Wednesday, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32-year-old Canadian man, killed Nathan Cirillo, a soldier standing guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa. He then stormed Parliament, where he was shot to death.
Zehaf-Bibeau is only one in a number of recent converts to Islam who have perpetrated extreme acts of violence. Another, of course, is Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, the British man who is alleged to be the executioner who has beheaded multiple ISIS hostages, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines.
Zehaf-Bibeau was Michael Joseph Hall before he converted. He reportedly had an extensive history of arrests for drug possession (marijuana and PCP), assault and robbery.
Bary is a former rapper whose stage name was Jinn Matic and whose Egyptian-born father is on trial for alleged terrorist activity here in the United States.
It goes without saying that Westerners who come to believe that anyone who isn't an Islamic fundamentalist should die are more than religious converts. They are dangerous fanatics who have lost all empathy, are guided by delusional (fixed and false) ideas and for whom being “radicalized” looks a lot like becoming mentally ill.
Why would some Westerners be vulnerable to this slippery slope of belief turning into preoccupation, then paving the way for violent delusional thinking?
One reason could be that the mental health care system is shy about seeing new religious preoccupations as symptoms. Psychiatrists and psychologists don’t want to step on the toes of religious freedom. But it is time for mental health professionals to be alert and ready to respond with real and comprehensive evaluations whenever any Westerner suddenly and intensely embraces radical religious beliefs, particularly Islamic ones.
Another reason, of course, is that our mental health care system is in shambles, with most people having no real access to comprehensive psychiatric services unless they pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, or much more. So parents who might be concerned that their sons or daughters seem to have been “captured” by irrational ideas have almost nowhere to turn.
Third, Westerners have been exposed to megadoses of reality-busting technology. This takes the form of computer games, special effects in movies, online sites that encourage the use of avatars and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that turn tens of millions of Westerners into fake, mini-celebrity, reality-show blown-up versions of themselves who are, therefore, less tethered to any genuine beliefs or gut-level feelings. Such people are ripe for the picking by radical ideas that are far more powerful than the weaklings of character that they have become.
In other words, when people become like trees without deep root systems, a tornado will take lots of them along with it.
Fourth, Westerners are now increasingly in love with alcohol and drugs and sex and all manner of entertainment that distract them from their deeper and true purposes and contribute to them searching anywhere — even in dark and deadly movements — for an escape from the need to think, work and find their connections to themselves and to their fellow man.
The seeming ease with which radical Islam and ISIS are brainwashing some Westerners should be a wake-up call to us as to whether we have made our populations vulnerable by blowing them up narcissistically, emptying them out morally, making them anemic psychologically and suggesting to them that they can be avatars or black-hooded religious warriors or high on pot or free from any real demands at all.
For some of the millions and millions of Westerners now lost, they could — wrongly — think they have found something real in ISIS.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.