifier ‘innocent’ in front of the word ‘children’, other than to imply there might be some not-so-innocent children it would be all right to kill.)

I often write to understand, a way of thinking things through carefully and with a degree of logic, using what we all know about these events and what we know about human behaviour. The following is what I arrived at. I do not know if this helps in any way, but here it is:

What are the layers of the pyramid that lead to an act of terror, especially an act of suicide terror, whether the weapon be a truck, a gun, or a bomb?

A mind experiment reveals the foundation of the pyramid: Imagine a group of 18 year-old boys (make that 16 to 23 years old if you will) being taken by their teacher to a small museum filled with artifacts. Once there the teacher tells the boys they have two choices. They can choose an artifact and the culture surrounding that artifact, spend the entire day studying it, and write a five page essay about it in the evening to be handed in the next day – or – they can each take up one of these baseball bats and spend an hour smashing the artifacts and then go for a beer in the nearest pub.

If need be we can refine this experiment by removing one or two of the most successful young men (academic, social, sexual, vocational) and by having the teacher demonstrate use of the bat on one of the artifacts.

I am not betting on the survival of the artifacts.

There is a developmental phase in the lives of young men when most experience some anger. Most put at least one fist hole in the dry wall before this passes. They are now quite suddenly responsible for their own futures; they are faced with years of unrewarding industry; it is now up to them to plan and organize and work if they are to eat, sleep under a roof, own a car, win the mating contest. And they must do this while watching it, seemingly, come so easily to others.

And this is new to homo sapiens – this span of adolescence reaching into the mid twenties. Until these last few generations most 16 to 23 year old boys were quickly embedded into a life of work, survival, training, routine. Just this morning there was recognition of this in the local paper with a proposal that boys in care be supported until age 25.

In his immature and random use of language Donald Trump may have actually been partially accurate when he recently called the Manchester bombers “losers”. I think he meant it as a school yard epithet with the modifier “evil” added, but within that pyramid of angry young men mentioned above, some are successful, some are struggling, and some perceive themselves as unjustly losing in the academic, social, vocational, sexual competitions.

So on this second level of the pyramid we find angry young men who perceive themselves as losing, unjustly losing.

We have to assume family has an influence here, though it seems suicide bombers are the progeny of both extremist angry fathers, and of fathers who are moderate in their religious beliefs. But we also know that the two psychological states by which boys react to their fathers is by either (sometimes both) imitation or opposition. Family then provides a third level of influence, though not necessarily as direct promulgation of extremist views.

But these are boys looking for direction, seeking answers for their disappointments and rage. They are also seeking simple answers to reduce their existential anxiety. So they easily fall prey to mesmerizing leaders, gurus, exhortations to violence. This can be an Imam at the local mosque, or a Youtube video or an extremist or racist website. The general source of their distress and their failures is made clear to them. This is the fourth level, a powerful influence in the form of an older man, a guru, a man with explanations and answers. A man, or group, who can point this angry and failing young man to a cause for his dissatisfaction and disaffection.

But this must be combined with some social isolation, a retreat from social influences that would otherwise undermine or counter the influences of the newly acquired “teacher”. And most friends or acquaintances interviewed after a suicide attack report something like, “He was always a little quiet, but I haven’t seen him for the last five or six months. He stopped coming to our….” And some do report a change of behavior such as an angry confrontation at the Mosque before they stop coming or are banished.

So now we have a fifth level: withdrawal from alternative social forces.

There would be a division at this point in the development: Those who end up being called a “lone wolf” because they act alone, and those who become part of a network.

The former, the lone wolf, is truly suicidal, and probably suffers from, by now, a psychotic depression (depressed and delusional). This person would have been in trouble before, perhaps summarily discharged, fired, or known to mental health services and local police. His attack will be one of rage with suicidal intent. The creed of groups like ISIS or the white supremacists simply give this person a final excuse and a sheen of righteousness. His weapon will be whatever is available to him. His target may be personally symbolic to him: People enjoying and celebrating when he cannot. Women who have spurned him. Gays who enticed him. A corporation that fired him. An army that excluded him. The group that gives him that “sheen of righteousness” could be white supremacists, fascists, extreme Islam, anti-Semites, or even, today, talk radio and Donald Trump.

The latter, the suicide bomber who uses a more sophisticated weapon crafted by others in a network, is the dupe. He is the youngest, weakest, of the group. He has been gradually pressured and convinced to carry this out. Though he may be a believer in the creed, and though he may also believe in the rewards of martyrdom promised, he is really doing this to please, to not disappoint his cult leaders and be cast out. These leaders may include an older brother, an uncle, a father. Or they are strangers who have become his family. To retain his position with them, at least in his imagination, he must carry out the act. They are the ones with the political agenda and the level of sociopathy required to inure them to the consequences.

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Police Entrapment, Terrorism and Wasted Resources

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Years ago a not-so-bright young man stole a Cadillac convertible. He had always wanted to ride in one, like a country and western star in a small town parade. This was the only way he imagined it could happen. The ensuing police chase, crash, lawyers, court appearances, sentencing was extremely costly. It would have been, I noticed at the time, much, much cheaper to buy him a Cadillac for a birthday present.

Another young woman had a penchant for setting fires. Whether she was in a jail, a hospital, or a boarding home. She was mentally ill, and we were trying to help her, but there was always a risk that her pyromania would cause many deaths as long as she was residing with others. Her care was costing the taxpayers in the neighbourhood of $200,000 per year. While in our institutions someone had to watch her at all times. A decent little house was selling for about $50,000 at the time. I proposed we buy her a detached house and take our services to her.

These two stories came to mind when I read about John Nuttall and Amanda Korody. It has been reported that the RCMP spent about $1,000,000 “entrapping” them.

Two marginalized people. Addicts. Neither bright nor sophisticated. Probably with their fair share of grievances and yearnings. Both destined to be burdens on the taxpayer for years to come. And both in that state of mind, that existential position, of searching for someone or something to blame and a way of elevating their sad lives.

Neither capable, on their own, of condensing those grievances into strategic action. Neither capable, on their own, of buying the ingredients and making a bomb, and successfully delivering it. Probably neither capable on their own of formulating a coherent argument why they should do this.

So, having discovered this despairing pair of hapless would-be terrorists, would it not have been much cheaper to give them a Lotto win of $100,000 and send them on their way. I know there is no sane way of doing that, but perhaps, instead of this elaborate sting operation, the RCMP could have alerted the local social services that this at risk couple needs extra help. Assign a new worker, a counselor to them. Review their needs, (social, educational, medical) and plan with them a better life.

So much less expensive and damaging and wasteful than all that police work, surveillance, subterfuge, and legal work, court costs.

Addiction services, psychiatric treatment, disability benefits, social housing, educational programs. These are all expensive. But so much cheaper than the alternative.

Je Suis Charlie

cartoonBy Marvin Ross and Dr David Laing Dawson

As a journalist, on more than one occasion, I’ve been threatened with legal action for what I’ve written. And that is fair game for my often controversial articles. I once even had someone write a letter of complaint and cancel her subscription to a magazine because she objected to an article I did on hemorrhoids – yes piles because my lede said “ever since man began walking upright….”  I hurt her religions sensibilities and I have hurt the sensibilities of those who do not like psychiatric medications and some of them have called me some pretty nasty stuff. But the complaints against my writing have never gone farther than that.

And in our blog post on homegrown terror, Dr Dawson said “But at a certain low and troubled time in his life, how is a young man to know that this charismatic ordained bearded father with an ancient text under his arm, promising brotherhood, glory, certainty — is really a murderous psychopath?”

And, as Dawson’s blog on Sony and North Korea said:

“Of all the freedoms we have in our western democracies, the one we should prize the most is our freedom to poke fun at, to satirize, to lampoon, (and to seriously criticize) our leaders and our deities. It is by this freedom that all the others are protected. And so it is this freedom that deserves the most vociferous protection, the most careful vigilance, the strongest defense. It is this freedom that every would-be dictator first erodes (e.g. Russia, Turkey), and it is this freedom that allows us to become more than vassals, serfs, slaves, and supplicants.”

We must continue to tell the truth as we see it and to satirize for not to means that we have given in to terror and abandoned our freedoms.

RIP all the victims of terror everywhere.

Homegrown Terrorism

David Laing DawsonBy Dr David Laing Dawson

A reasonably articulate and educated young man from Ottawa stands beside a ruined village exhorting others to violence against those who provided him with a comfortable childhood.

How can we explain this? And how can we explain the angry response stirring in my own brain?

Young men. Males of the species. Biology. Evolution.

We humans have come so far because we are the most adaptable of species. The traits and instincts we have inherited come with wide variability. Most other species play out a single program when challenged, or threatened, or frightened, or hungry, or fed, or stroked. Our reactions can be far more nuanced, far more context driven. Our reactions are sometimes even preceded by thoughtful consideration of outcome. And, after a certain age, even thoughtful consideration of long-term outcome and effect on others.

But the extreme possibilities remain in our atavistic human brain, those extremes that served us well in the jungle, in hostile environments, in times of scarce food, when survival of the species, of the family, required intense competition for territory and mating. When survival required the banding together of brothers, intense loyalty to the Alpha male, and the willingness to kill.

We learn through play, through the socialization of family, sports, music, school and work to suppress those primitive instincts. We have developed healthier outlets for them: the hockey arena, the football field, the rock concert, extreme sports, the racetrack, even the hunting party, and perhaps, we hope, video games.  And, for better or worse, we can vicariously experience the flowering of these traits, these behaviours, this banding together of brothers, this adrenalin rush, this possibility of righteous killing, of revenge and conquest, as we ride alongside Bruce Willis, Liam Neeson and Colin Farrell.

God help us, the instinct is there, the trait is there, lying dormant in most young men, usually only trotted out in safe and playful circumstances. But it is there.

And to release it, to let it flourish, for some young men, requires but a little indoctrination by a charismatic psychopath with an ancient text under his arm.

How do we prevent this happening? Mostly by doing what we have been doing: becoming more educated, more aware, more sensitive to the feelings and rights of others, to the stupidity of war. By, if you’ll pardon the word, “allowing” women to become equal partners in this evolutionary struggle. By sharing. By treating the ill among us. By developing a good, just, liberal, inclusive, and secular form of governance.

But, I also think our ongoing reliance on ancient texts remains a problem. There are moderate people in our midst, good people, who believe in and promulgate ancient texts. The most progressive among them even ask us to believe in only the nice parts of these texts, the love and kindness parts, and they ask us to ignore the homophobic, misogynist, racist, vengeful, violent, and very stupid fanciful bits of these same ancient texts.

But still they are conditioning another generation to believe, without question, the teaching of an older, ordained man, with an ancient text under his arm, a text written before we knew the world was round and not the center of the universe. Usually a good man I am sure.

But at a certain low and troubled time in his life, how is a young man to know that this charismatic ordained bearded father with an ancient text under his arm, promising brotherhood, glory, certainty — is really a murderous psychopath?