Thursday, October 6, 2016

Is Islamic Extremism a mental illness?

What kind of person is an Islamic extremist?

Islamic extremism is an ideology, but is also a psychology of its own. One way to understand this psychology is to look at the psychology of Islamic extremists themselves: those who claim that their hatred and acts of violence are done in the name of Islam.

"If you insult my religion, I'll kill you"

The psychology of the Islamic extremist bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the psychopathic narcissist. One example that sticks in the memory is of a murder that took place in the UK. A middle-aged Muslim shopkeeper was murdered in his shop in Scotland, in an attack that shocked the neighbourhood, as he was a caring and sympathetic member of the community. It transpired that the perpetrator was a Muslim man from the north of England. It was discovered that the motive for the attack was that he had seen a seen a video the shopkeeper had posted online which had angered him as it had somehow "disrespected Islam"; so he decided to kill him.

In other words, the murderer had taken this man's comments as a personal insult. The murderer had associated anything which he saw as an "attack" on his religion as an attack on himself.

This theme is a common thread in Islamic extremism. The reaction in the Muslim world to the Danish cartoons is another example of this: Muslim reactionaries across the world react with fury and violence when they feel that their prophet has been insulted. Again, they react as though they were insulted personally. They are psychologically unable to disassociate themselves from their religion, as they see it as an essential part of themselves. Because they see their religion as their life, their own sense of self is therefore injured if their religion is "injured". No wonder they can't take a joke.

Without meaning to sound flippant, there is something of a "mafia" feel to this: the stereotype of the mafia boss who kills someone because "they disrespected them" sounds to sounds an awful lot like the reaction that Islamic extremists take to seeing their religion "disrespected". You dare not criticise Islam if you value your life. This is the thought that these Islamic extremists want everyone else to have.

Again, another example was the shocking attack on Charlie Hebdo. Journalists murdered because they made cartoons insulting Islam. The psychological reaction that can be seen in the examples mentioned is like that of a tantrum-throwing child; the insecure and weak-willed person whose ego is so fragile that any slight to their own self-constructed perfected image can result in a rage that is totally disproportionate to the situation: "You insulted my prophet! YOU INSULTED MY PROPHET! ARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!", These people are in need of anger management classes, to say the least.

This touches on the wider issue of religion in the role it plays in "infantilising" society: because religion acts as a social code, there is a tendency for some to defer to it for all decision-making; in other words, their brains have been side-lined in the decision-making process. This is especially dangerous when the book you're reading from is open to many interpretations (or, in the case of Wahabbism and Salafism, reading words written about life in the middle of the desert in the 7th century as applicable cast-iron truths for the 21st). This child-like deference to a literal "God-head", and the internalisation of that God-head so that the "God-head" and the "self" become inseparable, is what makes this so potentially poisonous, as we have seen above.

"Infantilism" is also seen in narcissism. Elsewhere, we've looked at the differences and similarities between narcissism and psychopathy. Narcissists are at heart insecure and needy individuals with a fragile sense of worth always in need of affirmation (a source of narcissistic supply); this can make them tiresome company and difficult to deal with at the best of times; at their worst, they can be downright dangerous.
In social situations, this can be seen in more extreme groupings such as cults, as well as in the politics of populism and authoritarianism, where the leader attains an infallible status. There have been many historical examples of thisThe psychology of the populist politician and their following becomes poisonous for all involved, especially if there is a religious underpinning to the movement, as can be seen in contemporary Turkey.

The rules don't apply

This "infantilism" prevalent in Islamic extremism is one aspect of the issue; another glaring part of the Islamic extremist's narcissism is their grandiose sense of self-worth and entitlement.

The "Trojan Horse" scandal in the UK with appeared in the news a couple of years ago is a prime example of this. This British news story uncovered how many Islamic schools in the UK were preaching intolerance, views antithetical to British law, and effectively bringing about self-imposed segregation of the Muslim community from the rest of British society.
Using the British state's own beliefs of "free speech" and cultural diversity back against them, they claim that their religious rights are being infringed if they are not allowed to practice their faith as they see fit. This would be a fair point, if it were not also the case that practising their faith as they see fit means that it also goes against various aspects of British law. These extremists see their faith as being being absolute and above that of national law i.e. because they are Muslims, the normal laws literally don't apply to them.
In this way, Muslim extremists seek to socially and legally separate themselves from the rest of society, using their faith as an excuse. They literally seek to create a "state with a state" in majority non-Muslim countries.

At the same time as claiming that their faith allows them special treatment (and can never be criticised), they still claim the same rights of "free speech" to incite hatred and violence against (for example) Jews (whom the Koran has called "pigs" and "monkeys") and non-believers in general. The use of "free speech" is therefore turned on its head, so that these extremists can have their cake and eat it: free to attack their "enemies" at whim, while free from attack themselves. In fact, it could be considered be a stunning piece of legal manipulation if its effect were not so dangerous.

Judge, jury and executioner

In a more general level, Islamic extremists suffer from a severe lack of empathy for others and society as a whole. We've mentioned earlier how this can exist in different social groupings (and also can be argued to exist in modern Capitalist society) creates divisions in society.
Islamic extremism very clearly divides between those who are "true" Muslims, and those who are not. This thus excluded not only non-Muslims, but  what they would call Muslim "apostates" who are fallen from the "right path". For the likes of ISIS and their fellow Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, this includes, primarily, Shias, as well as any other "lesser" branches of Islam that are deemed to have lost their way; and, of course Muslim "liberals", who would not be thought of as "Muslim" at all. This division, and the use of violent language, is what feeds their lack of empathy. For the extremist to feel "chosen" is what makes him a narcissist, and it is the need to therefore have an enemy (the more, the better) that helps to solidify his own sense of self, and reinforce the need for violence. The extremist scorns social rules, and is ultimately anti-social in character. This is the psychopathic aspect of the dangerous narcissism that lurks inside them.
We can see that, from a psychological point of view, the Islamic extremist is an insecure "rebel without a cause" who uses Islam as a way to seek validation from an unrealistic God-figure and a reliable source of narcissistic supply. It makes him feel powerful, and part of something "special"; he gains self-nourishment from the thought of having a divine cause, with this "divine cause" propelling him to impose his will on others, knowing he's doing "God's work". He feels he has the "divine right" to impose his will on others; this is an essential ingredient of narcissism
The source of narcissistic supply, therefore, is the ability to affect others around him in a way that no-one else can. Is this, then, the ultimate attraction of Islamic extremism? That it allows its "followers" to act like God; as judge, jury and executioner?

So this is the crux of the psychology of the extremist. Apart from the dangerous sense of entitlement already described, intertwined with this is the threat and use of violence to achieve his aims. And because those aims are ultimately unreachable ("A worldwide caliphate"?), this is what makes the Islamic extremist even more obviously a dangerously-psychopathic narcissist: he wants the world, literally. And nothing can stop him except death (which for him is an "honour" in any case). The obsession with death as a "martyr" (and the ultimate, self-destructive death-act) is the epitome of narcissism as a macabre exercise in histrionic attention-seeking. It is a sickness of the mind that kills all those that the narcissist extremist seeks to "take with him" in his orgy of death.

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