The state I live in has an elite police unit called “fixated threat assessment centre” (not many know about it — apparently, preventing crime attracts no headlines). They have specialist police, forensic mental health clinicians and analysts specialised in the area. So, why the need to start a such a specialised police grouping?
Apparently we worked out that there are people who feel (not always, but often factually correctly) that they’ve been wronged and denied justice. At some stage, their or their loved one’s life got derailed by an injustice (say, unfair dismissal, covered-up assault, or just a parking ticket issued in error) which, sometimes coupled by the obsessive focus on it, creates other issues that balloon out to affect their health, marriage, job — a sizeable damage but one for which justice was ne’er served. When they complained (sometimes simply asking for an apology), they have been told to go away. They become entangled in the justice system so awkwardly that it would be comic if wasn’t tragic. Depending on the issue fixated on and the person’s psychological makeup like mental health and accumulated trauma, grievances can become pathological, at which stage it is a small step to act on the built-up hatred, either towards an individual responsible or the system allowing the wrong: government, police, the public, etc. The elite group’s task is to find and stop these attackers before they become terrorists by…how to say it in more clinical terms…“disrupting pathways”, that’s it.
Apparently, we know that even in our somewhat fair Western, democratic and rich country we have them by their hundreds. We have them in every suburb and every town. Their resentment is highly personalised or idiosyncratic, rather than stemming from a widely shared ideology. It is just simply how some human biology behaves in the lumpy, uneven world we created. We worked out that when they are identified, they need a detailed game-plan by individual police — these offenders or (ideally) would-be offenders need to be shown empathy, to be listened to, receive friendly care and psychological treatment rather than the counterproductive emphases on “personal responsibility” and “strong law enforcement response”. Apparently, actions like encouraging to get back to mental health treatment, efforts at re-integration, helping to get legal aid at the family court, linking the person with the community police unit who will see him as client rather than “trouble” or “crook” makes the fixation (and with it, the physical threat) lapse. We worked out that expecting the garden-variety police to deal tough with these troubled offenders, and without knowing their backgrounds to boot, is unrealistic.
Apparently if using the “law and order” approach, these people can easily develop erratic behaviours, hatred, bias and be quickly radicalised, that their resulting terrorism is not the cause but the symptom. “Pathways” enabling radicalisation involve conspiracy theories and one-sided propaganda on social media that can be fatally attractive to our troubled individuals.
The online sewer of social media also allows lack of physical contact, therefore a deep separation from general society. In grips of online brainwashing, our troubled individuals tend to end up in desperately lonely circumstances, often removing themselves from any mental treatment and last few friends, and end up self-imprisoned in boarded-up, dark houses.
We are very understanding types for working out all this, quite progressive, deserve pats on the back, really.
But for the love of God, if we know all this, how can we sustain the Grand Canyon-sized mental disconnect with how we think about terrorism in general? We still think war on terror can work. If we say we understand the motives and ways of handling our terrorists, why not of those from other countries, those of different accents, complexion, dissimilarly robed or worshipping? The disconnect is completely debilitating.
I grew up with TV reports of terror bombs going off seemingly every night for a decade, set off by one aggrieved party after another. Disparate causes having one thing in common: they were all reaction to injustice (real or perceived) spilling into violence. Just like our terrorists in our suburbs. Suppressing nationalistic feelings? You’ll hear from the IRA and ETA. Left politics getting a rude push-back? Enter left the far-left groups like the German Baader-Meinhof gang or the Italian Red Brigades. Western geopolitics pushed in for natural resources? Hello fundamentalist Muslim terror organisations. Western working classes getting ignored by politics? Enter right and please make room for the far-right racist groups. Women getting some power back? Look into the “incel” movement legitimising rape and murder of women, if you dare. The one thread that connects them: they are all (rightly or wrongly) perceived grievances turning into pathological hate turning into violent action.
Terror has been around and came from all angles. But this historical continuity and the the underlying action-reaction dynamic is completely ignored by mass media. As a result of our carefully cultivated ignorance, because we can’t begin to understand how THEY would feel wronged by injustices (say, indiscriminately bombing them with impunity or supporting brutal regimes), we accept completely different theories: apparently they kill out of jealousy (remember the talking heads repeating how “they hate our freedoms”?) or they kill because of their inferior ideology/race/religion. Self-serving bias is powerful: our guys in our suburbs do have a story, an explanation: had a bad day, are mentally not in happy place, failed by the system, with a valid grievance, not ideologically driven…
…but these others…man, they know what they are doing, and doing it for no valid reasons, except for their [insert preferred political, religious, biological, ideological, etc.] difference.
And what a negative feedback loop that becomes…since we don’t really understand them or even can tell them apart, we assume all of them to be suspect, thereby alienating their moderates too. Then we believe that this further injustice, again, will have nothing to do with their radicalisation. You know, injustice would be heading down the terrorism path for universal, valid reasons — that’s what our guys in our suburbs do.