Not Radical but Paranoid

Wail Qasim

In 2014, police across England and Wales recorded 26,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument. Yet on Saturday 5 December the Met was quick to announce that a stabbing at Leytonstone Tube station was being treated as a ‘terrorist incident’ because of reports that the culprit had said ‘this is for Syria.’

A bystander told him: ‘You ain’t no Muslim bruv.’ The phrase was quickly picked up from mobile video footage of the incident and trended across social media, even being parroted by David Cameron. Muhaydin Shire has been labelled a ‘terrorist’, a ‘jihadi’, ‘no Muslim’, ‘barbaric’. He is accused of attacking not only the people he sent to hospital, but Britain as a whole, in a politically motivated assault on Western freedoms.

According to his family, however, Shire was no radical, but a young man with mental health problems, including paranoia. His brother spoke on Channel 4 News about his history of mental illness. In 2007, Shire was hospitalised at St Ann’s and the Royal Free for three months, with delusions of being persecuted by demons. Family members say they were were concerned about his mental state in the months leading up to the stabbing at Leytonstone, and tried to have him sectioned under the Mental Health Act, but neither the police nor doctors would intervene.

Over 70 per cent of black people being seen by mental health services are being treated for psychotic illness; patients from this ethnic group are the most likely to be detained or sectioned. It is important when discussing mental health and race not to naturalise the disproportional extent to which black people suffer. Mental health is linked to social factors; discrimination, racism and alienation contribute to the high levels of mental illness among minority groups.

Statistics are not broken down according to religion, but when Muslims are routinely denounced as barbaric and estranged from Western society it shouldn’t be surprising if they develop paranoia. The Met recorded 163 islamophobic hate crimes last month, up from 60 in November 2014.

The government’s Prevent strategy identifies factors that can lead to radicalisation. Some of the ‘psychological hooks’, such as ‘feeling under threat’ and ‘“Them and Us” thinking’, are also signs of paranoid delusions. More effort goes into identifying potential future terrorists than into early intervention in mental health problems faced by the communities that the counter-terrorism strategy focuses on.