There’s hardly been a Muslim terrorist attack committed by a single perpetrator in Europe or America in the last five years that the authorities and the media haven’t tried to spin as mental illness.
Both Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, the Syrian Muslim mass killer who shot up a Boulder supermarket, and Malik Faisal Akram, who took a Texas temple hostage to secure the release of “Lady Al Qaeda,” had their attacks blamed on mental illness.
But France continues to lead the world in whitewashing Muslim terrorism as mental illness.
When Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish kindergarten director, was murdered by her Muslim neighbor while he shouted “Allahu Akbar,” the authorities gave him a pass because his pot smoking had supposedly brought on a “psychotic” episode.
The Halimi murder had strong echoes of the previous killing of a Jewish DJ by a Muslim, where the expert shrink had insisted that it was “not an anti-Semitic act but an act of delirium.”
When Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, an Islamic State terrorist, drove a truck into a Bastille Day celebration, ran over as many people as he could and exchanged fire with police until he was killed, his family and the media insisted that he was mentally ill. “Nice Attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel Wasn’t a Jihadist,” an NBC News headline blared even though Bouhlel had been collecting ISIS material and the Islamic terror group took responsibility for the attack.
“This is absolutely not an act of terrorism,” a French prosecutor insisted after another Muslim man rammed into a crowd in Dijon while shouting “Allahu Akbar” and announcing that he had done so for the “children of Palestine.” The prosecutor also claimed that he had no religious motives.
These weren’t random decisions. Rather, French authorities have been trying to reclassify Islamic terrorism as a psychological problem, in much the same way that the Obama administration deliberately reoriented and destroyed counterterrorism in the United States.
Former French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb had taken to claiming that a third of terrorists have “psychological issues.” This worldview is reflected by France’s FSPRT master list of Islamic jihadists, which serves as the key database for fighting domestic terrorism in France.
Now the Macron government is trying to rewire Europe’s counterterrorism the same way.
A recent memo from France to the Council of the European Union argues that the “Jihadist threat is evolving” to become “independent from terrorist organizations” and that the perpetrators only have “a tenuous or inexistent link to the radical movement” and suffer from “psychological instability or even mental disorders.”
Additionally, the French memo blames the victims of Islamic terrorism by arguing that the terrorists are triggered by the “the extremely sensitive nature of the notion of blasphemy” which can cause Muslims who are “outside of the jihadist sphere of influence to carry out attacks.”
Within a few paragraphs the French memo to the European Union manages to dismiss first the entire idea that Al Qaeda, Islamic State and other Islamic terrorist groups are relevant, then the existence of Islamic terrorism as a whole, reducing it to a question of mentally ill non-terrorists triggered by “blasphemy,” whose brutal attacks are really the fault of their non-Muslim victims.
As an example, the memo lists the brutal beheading of Samuel Paty, a French teacher, by a Muslim refugee furious over his use of Muhammad cartoons as a teaching tool.
President Emmanuel Macron, at the time, blasted the horrifying murder as “a typical Islamist terrorist attack.”
“They won’t win,” he declared.
But the E.U. memo suggests that like previous French presidents, Macron was playing to the crowd and has no intention of fighting Islamic terrorism, but rather seeks to redefine it.
France currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, giving it even more authority than usual, and the memo concludes by asking member states to agree to a “six-monthly E.U. threat assessment in the field of counterterrorism.”
What this amounts to is the Halimi case writ large, all across Europe.
Reclassifying Muslim terrorism as mental illness has been a longstanding project of the terrorism deniers. It’s been especially popular in France which, due to its laïcité secularism, is even more unable and unwilling than most to grapple with the theological motivations of Islamic terror.
The “medicalization” of terrorism is convenient because it transforms an external threat into an internal social problem—which is exactly what the Europeans have already been doing with Islamic terrorism for generations. Muslim terrorists can appear paranoid, delusional and unstable, but the psychiatric standards of a 21st century European middle class urban population are a particularly poor fit for gauging what is normal for a culture entirely outside that worldview.
Whether any Muslim terrorists can indeed be diagnosed as suffering from mental illess is as relevant to the nature of the beast as the number of schizophrenic SS or NKVD killers. Totalitarian movements, whether it’s the kamikazes of Imperial Japan or the suicide bombers of Hamas, often draw on mentally unstable killers, who are readier to die for the cause.
But to say that Islamic terrorism is the product of mental illness is in its own way as delusional as reducing World War I to an etiology of the possible mental illnesses that Hitler or Stalin could be diagnosed with. Insane people participating or even leading totalitarian movements doesn’t mean that the problem is mental illness or that it can be solved by taking a few pills a day.
The Macron government’s attempt to shift the emphasis from a religious war to psychological screening is the true delusion here. Releasing Islamic terrorists, as the French government has done, while insisting that they go to therapy sessions is a refusal to grapple with the root cause.
The Texas temple terrorist attack showed us that the European failure to police its Islamic terror threat isn’t just a problem for Europeans. From the Hamburg cell at the heart of the Sept. 11 attacks to the latest Texas attack, Europe remains a springboard for attacks on America.
And if France succeeds in imposing its medicalized notion of terrorism on the European Union, it will be that much harder to keep it from further corrupting American counterterrorism.
“In our fight against Islamist terrorism, we will never give in,” promised President Macron. The E.U. memo looks like a Vichy exercise in finding an excuse to surrender.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
This article was first published by FrontPage Magazine.