The natural reaction to the hostage taking in Sydney, Australia should be to brush up on the basics of why we’re seeing jihad-style incidents taking place in the West.But there’s an alarming appetite out there for ignoring the elephant in the room.
Sydney deputy police commissioner Catherine Burn told reporters “we don’t know at this point exactly what [Man Haron Monis’] motivations were.”
Because having hostages hold up a jihadist flag in the windows of the Lindt café wasn’t a dead giveaway?
When the Daily Telegraph in Australia published a front page headline chalking this up to the Islamic State “death cult” people seemed more outraged at the publication than the perpetrator.
This is an affliction unique to events that clearly concern some version of Islam.
The complete opposite tends to follow other cases. As soon as a bad event happens that has some connection to guns, gender issues, environmental concerns and so on, countries begin “national conversations” about “systemic issues.” Fine. A smart and engaged populace will naturally want to talk things out.
Yet everyone clams up as soon as the religion of peace is mentioned. It’s almost as if our collective conscious comes down with a version of Stockholm syndrome. The new excuse is to rush to chalk up any instance of Islamist terror as mental illness. We saw that with the Ottawa attacks and we’re seeing it again now.
To return to deputy commissioner Burn: “This is a man that we do believe had some extremist views and we also believe that he was unstable.”
Unstable. You don’t say. Monis certainly had a sizeable rap sheet. But does that remove his ideology as a factor?
I’d also use “unstable” to describe followers of Osama bin Laden and Anwar Al-Awlaki, to describe the Canadian young men who’ve gone abroad to wage jihad, and anyone who went bonkers over Salman Rushdie’s snoozer of a novel.
But that doesn’t mean we should excuse the religious factor in their motivations. After all, as a non-believer I’d wager that the severely faithful are all suffering from some degree of madness.
Just not enough to write off serious wrongdoings that take a good deal of planning and a somewhat sound mental state.
Speaking of brushing up on the basics: The Islamic State is an aspiring caliphate. They want a theocracy ruled by a despotic caliph, who would be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
They claim to have a document proving al-Baghdadi is a direct descendant of Muhammad, which is what supposedly authenticates his rule.
They send out messages telling the ummah – Muslims everywhere – to rally in support of the caliphate and do whatever they can to harm coalition forces.
Man Haron Monis – crazy or otherwise – seems to be a part of this structure.
On his now defunct website he showed his support for the caliphate.
His former lawyer has said he was blinded by his cause of stopping governments from waging what he considered unjust wars in the Middle East, which is a common grievance for many jihadis.
In 2009 he was convicted of sending offensive letters to the families of soldiers who died fighting in Afghanistan.
It’s true that all of this and most of what virulent Islamists get up to seems completely crazy.
Example: While writing this I have the BBC.com homepage on my screen and the most popular story is headlined “Taliban massacre children at school.” Total madness.
But to ignore and denounce the role of religious ideology in this is its own form of unstable behaviour.