As headlines about young men massacring random or specific targets multiply, we must repress our implicit bias and the tribal labels we apply to these troubled young men. Otherwise, we just indulge our own insecure belief systems.
The recent horror in Nice brought this into clear focus for me. There’s no evidence yet that Mohamed Bouhlel, a French national from Tunisia, was a member of Isis or any other radical group. But it’s almost inevitable that some radical organization will claim sponsorship of a massacre, whether the perpetrator acted on his own, was recruited and trained, or simply answered an internal siren call.
This is important because if we believe that every young man’s act of terror accrues to the benefit of a terrorist group, our own biases are re-enforced. Then our view of the enemy’s threat grows out of proportion to reality, leading us to improperly target our defensive measures.
The Middle East and other political hotspots are rife with young people who have no prospects for education, a career, basic sustenance, or longevity. Here at home, wealth accumulates only among the few as poverty grows. As real income declines, college becomes less affordable. And lack of adequate healthcare, housing, and transportation contribute to the creation of rootless, insecure, young people, inhabiting screens rather than families and communities.
Psychologists are beginning to understand the profile of the uneducated and sexually insecure young man adrift from family and friends who responds online to an invitation to join a tribal Eden and afterlife paradise. If this toxic loneliness mixes with the hormonal impulsivity of many young men, a history of mental illness or PTSD, and the ubiquity of guns, we have a predictable formula for mass violence. Death-by-cop has become a modern form of suicide that also yields Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” and an end to psychic pain.
One solution is to foster communities that find and support these isolated young people. We must also consider whether our own lack of any compulsory national service imposes an undue burden on enlistees with few other viable options.
But if we simply label every young male who takes up arms against society as Muslim, Islamist, or an ISIS member, the focus of our defense against these massacres becomes defused – and our solutions limited to military action.
Until we and the rest of the world commit ourselves to the goals of social and economic justice, we might as well get used to more terrorism – both here and abroad.