Inside the mind of a Belgian suicide bomber

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 09.11.50Watching some Swiss television

for the first and possibly last time,

Dalrymple views a report on Muriel Degauque, the first white European suicide bomber. Born and raised in Charleroi, she was a child of ordinary working-class parents.

The television underlined this with lengthy shots of her dreary childhood neighbourhood. Even a few seconds looking at it on a screen was almost enough to provoke an existential crisis.

Her life was unremarkable, said the television report.

She was average at school, then worked in a bakery. People who knew her emphasised that she was an ordinary person—the last kind of person to act in such an outrageous way. There was nothing in her life out of the usual. True, she went through a period of sexual promiscuity and drug-taking, but when she converted to Islam—cut to a Muslim area of Brussels—she gave up drugs and was faithful to her Moroccan husband. So really, the commentary concluded, the whole episode was mysterious and inexplicable.

But only, writes Dalrymple,

in the sense that all human conduct is, in the last analysis, mysterious. Actually, the suicide bomber reminded me of the lost and bewildered young whom various Christian sects would look for as they scoured our streets, trawling for recruits into their all-embracing communities. These communities happened to make lots of money for their founders but really did rescue some young people from the gutter.

The television commentary

made no connection between Degauque’s promiscuity and drug abuse on the one hand and her subsequent conversion to a murderously puritanical form of Islam on the other (she wore the most extreme of veils).

Yet it requires little imagination, says Dalrymple, to make such a connection,

for one interpretation of her former life was that she sought to fill a void, a lack of purpose or interest, with sensation. Once the self-defeating nature of this was obvious to her—and nothing suggests that she lacked intelligence, despite her mediocre academic background—she became vulnerable to a ‘complete’ answer to life’s problems. Her death demonstrated, to herself and to others, how deeply (or desperately) she believed in it.

Her problem—a lack of meaning in her life—is

far from unique. Millions of people are in the same or similar position. That is why Europe cannot afford to be complacent about it.

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