The Struggle to Understand: Jihad, Going Postal, and Superempowerment


Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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26 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    If only he had been a supporter of Ron Paul, a listener of Glenn Beck, and someone who held up a sign asking “where’s the birth cerificate (sic)?”

    We’d understand his motivations, his psychology, and exactly what we, as a society, would need to start doing (and, more importantly, *STOP* doing) to prevent children like (enter list of names here) from having to go the rest of their lives without ever seeing their father again.Report

  2. Excellent, informative piece, Chris.Report

  3. Avatar Scott says:

    I think for some but not all people, there is a “linear causality from the religion to the act.”Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Scott says:

      true, but even in that case, you still have to ask what they understand to be their religious outlook. And then some comparison with that and other (within the same broad religion let’s say) points of view. The weighing part is hard–do we emphasize historical validity, numbers only, impact–it’s complicated to be sure.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    “It’s a sad state of affairs when the family of the shooter has to say in a statement, “we love America.” ”

    There are a lot of dynamics going on with this shooting. There are a lot of things talked about, there are a lot of things not being talked about, and there are a lot of things that can only be talked about if you give a speech about something else entirely first.

    So let’s talk about something else entirely for a moment.

    Did you see it as a particularly weird dynamic when the National Right-To-Life Committee issued a statement after George Tiller’s assassination?

    Back to the original statement, I think that the family is currently shell-shocked and they are grieving something amazing right now. First, they can’t believe that their relative was capable of something like this. I mean, sure. He was intense. But this? Something *EVIL*? They never saw that coming. Additionally, they are a family of immigrants. They came here from Jordan, I believe. They happen to be Palestinian. After 9/11, for about a minute, there was footage of Palestinians dancing after the news hit. Additionally, after it was confirmed that the terrorists had been Muslims and Osama issued a letter saying “This is why we did it!” (a letter in which Palestinians featured prominently), they probably had a lot of “we’re not like that, we left there because we’re not like that” going on in their heads whirring for several years at a time.

    Given what happened, I suspect that they suspect that there will be questions (unfair questions, surely) asking whether he was that way because he was raised to be that way.

    In the middle of their grief and complete lack of understanding of what is going on, they look at what his motives probably were and question whether they were complicit in what happened, on whatever level.

    They looked and they came to the conclusion that, no. They don’t understand why he did it.

    They love America.

    That’s how I’m looking at their thought processes in that, anyway. It’s not that they “had to say” that. They didn’t have to. They wanted that out there.

    It’s like the National Right-To-Life people issuing a statement that said their organization “unequivocally condemns any such acts of violence regardless of motivation.”

    No reasonable person thought that they supported such acts of violence, did they?Report

  5. Avatar Sam M says:

    This goes to a lot of the discussion that people have been having around here of late. To what extent do “conservatives” have to “take responsibility” for the last 8 years? To what extent do “Catholics” have to “take responsibility” for the Church’s take on homosexuality and abortion, etc.?

    A few people seem to think, in these cases, that the answer is, “to a large extent.” That conservatives have to “own” the current state of affairs and in some sense apologize for it. Or quit the Catholic Church if they support gay marriage.

    Others disagree.

    But it seems that this issue raises similar issues. If a person cannot practice catholicism without personally grieving or repenting for his church’s take on gay marriage… where does that leave Muslims? What do individual Muslims “owe” us in terms of repentance and apology? I would submit that the answer is “nothing.” But if it’s not nothing, how does the answer apply across religions? Across issues?

    If, as a conservative, I have to take responsibility for profligate spending…Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Sam M says:

      This is a good point and a difficult one. Obviously not everybody just going about their day as good citizens who happen to be Muslim (or Christian in the abortion doctor murders) is somehow responsible for some wacko’s horrific act. On that level true.

      Being a member of a political party that votes a group into power who then takes certain actions might be considered differently (i.e. relative to whether a person involved in said party is therefore responsible).

      I voted for Obama for president even though I disagreed with a number of his policies (also I’m not a member of the Democratic Party). Am I responsible for everything he does? In a sense well of course not, he’s his own human being. But in another sense I do have some relationship to all that and therefore some responsibility.

      Same with religious membership seems to me. What exactly (that admittedly rather tenuous) relation-responsibility really is is very unclear. At least it is to me. Is every Muslim supposed to apologize for some homicidal maniacal act undertaken by a self-confessed Muslim? Well no obviously.

      But still…..Report

  6. Avatar token liberal says:

    whenever someone blames islam for something like this, I like to ask them about the guy that murdered the abortion doctor and claimed in prison that he knew of more planned attacks.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to token liberal says:

      but in that case (as a Christian I say this admittedly) those people were motivated by their understanding of religion. This takes us back to Sam M’s question, which is a really important one that I don’t totally have an answer to.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to token liberal says:

      When one of those guys starts shooting (or bombing) and starts screaming about how “true” Christians need to start killing Hitlers, you had best not be standing anywhere near a microphone or you will risk being trampled to death by Christian Leaders eager to denounce the shooter/bomber.Report

  7. Avatar Nob Akimoto says:

    I think on the whole the notion of monolithic cultural entities is a serious problem in terms of our understanding and discourse on the subject of religious, society and even the state. I’ve also slowly come to a conclusion that part of the discursive dysfunction between the academic and the non-academic sections of society regarding culture and society also stem from this basic lack of acknowledgement in disaggregated identities.

    A lot of the theoretical literature (particularly constructivist and political theory) have focused on the concept of disaggregating and piecing out parts of identity over the last few years, while more macrolevel literature (one would argue neo-realist, liberal institutionalist and neo-conservative theories) have focused more on large existentional struggles that exist with monolithic groups to take over from the Hegelian socio-political (or really Marxian socio-economic) historeography of the post-Westphalian system. The latter has always been consistently easier to understand, particularly in an era of nation-states and nationalism where identity has always been so crucially and easily defined in an exclusive fashion.

    There is on some level a slow move towards inclusive identities over exclusive ones, but we remain in a world where subtlety in identification is a relatively uncommon thing, people either are part of or against a culture, and the latter constructs are supposedly rigidly monolithic, particularly as it feeds better into the 24/7 constant chatter horse race media we’ve come to thoroughly depend on. Even on a site like this one, we self-segregate between self-identified “liberals” and “conservatives” or “libertarians” which on the whole creates a lot of problems in simple matters of discourse.

    Religion is particularly bad in this regard, because over the last twenty years we’ve had a Huntingtonian discourse where religion is not only correlated but in many respects conflated with culture. Even the valiant effort of scholars like Mahmud Mamdani to describe the intellectual history of Jihadism have gotten lost to demagogues on both sides of the aisle. Times like this one leave a very discomforting sensation that the mode of conversation has gone entirely to monolithic identities.

    What can we do to change this? Where can we go without either entirely abandoning the pretense of identity or abandoning collective responsibility entirely?Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      excellent comment. I struggle with those questions all the time. I try to raise them through my blogging here and in conversations I have with folks. Beyond that I don’t really know what else I can do.Report

  8. Avatar zic says:

    Of particular note is the common refrain of how negatively Hassan (as a psychiatrist) was affected by working with returning soldiers from the battlefield as well his rather private, lonely existence.

    A much-loved therapist in my community committed suicide last week. I’ve been pondering the difference between two support models for the emotionally/mentally wounded in society; the clergy and therapist/psychiatrist. Faith-based help includes a social element; you can talk to your preacher and then sit down to dinner with him. Therapists/psychiatrists code of ethics prohibit socializing with clients.

    I wonder if the isolation from clients — witnessing their pain in the office without witnessing the joys and hopes in their lives — takes a very heavy toll on mental-health care providers.

    (Note: affirmed atheist here.)

    Perhaps as we deal with the notion that Islam is not a monolith, we should also consider the idea that mental-health providers are mere humans asubject to not only their own spiritual anguish, but to their patients’ anguish.Report

    • Avatar Scott in reply to zic says:

      That hardly explains why Hasan was shouting “Allahu Akbar” before he started shooting. Why can’t people just accept he decided to become a terrorist?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Scott says:

        This is where my postness kicks in.

        I doubt that he “decided to become a terrorist”.

        Maybe he decided to kill his co-workers. Maybe he decided that he would rather die than go overseas and what better way than in a blaze of glory. Maybe he decided that God (Allah) would want him to take a stand against the heretic oppressors who were going to kill those 10 times more devout.

        I doubt he woke up and said “I’m going to become a terrorist.”

        If anything, he woke up and said “I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world.”Report

        • Avatar Scott in reply to Jaybird says:

          And that change was to kill 13 Americans? Why can’t people accept that his religion was a major factor if not the major factor in his actions? People are more than willing to blame Christianity when an abortion protester kills someone.Report

          • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Scott says:

            Because the media in particular have a hard time understanding the distinction/relationship between “his religion” and “the religion” (in this case Islam). The media have no real helpful analytic frame to deal with religion, so as a result they are afraid they will tar a whole population of people (unfairly) and therefore tend to shy away from it.

            Also, even if they did have an illuminating analytical frame (which they don’t), they can’t assume their audience (or a majority of them) will share said analytic frame and will (mis)interpret their words to be the same result: branding all Muslims (esp. in America) as terrorists.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

              Yes Chris. It is not hard at all to think his religion had something to do what his actions. just the same as religion may be a factor in the murder of abortion providers or the actions of the many other spree killers. but in America people can make the distinction between what one nut does and all the various other believers. with Islam people seem unable to do that and the maroons in the MSM seem unable to understand or articulate that.Report

            • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

              Re: your first paragraph, Chris, I don’t buy it. I think the media “shys” away from defining the murderers as ‘Muslims” or “Islamists” for pc reasons only, e.g. an overt effort to deflect responsibility for the crime (murder/massacre) away from a ‘protected minority’ group, in this case Muslims. You can be assured that if the murderer(s) were Caucasian, Presbyterians they’d have no problem announcing that fact to the world.
              The same phenomenon occurs with regard to particularly horrendous crimes committed by homosexuals (and no, I’m not saying homosexuals are all criminals). The msm is in fact covering for certain, select, minority groups, against the evil majority.
              And, that’s one reason why the msm is dying and the internet sites, such as this one, gets so much traffic. People are very simply looking for the truth!Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Scott says:

            Oh, I’m pretty certain that his religion inspired him to kill folks.

            Hell, I’m even pretty certain that he was a terrorist.

            I’m just also pretty certain that he didn’t see himself that way.Report

  9. Avatar Louis B. says:

    Is it any surprise that a man whose job it was to make people feel good about killing might pull the trigger himself?Report

  10. Avatar Mark says:

    Political correctness will win the day on this most detestable act of Jihad waged on our own soil. The lib media will continue to spin this as anything but Jihad. The truth stares us in the face yet we are unwilling to see. Instead of this worthless, feel-good drivel, more articles telling the truth about radical Islam need to start appearing in the main stream media in order that we, as a people under incredible danger from these extremists, are able to face the sad reality that is Jihad.
    This article is ridiculous.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Mark says:


      No one has yet suggested there was any group cell conspiracy on this one. For all it appears, this was a lone figure. He certainly seems to have interpreted his act as part of some resistance to America, but I still don’t see (as lonerism) this really is all that different (as other commenters have pointed out) from a Christian-inspired murder of an abortion doctor. It’s a terrorist act, a domestic terrorist act for that matter, and it’s horrible, but I think we give it too much power if we link it to some idea of some worldwide threat against the US that threatens to overthrow our democracy. It’s a criminal act, horrible in its consequences undoubtedly, but not some existential threat or the tip of some foreign coming spear. I’ll have more to say on this probably Monday, but sufficed it to say I don’t think it helps to label all such activity as Jihad with a capital J and act like it’s some monolithic, united front against America. The idea in war is to divide your enemies and conquer them, not multiply your enemies.Report

  11. Avatar A.R.Yngve says:

    Hasn’t anyone here seen Monty Python’s LIFE OF BRIAN? Whatever religion comes around, someone will always use it as an excuse/license to act out his/her worst instincts.

    So it is never, ever really like this: “Oh! Suddenly God is telling me to kill lots of people! I must obey this instant message from Beyond!”

    Rather it would be a little something like this: “I hate myself I hate my co-workers I hate this life I hate being so powerless I want to die but I’m not going alone but it would be wrong to… God. Yeah. That’s right. If I kill myself and lots of people and God wants it, then it’s OK. Heh heh heh…”

    Religion is the excuse, not the cause. The cause is in us. We have religions for the same reason we have laws, to restrain people’s murderous instincts… thought perhaps not always with great success.Report