Mental Illness Prompts Boston Bomber




[Accusation: A Muslim preacher is a]
“non-believer” and “hypocrite”…
“contaminating people’s mind.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Given the mental state of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, could it be that the Boston bombing is more akin to the Virginia Tech massacre than an al Qaeda plot? Is it possible this horrific incident is primarily the result of mental illness?

Religiosity is often a symptom of mental illness. When this is the case, the person often has beliefs which differ significantly from those commonly held by others of that particular faith or denomination. Extreme beliefs are often delusions.

At least two significant episodes indicate Tsarnaev opposed the beliefs of his fellow Muslims. First, he angrily shouted at shopkeeper Abdou Razak regarding non-Muslim practices, “This is kuffar! That’s not right!” Why was he so incensed? Because Razak posted a sign advertising turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Perhaps more revealing is Tsarnaev’s January 18 confrontation at the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) mosque. As a preacher commented approvingly of Dr. King, Tsarnaev publicly accused the preacher of being a hypocrite. Some worshippers shouted back, “You’re the hypocrite!” Others shouted, “Leave now!”

“Due to the congregations’ disapproval,” the ISB writes, “he left the sermon.” An ISB spokesman, Yusufi Vali, stated that “a respected member of the community told Tamerlan afterward, ‘If this happens again, you’re out.’”

Referring to the Prophet’s birthday and American holidays, Vali said Tsarnaev “took offense to celebrating anything.” As recently revealed, this explains the choice of bombing the Boston marathon, a Patriot’s Day celebration.

Tsarnaev’s religiosity is ideosyncratic, a system of belief peculiar to himself and a small group of people whose views he sought on the internet. It is certainly not reflective of the vast majority of Muslims. These distorted beliefs are typical of the effects of severe mental illness or psychosis on an individual’s religion.

In recent years, Tsarnaev has faced significant stressors which could explain the onset or exacerbation of the symptoms of mental illness: giving up his career as a champion boxer; inability to find work; divorce of his parents; and alienation from several family members. The murder of a close friend was surely traumatic as well.

Tsarnaev’s religious fervor also suggests that, in his deluded state of mind, he believed he was following God’s will for his life. As the Washington Post reported in Turn to Religion Split Suspect’s Home, several people “say Tamerlan would express outrage when he perceived a religious slight…” Tsarnaev appeared obsessed with following God, imposing his understanding of God upon others and being punitive toward “non-believers.”

Some may object that if Tsarnaev suffered from psychosis he would not have been able to plan and execute the bombing. This is an understandable but mistaken notion. For example, Seung-Hui Cho was able to kill 32 and injure 17 at Virginia Tech before committing suicide. His psychosis is well documented, yet he was also able to plan in detail this horrendous attack.

This raises important questions: Is it appropriate to deem the Boston bombing ‘terrorism’ yet not apply this term to the Virginia Tech massacre or the mass shooting of children at Sandy Hook? Is terrorism perpetrated only by Muslims–but not by ‘Christian’ extremists such as Timothy McVeigh? Also, why does half of our prison population suffer from mental illness?

Surely this bombing will be used to justify spending much more in the ‘war on terror.’ Our economy will take another hit as we misappropriate funds that could better serve the American community. Meanwhile, we will miss the essential lessons of this bombing.

First, we must watch out for each other. When trauma or extremism becomes evident, we must promptly seek help for those affected.

Second, we need to increase funding and find better ways of delivering services to the mentally ill.

Third, we must refute the extremist hatred and conspiracy theories which scapegoat and demonize unpopular people and groups.

Finally, we must reject the fear which nurtures hatred and prompts us to worship security and sacrifice our liberties.

©2013 Harry Rix. All rights reserved.

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