Humanist Perspectives: issue 191: Terrorism or Mental Illness? Making Distinctions When We Should Be Connecting The Dots

Terrorism or Mental Illness? Making Distinctions When We Should Be Connecting The Dots
by Madeline Weld


f an unprovoked attack looks like jihad, walks like jihad, and quacks like jihad, then it must be...

...a manifestation of mental illness, violent extremism, a perversion of Islam, a betrayal of Islam, a lone wolf attack, a response to Western politics, workplace violence, a reaction to the Israeli occupation, a product of poverty and marginalization, or ... yada yada yada. But whatever it is, it has nothing to do with the “real Islam.”

At least, that’s what most of our leaders and much of the media would have us believe. But jihad is an integral concept of Islam and has been for 1400 years. The self-declared caliph of Islamic State (IS, formerly called ISIS or ISIL) – the even more virulent offspring of al-Qaeda and apparently the inspiration for several recent attacks, including the two in October that killed two Canadian soldiers – has a Ph.D. in Islamic studies from the University of Baghdad and is following sharia law pretty much to the letter of mainstream Sunni interpretation. Both al-Qaeda and IS are offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), founded in Egypt in 1928 in response to the fall of the Ottoman empire. The founder of the MB, Hassan al-Banna, was heavily influenced by the Salafist movement and saw the re-establishment of the Islamic caliphate as a top priority in returning society to a pure form of Islam. The MB expanded rapidly and established branches in many countries, including Western ones. The roots of the MB were established in North America in the 1960s with the Muslim Students Association, followed by many other organizations. Many Muslim organizations now operating in the USA and Canada under a plethora of names are in fact linked to the MB1. Seyyid Qutb, the most important ideologue of the MB aside from al-Banna, wrote at length about jihad in his 1964 book Milestones, whose purpose was to guide Muslims on their way to establishing an Islamic world order.

Qutb explained that the “causes of Islamic Jihaad should be sought in the very nature of Islam and its role in the world....”. He also explained that “the bringing about of the enforcement of the Divine Law (Shari’ah) and the abolition of man-made laws cannot be achieved only through preaching.” As Qutb saw it, the way to “clear the way for striving through preaching in the application of the Islamic movement” was through “Jihaad bis saif (striving through fighting)”2.

Although their tactics differ, the objectives of the Muslim Brotherhood and its spawn, such as al-Qaeda, Islamic State, al-Shabab, Boko Haram and many others, are the same: to bring the whole world under sharia law. The offshoots use primarily violence and terror to meet this objective. The MB, at least in the West, works mostly through infiltration. Its goal is described in its “Explanatory Memorandum”3:

The process of settlement is a ‘Civilization-Jihadist Process’ with all the word means. The Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ’sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

While the many MB-linked organizations in North America identify themselves primarily as civil rights and community groups, their objectives, aside from raising money for their violence-prone brethren (including Hamas, the MB chapter of Palestine), are to promote the introduction of sharia-friendly concessions in our institutions, silence criticism of Islam through “lawfare” and de-link any Islamist violence with Islam itself. They sow confusion about how jihad is understood in Islamic theology and seek to mislead people into believing that it is primarily a peaceful inner striving for self-betterment. And they have been quite successful.

Canadian security expert David Harris has described how the Obama White House has banned words like “Islamists,” “Muslims” and “jihad” from security documents, even from FBI and other government agencies’ counterterror training manuals4. And Canada has followed suit, reports Harris, describing how our government has expunged all direct references to Islamists, other than in terror-organization names, from its “2014 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat in Canada” which came out in August 20145. Canadians who go to Syria to fight for IS are not jihadis, they are “extremist travellers.” Therefore, despite having jihad fingerprints all over them, some terror attacks have not been recognized as jihad. The 2009 Fort Hood massacre of 13 unarmed soldiers by “Allahu Akbar”-shouting, wannabe-martyr Nidal Hasan, for example, is officially designated as “workplace violence.”

Many Canadians (and the mainstream media) delude themselves that our unique multicultural model and our success at integrating immigrants means we don’t have to worry too much about a jihadi attack. The 2006 plot of the Toronto 18 and the 2013 Via Rail plot, among others, should have led to sober second thought on that issue. Yet both the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail called Prime Minister Harper alarmist for telling the House of Commons on October 3 that “the threat posed by ISIL is real ... grave and it is explicitly directed, in part, against this country.” In its October 5 editorial, the Toronto Star opined that Harper’s concerns about jihadists expressly threatening Canada’s security were “overblown.”

In addition to numerous “random” attacks from around the world bearing the hallmarks of jihad (even if not so identified), Canadians have had direct warnings from jihadi compatriots.

In August, Calgarian Farah Shirdon explicitly threatened Canada, the US and “all oppressors” in a propaganda video in which he said, “We are coming and we will destroy you by the will of God, we are coming to slaughter you.” A convert by the name of Abu Khalid al-Kanadi used Twitter to exhort his Muslim compatriots: “TRUE CDN MUSLIMS! Fulfill your duty of Jihad in Canada.” Islamic State issued an audio message in September as a warning to all countries in the coalition against it, and mentioned Canada by name. The warning includes the following:

“...Rather you will pay the price as you walk on your streets, turning right and left, fearing the Muslims. You will not feel secure even in your bedrooms...

“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European ... or an Australian or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or any way... Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling...

“If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run over him with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him. Do not lack. Do not be contemptible...”6.

Unfortunately for us, IS has been masterful at using the social media to get followers. The Foley and Sotloff beheadings produced almost 30,000 new IS Twitter accounts7. Aside from the jihad cool of IS, the caliphate seems to be a big draw.

Of course, no one can predict with absolute certainty whether, when or where something is going to happen. But no one should be surprised that there were deadly jihad attacks on Canadian soldiers nor should they be surprised if (when) there are more – on soldiers, civilians, tourists, or whomever.

Sure, some of the attackers will have mental health issues, as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Nathan Cirillo’s killer, apparently did. But for someone inclined toward violence, or who feels like a loser in society, the promise of glory through jihad may be very compelling, mental health problems or not. The RCMP warns that there are about 100 “high-risk travellers” returning to Canada. How many potential jihadis, at home or abroad, do they not know about?

What should we do? Our first step must be to see things clearly. Islamic State is Islam in action, a supremacist political ideology with a veneer of religion whose objective is to subject the entire world to sharia law through jihad or other means. Many non-violent Muslim organizations have the same goal.

US President Barack Obama may insist that “we are not at war with Islam,” but Islam has declared war on us. Obama’s predecessor John Quincy Adams knew better: “The precept of the Koran is perpetual war against all who deny that Mahomet is the prophet of God”8.

We had better wake up and smell the jihad.

  1. “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America,” a bilingual Arabic and English document, dated May 22, 1991, was discovered in 2004 during an FBI raid of the home of an Islamist operative. The “friends” of the Muslim Brotherhood are listed on the last page.
  2. Qutb, Seyyid. Milestones. 2nd Revised Edition. Damascus: Dar-al-Ilm, 1964. Quotes are from pages 57, 58, and 61.
  3. Explanatory Memorandum, page 7 of the English (2nd) part.
  4. Harris, David B. Terror’s Virus on the Northern Border. Investigative Project on Terrorism. Guest Column, 7 October 2014.
  5. The Report can be read here:
  6. From Jonathan Halevi’s blog, (accessed 26 October 2014, the quotes are from the posting of October 13, one week before the first Canadian soldier was killed)
  8. See

Madeline Weld is President of the Population Institute Canada ( and a toxicologist evaluator at the Food Directorate of Health Canada, Ottawa.