Interview with Nicolai Sennels, a Danish psychologist who worked for several years with young criminal Muslims in a Copenhagen prison. He is the author of Among Criminal Muslims. A Psychologist’s Experience from the Copenhagen Municipality. The book will be out in English later this year.
FP: Nicolai Sennels, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about how a Muslim upbringing creates terrorists.
Let’s begin with this question: as a child psychologist, how would you explain that so many Muslims become terrorists or sympathize with terrorists?
Sennels: Thanks Jamie.
I have been working with children and adolescents for 15 years and as an experienced psychologist I have both theoretical and practical experience with the development of children’s personality. Having counseled more than 150 Muslim children and their parents, my clear conclusion is that Muslims in general raise their children very differently than non-Muslims. Even though all children are innocent babies when they are born, they can develop into violent and hateful fanatics when they grow up, if confronted with certain psychological circumstances.
Many have asked themselves: Why do so many Muslims become terrorists or sympathize with the terrorists? The answer does not only involve theology, but also psychology.
The question is if there are aspects of the way children are raised in Muslim culture that promotes a mindset that makes people more prone to become terrorists or to use terrorist like tactics such as using fear and violence in order to further a case that is directly against basic human rights, basic human values in general and the law.
My professional experience from working with criminal and non-criminal Muslims is that the general Muslim way of educating children contributes to the psychological development of such a mindset.
FP: Ok, so how exactly does a Muslim upbringing differ from a Western upbringing?
Sennels: Muslim upbringing is under the influence of religious views and cultural traditions which put the Muslim and Western cultural psychology into opposition in several central areas. As I have written about before (“Muslims and Westerners: The psychological differences” and “Among Criminal Muslims“) I have observed four major differences between the Muslim and the Western mind. I will explain later how these four Muslim psychological traits increase the risk of becoming a terrorist.
The first concerns anger. Western children are brought up to think that anger is a negative thing and that showing anger is embarrassing and probably the fastest way to “lose face” (lose social status). It is a sign of lack of control, joy and ability to do what one wants. As we say in Denmark “Only small dogs bark”. Muslim children on the contrary are to a high degree taught that anger and aggression is a socially acceptable tool for handling conflicts and expressing frustration. These clinical observations are supported by a major study done by the German University of Lower Saxony involving intense interviews with 45,000 children between 14 and 16 years of age. The conclusion is that “boys growing up in religious Muslim families are more likely to be violent“. The study, which was conducted by the leader of Lower Saxony Research Institute of Criminology and former Minister of Justice Christian Pfeiffer, also showed that “even when other social factors were taken into account, there remained a significant correlation between religiosity and readiness to use violence” among Muslims. My professional experience with Muslims is that not showing aggression when feeling provoked or criticized is seen as lack of courage or ability to protect one’s honor and this will cause loss of social status. The lack of will will in Western countries to defend our culture and values are generally among Muslims seen as an exploitable sign of vulnerability, because it makes us look weak, without courage and without pride in what we stand for.
The second difference between Muslim and Western upbringing concerns honor and self confidence. Westerners are in general brought up to think that handling criticism objectively and emotionally undisturbed is a sign of mental balance and personal strength. Trusting oneself and being able to use the criticism constructively if it is true and not caring if it is not, is a sign of authenticity and true self-confidence. In Muslim culture criticism is seen as an insult and it is expected – according to their view on anger – to respond aggressively. Being acutely aware of any kind of criticism and reacting aggressively (even being ready to kill own family members) in order to protect one’s honor is not seen as honorable in Western psychology. It is a sign of feeling insecure, weak and mentally out of balance. A recent study in so-called gelotophobia highlights this important cultural difference.
Gelotophobia is the “fear of being laughed at” and gelotophobic people easily feel ridiculed and victimized. They are characterized by a low self-esteem and lack of humor. Some societies are more gelotophobic than others. Studies show that the Middle East (33 percent) is three times more gelotophobic than the average Western European country (11-13 percent). Denmark turned out to be the least gelotophobic country in the world (1,7 percent is slightly gelotophobic). Gelotophobic cultures can not participate in intellectual debates because this involves taking critical arguments serious. People who can not handle criticism and only have very few valid arguments, easily feel powerless. Violence and threats (terrorism) then very easily becomes an – unfortunately often effective – option to avert criticism and get one’s way.
A third difference in the upbringing concerns the experience of how our lives are generally shaped. Psychology talks about inner and outer locus of control. Western culture is dominated by a feeling of inner control. This means that we see ourselves as the main responsible for our own actions, situation and state of mind. We see the way we think, our own viewpoint, our ability to handle our emotions and the reactions, we chose as the main factor giving our lives direction and deciding our feelings of happiness and suffering. If we have personal problems we ask ourselves “What did I do wrong, what can I do different?” We look for the answers within and a whole industry of countless psychologists, therapists, coaches, self-help books and magazines are built up around this world view.
The Muslim world has nothing of this belief system and no industry of personal counseling. This is because it is dominated by an outer locus of control. Muslim societies have strict outer cultural traditions, religious rules, powerful male authorities and often totalitarian regimes deciding almost every aspect of the individual’s life. There is little – if any – room for reflecting on, questioning or criticizing these outer factors of control. When a Muslim has personal problems he or she is therefore very likely to ask “Who did this to me?” Where we in the West believe in the Free Will, Muslims have their “Insha’ Allah”. Inner locus of control leads to self responsibility and increased ability of self-reflection. Outer locus of control leads to victim mentality and a need for outer borders in order to behave socially. Child psychological studies on Muslim upbringing show that “prevention of deviance through moral education is neglected in favor of punishment.” Put in another way: Installing fear for outer authorities is more important than developing the individual’s moral.
The fourth psychological difference concerns identity and tolerance. Until recently, where cultural relativism has proved to be a naive theory conceived by abstract minded professors without maturing life experience, most Westerners were taught that all religions and cultures are equal. We are told to be tolerant and even today many fear being called a racist when criticizing totalitarian religions, foreigners’ high crime rates or EU and our national states’ loose immigration laws. Muslims on the other hand are told that they belong to a certain religious group and that their loyalty are to the tribe (the Muslim society and the Umma) and to the religion – on the expense of loyalty towards respectively national identity and secular laws, and on the expense of tolerance towards “the others” — the non-Muslims. The strong Muslim identity among Muslims creates an equally strong Us-Them mentality. Research show that only 14 percent of the Muslims living in Denmark identify themselves as “Danish and democratic”. In Germany only 12 percent of the Muslims feel “German”.
A Swedish study quoted in the former Danish minister Karen Jespersen’s book Islam’s Power supports my own clinical observations and the above research in identity from Denmark and Germany. The study concluded that Muslim criminals never robs other Muslims, and that the violence and robberies against the non-Muslim Swedes are mainly intended to cause submission: “The robberies, which are only rarely planned, could happen weekly or even daily. The purpose was far from just getting money for consumption. The aim was also very much to show power and humiliate Swedes. It did not matter who was the victims, as long as it was a Swede: ‘When we make robbery, we feel that we are at war with the Swedes.’ ‘Yes, our assaults is an act of war, we are in war with the Swedes.’ ‘To me it is power, when the Swedes lay on the ground and kiss my feet.’ The psychology of identity and loyalty plays an immense role when assessing the risk of terrorist acts commuted by a person, group, organization or culture.
FP: How do these four Muslim psychological traits increase the risk of them becoming terrorists?
Sennels: Anger, hurt pride, a victim mentality and a strong feeling of belonging to a group that is superior and opposed to all others are the main components of the terrorist’s mindset. And this is exactly the feelings that Muslim upbringing and Muslim culture instills into a great many Muslims’ personality.
The cultivation of anger and seeing anger as a sign of strength provides the necessary aggression and motivation to harm the object on which one projects the anger. The hurt pride creates a feeling of need for revenge, fuels the anger and increase the wish for domination (“I will show you who are the strongest!”). The outer locus of control – the cause of the widespread and well known victim mentality in Muslim societies – creates an experience of oneself as a persecuted victim that is allowed to defend himself by all means against the brutal and unjust suppressor. The strong identity pinpoints both friends and enemies. Both in wars and in the Hollywood movies the designation and denigration of the enemy helps people feel less empathy with the enemy and thus destroys the psychological border that normally prevents us from harming “the bad guys” or feeling joy when they suffer or are killed. The values implemented in Muslim child education creates and strengthen this tendency to a great extent. Houndreds of thousands of Muslim children in the West attend Quranic schoolsand in many cases their negative view on non-Muslims are enhanced there.
Muslim culture basically creates a lot of angry people, with fragile self confidence, a great amount of victim mentality and a feeling of being opposed to non-Muslims. Combining such a culture with a violent ideology is the worst possible combination between psychology and religion you can have.