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Man Haron Monis: it’s not about Islam

Screen shot 2014-12-15 at 14.13.34.pngWhat a sad end to the Sydney cafe siege. The gunman, one Man Haron Monis lies dead, but not before he murdered two others. Thankfully, incidents like this are quite rare in Western societies and when hostage taking does happen, it tends to either be a spur of the moment thing in the commission of a crime or an awful episode in a pattern of dysfunctional family relationships. When people are held to highlight a cause or make political points then it tends to get written off – as this is already being – as the work of a lone oddball. To explain the motives of someone like Monis, one need not be concerned beyond the peculiarities of his own personality. He’s one in a million, a fluke, a statistical anomaly. Folks need not lose any sleep.

Really? Human beings are social creatures. More than that, from even before our births and regardless of culture, we are constituted by and through social relations. We might make our history, albeit not under circumstances of our choosing, but more deeply what we build of ourselves is a process of working on social stuff assembled by countless interactions. We are legion, for we are many. For that reason, given the irreducibly social (and sociable) character of our being, I am unwilling to accept that people just “flip out” and commit extreme crimes for no reason. People choose to do these things, and choice never occurs in a vacuum.

Going by material available on Monis, here was someone determined to court notoriety and assert himself against the world. Following a protracted trial, he was convicted and sentenced to community service for sending “offensive letters” to the widows of Australian service personnel killed in Afghanistan. Like many cyber jihadis, he used social media to disseminate Islamist propaganda and post up shock images of dead children. He also styled himself as a cleric, albeit seemingly without any tie to an established mosque.

In his life before declaring himself Muslim, he was a self-styled spiritualist guru with expert knowledge of all-things hocus pocus. From this period dates 47 outstanding charges of sexual assault and impropriety, allegations Monis maintained were proof of the state’s campaign to discredit and defame him. Likewise the allegations facing his about his involvement in the murder of his former wife.

There are interesting continuities between him, rampage murderers, and pathological Narcissism. First things first, in unpeeling Monis one needs to look beyond the imam’s garb, his professed conversion from Shia to Sunni Islam, and indeed Islam itself. The hostage-taking was not about being a Muslim, nor even ISIS. They are but foils for the real star of the show: him. Consider the evidence: the cloyingly desperate attempt to make like an Australian Anjem Choudary, albeit more extreme and tasteless. The framing of impending criminal cases as political persecution and comparing himself with that other self-styled fugitive from justice, Julian Assange. The assumption of a clerical persona can be read as him conferring some kind of Islamic authority upon himself, and the latter – unasked for – association with ISIS another wheeze to accumulate look-at-me points.

There are some parallels between Monis and the narcissism of the disgraced child abusing rock star, Ian Watkins. Revealed telephone recordings in court showed the latter to be an amoral thrill-seeker almost devoid of internal life save the desire to repeatedly break every sexual taboo. The public persona fronting a relatively successful rock outfit fed an increasingly reckless and criminal private life in which people and children were foils for his perverted appetite. His celebrity status established him. The narcissism was exercised in his crimes.

With Monis, the situation was different. He had no celebrity. He was a nobody who wanted to be a somebody, and it did not matter what the content of his fame was. His self was his political (and religious) object, and he set about a journey into notoriety with a sense of its inflated importance as the destination. Grief, shock, ridiculous claims, and finally a protracted siege were moments of his passage through life.

To go from no one to someone in this manner, doing anything and everything to get noticed means matters can quickly run away with themselves. Looking at shooting sprees, a core motivational component is asserting one’s self against an indifferent, if not conspiratorial world, by commanding a situation. Too often rampage shooters in America especially plan their killings in advance, leave pre-recorded messages and/or rambling justifications, and commit suicide at the end – either by cop or turning their gun on themselves. From start to finish, the perpetrator is in control. The question of life and death is theirs to determine. The spree begins and ends at the killer’s discretion.

Monis’s seizure of the Lindt Cafe took place in a context where his “celebrity”, such as it was, was careening out of control. The sex assault and accessory to murder charges would, in all likelihood, have placed him behind bars. Criminal notoriety is but a fleeting form of fame, unless one is a prolific serial murderer. Taking hostages and flashing a few flags similar to the sort sported by ISIS allowed him, in his mind, to impose his desired narrative on the situation.

Challenging Tony Abbott to a live debate and asking for more ISIS paraphernalia to be delivered to the cafe was a desperate go at rewriting his script. Had he survived, the outstanding charges could again be threaded into a narrative of persecution. Perhaps his “heroic” example would have attracted the attention of admirers and maybe a nod from actual jihadis themselves. From prison he could have played the Islamist/terrorist prisoner, as a dangerous somebody official society fears, and crucially an authority for those inspired by the death-laden vision of ISIS and friends. But he has not. The murder of two of his captives however ensures he lives on as a self-styled martyr and a case who will be picked over first by the media, and then as twilight as a case study for academics. As the life ebbed out of him, I have no doubt he felt gratified.

Monis is a product of the pathologically narcissistic end of our cultural spectrum. His bedfellows are Anders Breivik, Elliot Rodger, and pretty much every lone gunman-type you can mention. He wasn’t forced to take hostages and commit murder. But his actions are consistent with a trajectory he had been pursuing, a trajectory craving recognition and standing. Man Haron Monis is not an outcome of a terrorist/Islamist subculture. He’s a culmination of ours.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid

6 Comments

  1. swatantra says:

    Frankly I’m getting a bit fed up with apologists for Islam sayng ‘its nothing to do with Islam’.
    They are deluding themselves and not facing up to reality and in complete denial.
    It has everything to do with the satte of islam as it is today. Every single muslim worldwide should be ashamed of the attrocities committed against the innocent and every single muslimworld wide is implicated in thiose attrocities wheter committed in Nigeria or Trthe Sudan or Parkistan or Chechnya or anywhere else for that matter.
    Just a few days ago we had Maala collecting the Peace Nobel Prize and today we have the savages that inhabit the NW frontier Provinces hitting soft targets. Thers is a creed of no education for girls; theirs is a creed for death to infidels and apostasy and Sharia punishment by stoning and buying off guilty murderers.
    So all you apologists, don’t say its nothing to do with Islam, the subjugation of women and the obscene practice of the veil and burkahs.
    Its about time the Muslim community wirldwide woke up to what is happening and they themselves take direct action against the extreme islamofacists within their midst.
    They are complicit in those deaths, as the death of Lee Rigby and the 2 Australians going about their daily business only to be shot dead by these deciples of Satan. I think we’ve got beyond condemnation, beacuse it doesn’t solve anything. Its abouit time Muslims the worldwide decided to face these fanatics these mad clerics and followers head on.
    What can Britain do. Well first we can go back to the records of every asylum seeker, whether Iranian or Bosnian or Kosovan or Afghan or Iraiqi or Albanian or Syrian or Somalian or Turk or whatever, and question them again, and weed out those that have murderous backgrounds; i’m sure we’ve given asylum to quite a few warlords. They need to be thrown out of the country. I’m sure we’ve got quite a few sleeper terrorists in our communities … just waiting toi strike.

    1. David Ellis says:

      All religions are capable of supporting extremist, sectarian political interpretations. Islam has its Islamists, Judaism its Zionists and Christianity its fundamentalists. India is full of Hindufash, in fact there is one in charge at the moment, and even Buddists carry out the odd pogrom as in Mumyar. The vast majority of people however look to religion for solice not politics. In fact it is an explicit attempt to avoid politics. Anyway so far no individual loan wolf has come near to the levels of destruction achieved by Ander Breivik. You, like him sound like just another ignorant Islamaphobe.

  2. Robert says:

    You drop a bomb on a school over a war which is a lie what the hell do you expect these morons to do sit and accept it.

    These are dangerous psychopaths who will kill for fun no different then when Blair send we are going to war on a pack of lies and now we are told rendition and torture labour new about it .

    These people are killers they will kill it has sod all to do with being a Muslin or a catholic.

    Nine men rape British girls are you saying all two million Muslims in the UK should go to jail.

  3. James Martin says:

    Monis was clearly a lone nutter. But the problem is that right now an extreme interpretation of Islam is providing the justification for the most appalling horror, from the massacre of children in Pakistan to the routine mass beheadings in Irag and Syria. And we have bred our own religious fascist scum too, from 7/7 bombers to Lee Rigby’s killers.

    Is Islam uniquely prone to this? No, as the brutality still has some way to go before it reaches the horrific scale and massacre of civilians of the European 17th century 30 years war waged in the name of opposing Christian sects. And we know that any ideology, religious and secular, can be bent towards dehumanising slaughter. Also we should not forget that opposing the ISIS death cult are those like the secular and democratic leaning Kurds who themselves are almost entirely Muslim, which counters the argument that Islam per se is the problem.

    But right now the reality is that the biggest fascist threat in the world (and in parts of the UK) is in the shape of Islamic fundamentalism, and unless we understand that, and understand why it is that a layer of young men (and some women) are attracted to this reactionary ‘radicalism’ rather then to the liberating ideas of socialism then we will not be able to counter it.

    1. Robert says:

      Catholics and the IRA. look how labour fixed that one

      1. John reid says:

        EH?, most Catholics I inow think the
        IRA are evil

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