Are people monsters? The logic behind murderous attacks

The truck attack in Nice once again raises the question: how can people deliberately plan and execute a blood bath? There’s a system behind the madness, say MO* chief editor Gie Goris. So the answer has to be systematic as well. And better.

  • © Twitter/@CharlotteVDries © Twitter/@CharlotteVDries

There is a system behind the madness.

The madness, that’s the series of murderous attacks. Three hundred Iraqis in a party mood at the end of Ramadan, having dinner, shopping, celebrating friendship and family ties. Close to a hundred French people – children, fathers and mothers, tourists, regular citizens – watching the fireworks for their Quatorze Juillet. Twenty-nine customers in a coffee bar in Bangladesh, selected on the question whether they could recite the Quran. Forty-nine people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, the United States. Dozens of travellers who happened to be in the departure hall of the Istanbul or Brussels airport at the wrong time. Street vendors in Kabul. School children in the North of Nigeria.

How on Earth can one sit behind the wheel of your truck and see the people you’re deliberately crushing through your windshield?

The extremist and murderous violence that is colouring 2016 as red as blood, seems to be able to pop up anywhere and anytime in any form. But the questions remain: how can people deliberately plan and execute these kinds of blood baths? How on Earth can you sit behind the wheel of your truck and see the people you’re deliberately crushing through your windshield? And what about the children?

‘This is a monstrous attack’, said François Hollande. And that is what everyone with the smallest amount of human empathy thinks about this most recent attack: this cannot be the work of a human being, this must be a monster.

But monsters are wild and unpredictable, and the violence that characterizes our world today is not. There’s a system behind the madness, and we have to see and understand this system to deal with it rationally and efficiently.

Just like humans

After the shock and the collective mourning for the victims, we often hear testimonies about the perpetrators. And as it turns out, they are just like humans. Young boys who have their dreams and their flaws, some are successful students, others are prodigal sons who got into pickpocketing, then drugs and worse. This is the first horrifying observation: the perpetrators were no monsters, yet they were capable of monstrous plans and actions.

The perpetrators were no monsters, yet they were capable of monstrous plans and actions.

The second horrible observation is that these attacks aim at and affect almost exclusively regular people. Friends having a drink. The cute couple making use of the excitement of the night and the party to be closer to each other than ever before. The children who can’t finish their ice cream, the mothers and fathers who are worried about paying the rent, about school results, about the growing gap between expenses and income.

If this is a war, then one side of the front is made up of unaware passers-by, and the other side of perpetrators who regard themselves as brave warriors in the final battle between the true faith and the world’s decadence, but in fact they’re too impotent or cowardly to face the real army of their enemy.

The militarisation of the world

Those real armies exist, of course. And on the real battlefield in Syria and Iraq they’re struggling to push back Isil, though slowly they seem to gain ground. You don’t have to be a woman or queer, Yazidi, Shiite, practising Sunni or not, to realize that beating Isil on its own territory is a question of life or death – literally.

By targeting regular citizens, extremism is already succeeding at militarising our society, in our budgets as well as on the streets.

But these armies have also grown out of proportion and they keep growing. Regardless of the real needs in the field. More and more, they are devouring the resources that both rich and poor countries should be investing in social development, inclusion and cohesion.

By targeting regular citizens, extremism is already succeeding at militarising our society, in our budgets as well as on the streets, in our train stations, at airports, during festivals and soccer games, and everywhere people meet. That is part of the system behind the madness.

But even if Isil and its related extremist groups regard and use murder on accidental citizens as a strategic lever to tilt – for the moment, mainly Western – societies towards structural fear and the general acceptation of safety as the first priority, to the disadvantage of social investments, even then, this does not answer the maddening question of why some boyz in the hood turn into murderous machines without blinking, even when looking their innocent victims in the eyes.

Turning humans into non-humans

The answer to that question lies in the acceptation of an iron ideology that leaves not even a nanometer room for doubt, questions or alternatives. There is only one truth, one law, one path. End of the discussion. Everyone can know this Truth and submit to it. So whoever fails to do so, is guilty – out of ignorance, by choice or by malicious collaboration.

This violence asks for an iron ideology that leaves not even a nanometer room for doubt, questions or alternatives.

Whoever refuses or fails to follow the true path, can’t rely on the compassion and pity that is promised excessively to the chosen ones. The system creates brothers and sisters, and Others. These others are stripped of their humanity. The look in the eyes of the girl, the second the headlights of the truck catch her, before the monstrous weapon gets down to work, cannot be human to the perpetrator – because then he’d have to hit the brakes.

The powerlessness of the leaders

The highest political levels in Europe seem to be caught in a system that has been forced upon them by brutal extremism. They fear that every policy that does not put the military response first, will be considered a concession, an admission of weakness, appeasement. Fear is settling in the country, and the governments have to act fearlessly.

Fear is settling in the country, and the governments have to act fearlessly.

It seems like an iron logic, and it’s probably true that the politicians will have to pay for everything that can be seen or portrayed as a lack of protection of the population. Politicians who not only want to guarantee safety, but also want to reinforce social safety, apparently need an enormous moral weight. And that’s what they seem to be lacking.

But this social security is a crucial element of the fight against extremism that is affecting everyone today. Because exclusion leads to frustration, and frustration might turn into hate, especially if it enters into a chemical reaction with the unyielding ideology that has all the answers to all questions and worries.

A social policy that takes everyone’s expectations serious – prioritizing those who are the most vulnerable - can reduce the attractive force of the True Faith or the Iron Ideology. And that is a mandatory and urgent necessity, not restricted to Western societies that are being confronted with attackers from within. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Turkey, Mali, Nigeria and Afghanistan also have to guarantee their citizens an honest and dignified future, because only that perspective of dignity and social inclusion can steer history in the right direction again.

Do it yourself

In the absence of strong leaders who focus on the dignity of all their citizens, the necessity to work towards a solution from the bottom up is growing. Not to leave the field to the military-industrial complex and its humble political servants, but to pressure also that part of the system. To demand a new perspective by creating it ourselves.

There is a system behind the madness. That is why the resistance also needs more of a system, and a better one.

(translation: Liesa Carton)

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