Mental Illness: The Root Cause of Terrorism?

The other night I came across the 1986 movie “Sword of Gideon,” Israel’s response to the Munich Massacre, 1972. It was written by Canadian George Jonas, now a respected columnist in Canada. I was taken by the last words in the movie.

“Nonetheless terrorism has escalated and governments throughout the world are still seeking the near impossible; a civilized response to acts of wanton savagery.”

Remember, this was written in 1986.

I contacted Mr. Jonas and said: “I think in Canada there are too many whose civilized response to wanton savagery is to call it mental illness.”

He agreed.

I fear the demise of our way of life. We in the West have become complacent. The arrogance of those privileged to live in the West will ultimately usher in an age of entropy; the inevitable social decline and degeneration of our culture. And our media are leading the way by refusing to see that there are those who hate the West and are prepared to terrorize. Our media say “no,” they must be mentally ill. After all, who in their right mind would not want what we have?

We believe that our way of life is not only the right way, but the only way of living. That everyone wants to live in a democracy. We just need to reason with them. Show them. Nonsense. There are 7 billion souls in the world; 1 billion live in functioning democracies; perhaps 2 billion more struggle with democracy.

Contrary to hopes here in the West, the world is not aflame with the desire for freedom. I remember the glory days of the Arab Spring. Everyone was on a high. I wasn’t so optimistic. Look, they said, change is in the wind. Sadly, that’s exactly where they were-in the wind-easily blown away because words without action are like whispers in the wind. The rhetoric was exalting but the action required was not there. Freedom does not come easily. We learned that from the Biblical story of the Exodus. Forty years passed in the desert before the Jews were allowed entry into the Promised Land because they had to be ready to look forward with hope not backward from fear.

Yet, we continue to believe that people all over the world want to live as we do. That freedom-rights and responsibilities that come with it-are sought by all. But the numbers say no. And that’s where our arrogance resides; continuing to believe that fallacy that 7 billion people want our life style. And as long as we believe that to be true, we won’t be as vigilant as necessary. We will let comments and behaviours pass by unquestioned, unheeded; oh they didn’t really mean that! Or we will justify evil with root causes, or as has become popular here in Canada, explain it away as mental illness, until too late when we will come face to face with the real meaning of entropy.

The Fourth Estate is guilty of promoting this arrogance. We trust them to search for facts and present a semblance of truth. Instead they promote their own ideologies, trying to make facts fit their “progressive” conclusions. And so the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) –who call terrorists militants, The Globe And Mail and National Post, two national newspapers, quickly declared, almost unequivocally, that the murderers of Canadian soldiers Corporal Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent were mentally ill, despite the dearth of facts and that the few facts available spoke to lone-wolf terrorists. Their words reminded me of the teachings of Will Durant:

“The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than their minds.”

And that’s what happened in Canada. Fear of acknowledging terrorism in our land, in our country, a multi-ethnic country, tolerant and accommodating and inclusive. Couldn’t be terrorism! So the media declared the murder was the result of mental illness, acts of craziness, not terror.

I wrote to all three media outlets with my concerns about their fact-free opinions. The National Post had written the murderer of Cirillo was “unstable, untrained and engulfed in personal turmoil that blurred the line between religiously inspired terrorism and purely psychotic acts of violence.” Unfortunately, I can’t access this editorial on-line. But here’s the letter from the terrorist’s mother saying her son was mentally ill.

Globe and Mail declared “The unspoken issue…is the link between mental illness and radicalization. Studies have shown that people suffering from anxiety or depression are more prone to sympathize with violent protest and terrorism than those not affected by mental illness.”

CBC tried twice to pivot away from terrorism to mental illness.  October 24 on CBC radio round table discussion 3 members of the media, Jonathan Kay, editor at National Post, Judy Rebick, a self-styled “radical feminist” and John Cruikshank, Publisher of the Toronto Star declared the terrorists to be crazy and “clinically insane.” Then on their CBC morning show November 4 the host Matt Galloway introduced the idea of mental illness as the root cause by sharing with us the letter written by Corporal Cirillo’s twenty-something girlfriend, Andrea Polko, who expressed her concerns on Facebook about lack of treatment for the mentally ill. Her conclusion: the “real source” of the tragedy was mental illness.

The public editor Sylvia Stead of The Globe and Mail responded to my complaint but despite several requests for the “studies” to which the editors referred they were never sent. The National Post has no system in place for complaints against the editorial board so I contacted Gillian Akai of their legal department. Multiple times, to no avail. It appears there is no over-site of the National Post. And the CBC, well, the CBC has a system, but it seems to be broken. Esther Enkin the Ombudsman replied more than three weeks after my complaint that she would forward it to the appropriate person.

I think members of the media ran away from terrorism toward mental illness for two reasons: First, fear of being labeled Islamophobic which often leads to self-censorship. But more importantly, I think we choose to believe mental illness, something with which we are familiar, to dampen down own fear of our own inner barbarian.  We know if pushed hard enough, the killer instinct within would be awoken and we could become them; “the other,” the “not me.”  Better to pretend it won’t happen to us by throwing the possibility of terrorism away.

This is the sad state of affairs in Canada’s media, today. And Canada is not alone.

Jean-François wrote in How Democracies Perish

“Democracy tends to ignore, even deny, threats to its existence because it loathes doing what is needed to counter them. It awakens only when the danger becomes deadly, imminent, evident. By then, either there is too little time to save itself, or the price of survival has become crushingly high.”

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "