Though it runs counter to the official French and Islamophobic narrative, news sources probing the background of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the Nice attacker, are finding little evidence he was motivated by jihadism. Rather, he was a violent, but petty criminal who made his living as a bisexual prostitute on the French Riviera.
UPDATE: a long-time French reader of this blog has provided some important new information. She believes the Daily Beast report that Bouhlel was a prostitute may not be accurate. She has not read this in any French publication. She has read that he was essentially a sex addict, obsessed by conquests of both men and women. A man so brutal to his wife that, to her credit, she threw him out.
The wife called him “an atheist.” He drank alcohol and ate pork. Never celebrated Ramadan or attended any mosque. His father confirmed that while he had been a brilliant student as a youth, he began to see a psychiatrist at age 19. He clearly, according to these French sources, had “mental problems.”
French sociologist, Farhad Khosrokhavar, a specialist in Islamic radicalisation, told French media that this is NOT a case of religious radicalisation or even terrorism: he, in fact, compared him to the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, and particularly to the German pilot Andreas Lubitz, who crashed his plane in a suicidal act. They were all mentally ill, clinically depressed, and possibly seeking post-mortem fame.
While the French prime minister quickly claimed the killings were “somehow” or other associated with Islamism, he offered no concrete evidence. Nor did the interior minister, who said the suspect was completely unknown to intelligence agencies. The killer never frequented mosques or had any religious affiliation. The online Islamophobe mafia claims he shouted Islamist slogans as he mowed people down in the street. But no credible media or official source has confirmed this. ISIS has claimed him as one of their own, but they too have offered no videotape of him acknowledging allegiance.
It’s too early to know for sure his precise motives, or combination of motives. But one thing is for sure, the French President and prime minister misspoke when they almost immediately, and with little evidence, declared the attack the work of ISIS.
This is a common human fault: when a tragedy occurs, rather than wait for evidence and solid proof, we fall back on conventional wisdom. We turn to old narratives which were true in the past. Jumping to conclusions often sends investigators in the wrong direction and heaps blame on innocent people, who themselves become victims. It does little to help us understand new realities.
Let’s be clear about what I’m saying and not saying. I am not discounting the phenomenon of jihadi terror. We have seen too many examples of it to deny its existence. But I am saying that Muslims have become the punching bag du jour in the West. As soon as an attack has a Muslim perpetrator, people leap to conclusions. When in truth, Muslims have as many motives for engaging in desperate violent acts as any human being.
Remember the Orlando shooting? Everyone assumed he was an Islamist. But he wasn’t. He was a confused, closeted homosexual frustrated by his sexuality and unable to come to terms with it.
We are entering new, uncharted territory when it comes to such inexplicable acts of savagery. Instead of the typical narrative of the marginalized immigrant transformed into the radicalized jihadi, we now have young, impulsive, mentally imbalanced males with a varied list of grievances. Their dissatisfaction may embrace violent fundamentalism, or it may involve primarily personal demons. But all of them are united in their transfer of personal demons into the public realm. They somehow believe society is responsible for these traumas and take revenge on it for their pain and suffering. These mass killers may have elements of conventional terrorist motives, but there is a personal element that resonates for them just as strongly.
U.S. Police Shootings
The recent Dallas and Baton Rouge police murders display a different motivation, but one that will resonate here in America for some time to come. Though it may not be popular to say so, American police have killed thousands of unarmed Blacks and other minorities over the past decades. The police, until this past year, almost never faced consequences for this reckless behavior.
With the advent of smartphones and video, Americans have become far more aware of these injustices. But the police have been largely unwilling or unable to adapt to these changing circumstances. They continue to treat the public, at least the minority public, as the enemy. American police need to be held accountable and need to understand that any time they attack an unarmed civilian they will be held accountable.
If local or state police and political leaders are slow to absorb this message, then the federal government must step in. The Justice Department should investigate every police attack on unarmed civilians (those not engaged in a criminal act when stopped by police). This may be the only way to restrain police and change behavior.
If we do anything less, even more policemen will be killed in these savage attacks. Murdering police is despicable and wrong. It is the act of a deranged anti-social criminal. But the motivations of these men resonate among communities under attack. Stop killing young Blacks for no reason or we will see more of this in the future.
Baton Rouge’s policing strategy is the exact opposite of what’s called for in reducing hate and mistrust of the police:
Police departments have received waves of criticism…for using military-grade equipment in relatively benign situations, and recent protests in Baton Rouge have reignited the debate over the role of such hardware in American policing.
Photographs and video shot over the weekend show Baton Rouge police, sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers clad in body armor and gas masks and wielding semiautomatic rifles. In one sequence, riot police and SWAT officers flank an armored vehicle as it eases through a relatively peaceful crowd, a scene that looks similar to a military patrol through a hostile city.
…According to Jason Fritz, a former Army officer and an international policing operations analyst, the resurgence of military equipment and heavy-handed tactics in Baton Rouge is the byproduct of a state-centric approach to policing, one of the two policing philosophies most commonly seen in the United States.
In Baton Rouge’s case, Fritz says, the police are there to disperse protesters…
Officers in Baton Rouge “want to play soldier,” said Brandon Friedman, a former Army infantry officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan…
“These cops clearly don’t have good relationships with their own community. They feel like the answer to this is to come down with the boot,” Friedman said. “It’s an entirely ineffective way to deal with it.”
Friedman compared the Baton Rouge police’s response to the protests to his time conducting counterinsurgency operations in Iraq. The units that tried to meet civil uprisings with force usually found themselves in a “downward spiral” when it came to gaining the community’s trust.
“Units that strove to have good relationships with the community usually incurred more risks but generally had a better outcome,” Friedman said. “Baton Rouge is making a lot of mistakes, and they look ridiculous.”
After Baton Rouge’s police murdered Alton Sterling and followed that by violently attacking and beating 200 unarmed non-violent protesters, a Black man decided to exact revenge. That’s when three police officers were murdered. The police chief there learned no lessons from what happened–or learned the wrong lessons:
“We’ve been questioned for…our militarized tactics and our militarized law enforcement,” he said. “This is why. Because we are up against a force that is not playing by the rules. … They didn’t play by the rules in Dallas and they didn’t play by the rules here.
“We don’t ever want to use it but we have to have the ability to use it when we needed it, and we needed it here,” he said. “As several have said, this guy was going to another location. He was not going to stop here. After he was finished here I have no doubt he was heading to our headquarters and he was going to take more lives.
“Our militarized tactics, as they’re being called, saved lives here.”
That analysis is precisely backwards. You must solve the problem by not killing innocent, unarmed civilians. If you do that you will not provoke their hate and you will face extremely rare threats. If you develop a case of amnesia which causes you to forget that you provoked the populace by killing them, then you can emphasize the outcome, and how you need to protect yourself from killers among the populace with armored personnel vehicles, tanks, body armor and gas. If your relationship with your community is one in which you are adversaries, then the police and everyone loses. In Baton Rouge, everyone loses with a police approach enunciated by its chief. Policemen die, civilians die, and innocent protesters end up beaten to a bloody pulp for exercising their constitutional rights.
This is not unlike the Knife Intifada under way in Israel-Palestine. Young Palestinians see thousands of their country men and women gunned down by Israeli soldiers and police. They see no one held accountable. They feel impotent in the face of this savage Israeli onslaught. They have no hope of change since their own Palestinian Authority has no power or leverage either with Israel or the world community. The only outlet they have is–the knife.
Like some of the attacks mentioned above, these are random, spontaneous acts of personal rage with a political overtones. The solution is not to blame Facebook or PA incitement as the Israeli dar-right leadership has done, but to search for the cause in the hopelessness of their condition. A hopelessness that derives from Israeli mass violence and rejection of a negotiated compromise solution offering Palestinians real, full national rights. Fix this and you end the motivation for Palestinian terror. Leave it to fester, and you risk turning random acts of violence into a mass uprising in which thousands more may die.