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When is a terrorist outrage not a terrorist outrage? August 29, 2018
Public safety

In Trappes, a Parisian suburb near (but much less grand than) Versailles, a man known to the police for his Islamic terrorist sympathies, and for the moment known publically only as Kamel S., stabbed his mother and sister to death, stabbed and seriously injured a passerby, and then, when confronted by the police, shouted “Allahu Akbar! I will blow you away!” Instead, the police shot him dead.

The Islamic State at once claimed him as one of their own, a fallen soldier of the global jihad, but ISIS has a history of falsely claiming the “glory” of such incidents, and the authorities soon denied the connection. The Minister of the Interior, Gérard Collomb, said, “The profile of the attacker is more that of an unhinged person with psychiatric antecedents than a militant answering to orders from a terrorist organisation.”

There were the usual disavowals by young people who knew him, so regular by now that one could have almost written them in advance. “We grew up with him,” said one, named Saïd. “This has astounded us, it’s nothing to do with religion. He wasn’t religious. I saw him two days ago when he was riding his bicycle. He was Mr. Ordinary, he was leaving for Paris. If I had asked him to come to a nightclub the next day, he would have done so.”

Another person who knew him said, “The last few days he was a bit closed in on himself, and I feared that he might have psychiatric problems. He drank some beers and smoked a few joints.” At any rate, the police dealt with the matter as if it were a fait divers, an ordinary crime, rather than a terrorist one.

Certainly, a mother and sister are unusual victims of a terrorist attack, and suggest madness, possibly in this case drug-induced. However, that does not quite settle the matter or completely exclude a religious motive. In the Confessions of an English Opium Eater, De Quincey wrote of opium dreams, “If a man whose talk is of oxen should become an Opium-eater, the probability is, that (if he is not too dull to dream at all)—he will dream about oxen.” In other words, the content of hallucinations and delusions is, naturally enough, molded by the normal content of a man’s mind. When nineteenth-century men believed they were persecuted by machines, they were persecuted in their imaginations by nineteenth-, not eighteenth- or twentieth-, century machines.

Even those who are not psychiatrically disturbed may have an outlook on life of a distinctly paranoid flavor. When Muslim believers go mad, their madness often has a religio-paranoid content. I was once involved in a case in which a young Muslim man attacked and nearly killed his father. He was both mad and religiously-inspired, as his statements and writings clearly showed. He was restored to relative health by treatment.

Thus Collomb’s dichotomy is false. I cannot say, of course, that Kamel S. was similar or identical to the above case, but it is at least possible that he was. It is possible to be mad and a terrorist, even if only on a small scale that requires no coherent planning.  

Photo: stevanovicigor/iStock

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