This article Originally appeared in The Independent on August 30, 2016 here.
A little over two years ago, the day before my father’s 80th birthday and the day my brother was due to fly home for a family celebration, my brother died unexpectedly in Bali, Indonesia.
I write this just to say that I empathise with the family of Mia Ayliffe-Chung. When Rosie Ayliffe writes, as she did here in The Independent, that her daughter’s “body is on a slab somewhere in a cold dark place”, I know what she is saying. My last image of my brother is his lifeless body on a morgue table in Bali before we took him for cremation.
My brother was not murdered nor was his death linked to Islam, the main religion of Indonesia but the minority religion on the Indonesian island of Bali. My family therefore did not have to go through the incessant additional trauma and speculation of a link with terrorism.
I respect and agree with Rosie Ayliffe when she writes the murderer “is not an Islamic fundamentalist, he has never set foot in a mosque. “ But this won’t stop those who seek to link this tragic death with another cause. This jumping to terrorism plays into Islamic State’s hands and must stop.
Islamic State understands well the propaganda machine that is social media. It has used the medium effectively to inspire people to join their cause. Calling people terrorists who may not be, or banning the Australian invented Burkini from French beaches is a gift that Islamic State must love.
While there is no doubt that some of the recent killings, such as the Charlie Hebdo murders, have been conducted by organised fanatics who follow a twisted and flawed interpretation of Islam, other isolated loners have been given an elevated status they do not warrant.
Not all murderers who claim that they kill in the name of God are terrorists. The media and politicians are naming terrorists even before Islamic State proclaims them as terrorists.
By rapidly naming these loners as Islamic terrorists and incorrectly giving them status, are the media inspiring copy-cats to follow in their footsteps? Are we doing Islamic State’s propaganda work for them? Should we stop doing so even if it impinges on free press?
For example, were the Orlando murderer, the Sydney siege murderer, or the Nice murderer, terrorists? Like Mia’s murderer, these three were not part of organised groups. While we are yet to know the full background of Mia’s murderer, we know none of the Nice, Sydney and Orlando murdering men had a deep religious history. All three rarely preyed in Mosques. They drank, had sex out of marriage, did not fast in Ramadan. None was a ‘devout Muslim’.
What is common is all three men had broken relationships with their wives and partners. They were all estranged loners who didn’t ‘belong’. They all had a history of family violence. In the case of the Orlando murderer, he had a long history of steroid use, which increases aggression.
No formal link with an Islamic terrorist group has been found. There were no pre-attack suicide videos, no suicide notes. The Sydney siege murderer didn’t even have an IS flag! It took days for Islamic State to claim each of these murders precisely because Islamic State knew nothing about them!
We should not gift Islamic State warriors to worship, nor should we pander to their dead egos by giving them names or false status as global warriors in a twisted cause.
But, one might ask, if they were not terrorists, what were they?
In the 1990’s in the US we saw the rise of what became known as ‘Suicide by cop’. Deranged loners decided to end their lives in a burst of publicity and misery, killing others and forcing others to kill them.
In death sick loners like these look for a sense of belonging. They look to die in publicity being labelled a hero of a group. These people don’t murder because they are Muslim, they murder because they want to be on the front page. And they know if they yell ‘Allah-u-Akhbar’ they will get publicity.
Why give these people what they are looking for in death? Why give them what we want, and risk we encouraging more deranged fools like them to follow?
These men were sick, murderous killers, but they weren’t terrorists and do not deserve to be given the right to terrorise us. We should follow the French lead and no longer publish these murderers names and we should not falsely give them a cause.
We also need to stop playing into Islamic State’s hands. Islamic State has said that it wants to create an ‘Us v Them’ conflict between Islam and the West. When media commentators or politicians like Donald Trump call to ban Islamic migrants, or ban the Burkini on beaches (beach wear invented in Australia not the middle-east) feeds Islamic State’s narrative of a war against Islam inspiring more people to join their twisted cause.
But above all w need to stop giving these people status they don’t deserve and stop encouraging copy-cats. When these butchers murder people, let the security services determine if they are terrorists. Everyone else should just call them for what they are. Murderers.
Andrew MacLeod is a visiting Professor at Kings College London and a former UN and Red Cross official who served in countries like Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others. He has negotiated with warlords and terrorists. He can be followed on Twitter @Why_slow_down