Seeking the easy way out

In the wake of yet another mass shooting in the US (how many this year?  Too many to count), the analysis bandwagon revs up its engine.  We need more guns.  We need fewer guns.  We need more laws.  We need fewer laws.  We need….

It’s all someone else’s fault.  Blame the shooter because he (I would have said s/he but so few mass shooters are women) is (pick one) a) marginalised b) angry c) mentally ill d) a drifter…

We can now add e) autistic to the list.  There is a FaceBook page entitled “Families Against Autistic Shooters” that had (I think FaceBook may have removed the site), among its posts, these statements:

  • “What do all shooters over the last few years have in common? A lack of empathy and compassion due to Autism!”
  • “the soulless, dead eyes of autistic children”
  • “cold, calculating killing machines with no regard for human life!”

Aside from the cruel heartlessness of these posts (what is it about the Internet that brings out the worst in people?), they betray a total lack of understanding about the mass shooter phenomenon.  In an excellent op-ed piece in today’s New York Times (see it here), Andrew Solomon puts paid to this ridiculous theory and shows that how believing in it is hugely counterproductive.

As with mass murder so with violent radicalisation and terrorism.  We naturally fall into the trap of lunging for one cause or one driver to explain what we cannot understand.  A Canadian who joins ISIS or who rushes Parliament Hill after having shot and killed an unarmed honour guard is so beyond our comprehension that we uncritically agree with whatever theory is the flavour of the day.  He was nuts. He was a loner.  He had nothing to live for.  He wasn’t one of us.  As Solomon wrote in his article: “It’s very reassuring to have an explanation for acts of horror. If killings like this are mostly undertaken by people with autism, the thinking goes, and your children and their friends don’t have it, then you are safe.”  In other words, we share nothing with them.

I have written dozens of times on how this is inaccurate and not helpful in our collective effort to come to terms with violent radicalisation.  I understand the need to rationalise and explain away these heinous acts of violence.  But if we continue to relegate those responsible to the margins and refuse to see how they came to be the way they are from within our societies, we cannot take effective steps to meet this challenge and prevent future actions.  The more we see them as not us, the less we know.

Robert Frost wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Can we please take the road less traveled when it comes to terrorism analysis?  Sure it is harder, but we are more likely to get the results we want.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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