What Makes a Terrorist?
Mindless Cruelty to Animals is an Early Indication of Future Criminality

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What Makes a Terrorist?
Mindless Cruelty to Animals is an Early Indication of Future Criminality

By Hiranmay Karlekar on NewAgeIslam.com
March 2010

Cruelty to animals is a sign of latent violent criminality

Human aggression is very different from animal aggression. In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness Erich Fromm distinguishes between “biologically adaptive, self-serving aggression” and “biologically non-adaptive malignant aggression.” The former is “a response to threats to vital interests; it is phylogenetically programmed” and common to animals and men. “It is not spontaneous or self-increasing but reactive and defensive; it aims at the removal of the threat either by destroying or removing its source.”

In a despatch headlined ‘Frustrated Strivers in Pakistan Turn to Jihad’, published in The New York Times of February 27, Sabrina Tavernise and Waqar Gillani dwell not only on the circumstances that spawn terrorists but the kind of youngsters who may become terrorists. They quote a Pakistani military psychiatrist, Brig Mowdat Hussain Rana, who has studied 24 young men who were involved in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as saying, “He’s (the archetypal terrorist) that boy who is not in a rigorous system of rule setting. He becomes someone who drifts, who spends afternoons hitting stray dogs, and no one notices.”

This once again underlines the fact that mindless cruelty to animals is an early indication of future criminality. In their paper ‘From Animal Cruelty to Serial Murder: Applying the Graduation Hypothesis’, in The International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology (47.1), Jeremy Wright and Christopher Hensley write, “Since the late-1970s, the FBI has considered animal cruelty to be a possible indicator of future serial murder. The FBI documented the connection between cruelty to animals and serial murder following a study of 35 imprisoned serial murderers. The convicted murderers were asked questions regarding their childhood cruelty to animals. More than half of the serial murderers admitted to hurting or torturing animals as children or adolescents.”

In a paper titled ‘Childhood Cruelty to Animals and Subsequent Violence Against Humans’ in another issue of the same international journal, Linda Merz-Perez, Kathleen M Heide and Ira V Silverman, who interviewed 45 violent and 45 non-violent offenders in a maximum security facility at Sumter Country, Florida, write, “The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of cruelty to animals and later violence against humans. Cruelty to animals has long served as a red flag in law enforcement circles with respect to extremely violent offenders. For example, the expansive literature with respect to serial killers has often cited cruelty to animals as a precursor to the violence later targeted against human victims.”

They conclude, “The overall results of the study support previous research efforts indicating a relationship between cruelty to animals committed during childhood and later violence perpetrated against humans. The findings indicate that offenders who committed violent crimes as adults were significantly more likely than adult non-violent offenders as children to have committed acts of cruelty against animals in general and pet and stray animals in particular.”

Cruelty to animals is an integral part of the innate human instinct for aggression. In Civilisation and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud writes, “the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man” and that it “constitutes the greatest impediment to civilisation”. Freud further writes, “Man’s natural aggressive instinct, the hostility of each against all and of all against each…is the derivative and main repository of the death instinct which we have found alongside of Eros and which shares world domination with it..” According to Freud, the evolution of civilisation is “the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction.”

Human aggression is very different from animal aggression. In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness Erich Fromm distinguishes between “biologically adaptive, self-serving aggression” and “biologically non-adaptive malignant aggression.” The former is “a response to threats to vital interests; it is phylogenetically programmed” and common to animals and men. “It is not spontaneous or self-increasing but reactive and defensive; it aims at the removal of the threat either by destroying or removing its source.”

Biologically non-adaptive, malignant aggression is not phylogenetically programmed. Nor is it a defensive response to a threat: It is “characteristic only of man; it is biologically harmful because it is socially destructive; its main manifestations — killing and cruelty — are pleasureful without needing any other purpose…Malignant aggression, though an instinct, is a human potential rooted in the very conditions of human existence”.

Civilisational progress has not eradicated these conditions. One can, however, reduce the damage these cause through early detection and adoption of corrective measures. Educational and law enforcing authorities must, therefore, react quickly in cases of cruelty to animals. Police in India being singularly indifferent to the matter, Union Home Ministry would well to advise Directors-General and Commissioners of Police to be proactive in such cases.