Interesting Read: To Combat Terrorism, Tackle Mental Illness

Liah Greenfeld, a professor of sociology, political science and anthropology at Boston University, is the author of “Mind, Modernity, Madness: The Impact of Culture on Human Experience.”

UPDATED JULY 15, 2016, 7:45 PM

Original Article Published on NYTimes.com

The comment of the French prime minister can be interpreted as recognition that terrible events such as the mass killing in Nice Thursday night are a sign of a very long-term problem, which is unlikely to be speedily resolved. In this sense, France, like the United States, will indeed “have to learn to live with terrorism.”

The great majority of ‘homegrown’ or ‘lone-wolf’ terror acts are committed by people with a history of mental illness, most often depression.

Paradoxically, this is so precisely because “terrorism” is not an adequate diagnosis of such acts in the United States and Western Europe. Yes, they are acts of terror, and may even be inspired by Islamic militants. But they are also acts of mentally disturbed individuals.

The great majority of “homegrown” or “lone-wolf” terror acts are committed by people with a known history of mental illness, most often depression, which counts social maladjustment and problematic sense of self among its core symptoms. Severely depressed people are often suicidal, they find life unlivable. As a rule, they cannot explain their acute existential discomfort to themselves and may find ideologies hostile to their social environment – the society in which they experience their misery – appealing: such ideologies allow them to rationalize, make sense of the way they feel. Any available ideology justifying their maladjustment would do: Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel might have been inspired by radical Islam, but Micah Johnson, who killed five police officers in Dallas, had a different inspiration.

 

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