September 13, 2006

driven by emotion, lacking a motive

It's one of those things that happens somewhere else. Unfortunately, Montreal is somewhere else to the rest of the world.

A man, reportedly in his mid-20s, walked into Dawson College in Montreal with an automatic weapon, opened fire against a mass contingent of students in the cafeteria, and eventually either turned the gun against himself, or was shot by police. There have been conflicting reports throughout the course of the day; some say there were up to three shooters, others give different descriptions. What has been confirmed is that two are dead (including the shooter) and at least nineteen have been injured (several seriously). No motive has been established.

Dawson College is part of the CEGEP network, the brief post-high school/pre-university phase we all go through in Québec. Many of my high school friends studied there, while I went through John Abbott College. I can't think of anyone right now, but I'm certain that I know current students of Dawson; there are only a handful of options for English-speaking students, and Dawson is definitely the most central one.

I was only 8 years old when a gunman entered École Polytechnique in Montreal, killing fourteen young women before killing himself. I didn't quite realize the ramifications of the event at the time. I was probably in Grade Three at the time; I remember writing about it for the "Current Events" journal we needed to keep back then.

It's incredibly frightening that such people exist in our own backyards. What are their motivations? How can someone foster that much hate, that they would be willing to just start killing people randomly? This is not Iraq or Palestine where people are growing up in the midst of violence, where everyday is a nightmare. This is Montreal, the home of hockey and smoked meat sandwiches; where does such hatred come from?

There is currently a murderer on the loose in downtown Vancouver, accused of killing a number of homeless people in the last few weeks. The murders have been occuring on the streets I walk everyday, yet no one knows exactly who is responsible, or what their motivation may be. The sad reality is that some people need no motivation; they have simply lost any trace of humanity they once had.

The motivation for the Dawson shootings remain unclear; perhaps, we'll never know. Media reports stated that there was no clear link to terrorism, but whatever happened clearly was an effort to terrorize innocent people. I imagine that for some twisted individuals, the posthumous glory is enough of a motivation; after all, there were several incidents of "copycats" in the wake of the Columbine massacre. The children responsible for that atrocity have left something of a legacy, however morbid. Whatever the motivation, there can be no justification. The students will never be the same, nor will the school itself.

For the average person like me, it hurts to feel so helpless. Being helpless against aggression and hatred overseas doesn't worry me as much as it should, because the physical distance is a legitimate barrier. But when you see and hear of these sorts of atrocities from your own city, it's another story altogether. Like many of us felt eleven years ago after the Toope murders, we are forced to ask ourselves, is there anything we could have done?

It's a bit of a conundrum; we'd like to think we can do something to prevent such senseless acts, but at the same time, we don't want to hold ourselves responsible. No matter what anyone does, no matter what efforts are in place to prevent such incidents, there will always be people who fall through the cracks.

Hopefully, we'll see the details unfold over the next few days as the investigation begins. Unfortunately, none of those details will change anything, nor make this any less of a crime against humanity, nor will it alleviate the suffering of any of the victims. Investigators will investigate, reporters will report, and bloggers will blog, but that will not stop haters from hating or murderers from murdering.

May we all be protected from hatred, injustice, and aggression. Ameen.


  1. I read in one of the reports that the killer's favourite movie of all time was "Natural Born Killers". As always makes one wonder that although these movies are an interesting study of the human pysche, they could have a detrimental affect on certain individuals. At one end one could petition for a ban on all depictions of violence for the sake of entertainment but then.. it's human nature isn't it? Romans and their gladiator games, the French and their public hangings during the revolution, the Spanish bull fighting. Blood and gore. There will always be someone glorifying violence in some form or the other. Coming up with a solution seems fairly... difficult.

  2. Yes, there have been reports analyzing the movies, the video games, and the website he frequented. It's such an insignificant correlation, however. I mean, lots of people liked that movie, and other more violent movies. I still play fairly violent video games; during my high school days, I was the undisputed champion of Doom deathmatching. But that's never prompted me to even raise my voice in anger, let alone wish harm upon another person.

    The culture of violence we live in is probably partially to blame, but it's a very complex problem that people like to simplify by blaming it on Goths, video games, or music. I'd say those things aren't the cause of a violent mind, but could potentially be part of the result.

    The killer belonged to a middle-class family. He's just a couple of months younger than me. He probably grew up with similar influences (TV, music, etc..) to those that I grew up with, at least in school. None of those influences really breed the carnage that he raised yesterday. There was no reason the guy was such a maniac, he just was. And I don't think there's really any way of changing that, no matter what laws or legislations are in place.

    By the way, I think your new template has broken your commenting functionality.

  3. Assalaamu'alaykum

    I think some people sell their souls to the devil. You said it best when you said that such people have lost their humanity. I guess the question is then, what causes one to lose one's humanity?

    I don't think humans are innately inclined to violence. Historical accounts of glorified acts of violence only prove a spiritual death amongst people of that time. This is very clear among people today, especially 'leaders' of the world.

    Sometimes the only thing I think separating this cold-blooded murderer from many leaders of our time is that the leaders use their power to veil their evil, psychotic doings, while those bereft of power do not, such as this guy.

    I strongly believe that some of our social problems are directly linked to the state of our hearts (and ultimately our souls) as a people, whether we are Muslims or not.

    ...surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition; and when Allah intends evil to a people, there is no averting it, and besides Him they have no protector.
    [Quran - 13:11]

  4. Wa'alaykum assalam,

    Sister Farzeen, I think you said it much better than I did.

    A lot of modern philosophy seeks to define the "state of nature" of the human being; the way a human is in the absence of any external influences. In Islam, this concept is called the fitra, and states what you said: humans are not innately inclined to violence.

    I agree with you entirely; a society prospers or falls on the status of the collective hearts of that society. Which means that we have a lot of work to do.

    In other news, it turns out my neighbour, the youngest son of a wonderful Muslim family, was a student at Dawson, and was hiding in the neighbouring classroom when the mayhem took place. Alhamdolillah, he's okay.

  5. Oops. Thanks for the heads up. Tis always a little complicated migrating stuff. :)