April 4, 2016 5 Comments
I ran across this yesterday and think it may be a fairly good explanation. While I don’t think any single explanation holds in all cases, this may answer the question in many.
[…] Although we cannot know what goes on inside anyone’s head, the tools of psychoanalysis offer some tantalizing, and I believe promising, angles of interpretation. To be fair, military strategists, national security specialists, criminal-justice professionals and journalists are not trained to observe these men as if they were patients. They may have read the works of Islamists like Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al Banna, but they lack the diagnostic skills needed to access the deeper unconscious levels of psychology that are necessary for understanding the attraction of sadomasochism.
Indeed the denial of sadism by the specialists who usually comment on terrorism has ironically played into the hands of jihadis by permitting an identification with the aggressor. There are many people out there who, alas, like to watch torture videos of immolations and beheadings. We are even more reluctant to acknowledge that broad portions of the world’s population are drawn into this sadism because they cannot recognize their own impulses.
[…] Unconsciously and concretely, they have recreated their own group self-perception of being “caged in” emotionally and mentally because of the debilitation of growing up in a shame-honor culture: They realize that, in the eyes of the world, Islam has been shamed. Fire, too, in the context of psychoanalysis, has many aspects worth considering. It might express projected rage. It might also purify an obsession with feeling dirty, deeply linked to this shame, which is supported by a religious conviction that normal human needs are unclean. They must therefore find a scapegoat and then kill off the contaminated one, inviting us to watch voyeuristically.
But what of the Western converts who join the jihadi cults? What is the draw for them? It is nearly the same. From examining their childhoods, the majority are born into what I call shame-honor Western families—highly rigid and authoritarian or lacking any parental structure at all. And then there are the numerous jailhouse converts. Many criminals have a cognitive deficit, and some show signs of clinical sadomasochism. A sadist seeks power through control, manipulation, and forcing the other to submit. Intimacy comes only with violence. They feel, they bond, through violence: Burning the Jordanian pilot expressed the Islamic State’s perverse sense of intimacy with its victim. […]
While it is obviously true that we cannot place every terrorist under intensive psychological investigation, we can nonetheless speculate on their behavior and the sources of this trauma. In my own research and descriptive analysis, corroborated by neuroscience findings, my theory is that terrorists may not fully develop empathy, an emotion acquired in the earliest years of life. […]
The Iraqi child-psychiatrist Dr. Sami Timimi has written that in Arab Muslim culture the bond between mother and child is unseverable. One is never permitted to separate from the mother. This is a perversion, a misuse of the baby as an object. In an honor-shame culture one does not go through an individuation separation process known in psychological development as neotenization. This impedes maturity. The group identity is more important than the individual identity. Shame and revenge predominate.
As I reflect on the article, it makes me wonder if it has other applications, such as marital and/or child abuse.
I also think we all have some degree of sadism, masochism, or actually both built into us. I suspect that what we call leadership has some connotations, as does the strong desire many of have to complete our tasks, no matter what.
It seems to me that a large part of growing up may well be to learn to channel these impulses into controlled channels. And that may be the key to a lot of problems.
Well out of my field, but interesting to think about.