Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin
Psychoanalyst & Counter Terrorist Expert

“Blood on his Hands” –Woolwich and the Mother

The investigation has begun into the horrific murder of Lee Rigby who was slaughtered by Michael Adebolajo, the Nigerian, allegedly on account of all the Muslims being killed in Afghanistan and the world. We have seen this “qital” (Ar. slaughter) before, a hallmark of jihadi butchery. Let me state clearly and unequivocally — this is psychotic thinking and behavior. He hacked to death an unarmed soldier in broad daylight, producing body parts as he went and then remained there talking to bystanders begging to have his psychotic delusion filmed for propaganda dissemination. He brought concrete, literal meaning to the phrase “blood on his hands”. This jihadi was not a doctor or midwife birthing a baby, bringing a new life into the world. Quite the opposite he extinguished the life of a beloved son, husband and father in cold blood.

Meanwhile the list of those who have been beheaded by jihad continues to grow. The police scramble to identify the source of the problem — now pointing a finger at the radicalizing Islamic preacher Omri Bark as read here within the pages of The Times of Israel.

The thinking goes, find the person who radicalized the convert and you have solved the problem. Besides the fact that people are converting to Islam and then radicalizing in droves, and not necessarily in prison, shows us that Islam can have a certain kind of appeal. If you are interested in that specific issue — read my book The Banality of Suicide Terrorism, chapter 7 “A Political Serial Killing by Proxy — Christian Ganczarski and the Djerba Synagogue Bombing” where I deal with the converts to radical Islam.

But why is this notion of “radicalization” simplistic thinking? Why is this shortsighted and misguided? Besides the fact it is like sticking a finger in the dyke. The answer is simple — intervention for psychotic behavior must be screened for in early childhood. This slaughter blatantly shows that there was a developmental problem of long standing in the mind of this Nigerian. Turning to the recent work of Adrian Raine’s The Anatomy of Violence, we can surmise fairly accurately that the problem has a neuroscience base coupled with problems in early childhood where the mother baby bond contributes to the building of empathy in the baby’s capacity to feel safe in the world and to relate to it in a nonviolent way. Apparently, this is not politically correct to talk about. The jihadi did not express empathy for his victim, obviously.

Tragically we have another seemingly unrelated example in the Beer Sheva bank massacre. Last night on the Israeli Hebrew news Ayala Hasson interviewed a series of people all saying he was such a nice guy . . . blah, blah, blah BUT finally she spoke with a professional who said this kind of behavior entails a long evolving trajectory of psychological and behavior problems. It doesn’t just burst forth and voila, you have cold blooded murder. The same for jihad. It is not just about ideologies of radicalization. They merely act as a girdle, temporarily containing a raging personality predisposed to violence.

There is no question that brainwashing via radicalization is a contributing factor be it in the mosque or in the prison or even in a Palestinian kindergarden but it still does NOT deal with the basic problem — the maternal bonding experience. Interestingly enough though, brainwashing does target and manipulate this first human experience in bonding. Brainwashing is a malevolent bonding, bonding through coercion and violence.

The terrorist organization Al Shabab has also been linked to this investigation. One of the terrorists tried to go to Somalia to fight jihad. I did prison interviews of Somalis in Minnesota where about forty were recruited to go back to fight and many radicalized in the jail. I did not talk to the terrorists. I listened to them. There is a difference. People who wind up in jail or in prison demonstrate that something went wrong during their early childhood. You can see it in their thinking, their nonverbal behavior and the imagery they create.

The Woolwich butchery was telling. There were three instances in which the theme of the mother and bonding surfaced in stark contrast to the violent bonding of the psychotic jihadi. One was the intervention by the den mother who bonded by speaking with the terrorist and asking what he wanted.(I don’t advocate this; it was very dangerous what she did.) The second was her own description of a woman cradling the body of the butchered victim a la Madonna and the Pieta and third surfaced in what would be the last words of the victim which he texted to his mother:

‘Goodnight mum, I hope you had a fantastic day today because you are the most fantastic and one in a million mum that anyone could ever wish for. Thank you for supporting me all these years, you’re not just my mum, you’re my best friend. So goodnight, love you loads.”

When there is murder and mayhem of the psychotic, we have all the more need for seeking out unconsciously the comforting image of the nurturing mother because it is all so terrifying. This positive bonding is precisely what the psychotic jihadi did not experience. The road to solving the problem of jihad is a long one. While focusing on radicalization in the mosque and the jail is necessary, it is only one piece of the psychological puzzle of what went wrong. We buy into the psychosis of jihad if we deny the importance of early childhood development. The media can help too, by choosing to enhance our knowledge about how a personality becomes predisposed to violence, by giving more attention to early childhood development and the mind and behavior of the terrorist. Not to do so is to play into the bloody hands of these terrorists.

About the Author
Dr. Kobrin made aliyah in 2010 and is an internationally renowned counterterrorism expert and psychoanalyst holding a PhD in Islamic literature, aljamía 16th c. Author of five books. A former military contractor for BAE Systems slated to deploy to Afghanistan. In 2014 she taught the psychology of terrorism in the Ukraine. Her academic appointment as external expert in Jihadese is at La Universidad de Granada. In August 2020 she was given the honor of being the first Israeli to be live-streamed from Islamabad. Since then she has been working on normalization of relations with Pakistan people to people.