INTERVIEW - Daniel Zagury, head of a psychiatric service in a public institution in Seine-Saint-Denis, is one of the experts in the most respected courts. Based on his experience, he analyzes the jihadist phenomenon.
LE FIGARO. - What are the criteria that can lead a psychiatrist to diagnose the abolition of the discernment of a criminal, which makes it de facto inaccessible to the penal sanction?
Daniel ZAGURY. - They are very strict. To summarize, we must establish that mental illness, and nothing else, explains the passage to the act. In order to reach such a diagnosis, it is advisable to practice a clinical examination but also to study the medical file of the subject, to look for possible antecedents: it is a conjunction of factors which enlightens us. Criminal irresponsibility is extremely rare in the field of terrorism. I add, for having investigated many cases, that no terrorist attempts to pose as crazy. The terrorist believes himself a repository of a mission, he carries a message, while the one who passes for a madman destroys the message he is carrying.
According to the Minister of the Interior, one-third of jihadists suffer from mental disorders: what do you think?
We are at the heart of the problem. Do not confuse proven mental illness (schizophrenia, paranoid delusion, etc.) with distortions, personality disorders. What is certain is that people who are well-balanced, well-skinned, happy about their existence, have no reason to become terrorists. But do not confuse someone who has seen a psychiatrist once in his life and a mental patient. Currently, about 2 million French people are followed in psychiatry, they are not potential terrorists!
Do you understand the government's call to psychiatrists?
The state, which has neglected for decades the situation of prisons and psychiatry, wakes up with a hangover. The risk is that it gets bogged down and gets bogged down in an erroneous analysis of the role of mental illness in terrorism. Psychiatry, because of the health policies of recent decades, is bloodless. The catastrophe would be that the state, to give good conscience and reassure the population, imposes new psychiatric rigid protocols, a "user manual" universal, while only the tailor-made is effective. An example: if one of my patients, whom I have always seen dressed in the West, arrives one morning in my service with slippers on my feet, I will not necessarily report it to the prosecutor.
Would you say that the extreme media coverage of Islamist attacks pushes some people to sign speeches, attitudes?
Obviously. Mental illness is influenced by the times. Nowadays, no one thinks of himself as Napoleon. The news often remains, for the psychotic, the last link with the outside world, once the contact lost with the reality of the situations. In addition, terrorism is a polymorphous phenomenon, a moving phenomenon that must be adapted to understand it. An anthropologist, Ralph Linton, spoke of "patterns of misconduct" that depend on the time. Daesh calls to commit horrible acts: this exhortation, formulated by social networks, can be taken at the word by lots of people who, for various reasons, succumb to a globalized fashion, a harangue available to all hate and all the intimate despair. Reducing this phenomenon to its psychiatric dimension would be as absurd as excluding the understanding of the individual equation. We are not in a "crazy or terrorist" dilemma. A mental patient can very well become a terrorist. This does not detract from the terrifying gravity of terrorist acts.
Sometimes you talk about the "terrorist eureka": what is it?
It is something other than the more or less spontaneous use of jihad by a "lost" individual to make up his faults. This subject believes transforming an intimate drama into a heroic act, a melancholic suicide into an apotheistic act: he becomes a "surmusulman", in the words of the psychoanalyst Fethi Benslama. It is important not to minimize the potential danger of these "nickel-plated feet", because to slaughter his fellows in the name of Daesh requires neither intelligence nor special preparations. Others will build a terrorist fate. The "eureka" is the moment when the humiliation, the resentment of the delinquent, the drug addict, telescopes with the proselytizing message of protesting Islam. The subject then becomes a clone, he thinks like all the others by mourning himself. Generally, his entourage then finds him soothed, less aggressive towards him, he stops drugging or stealing: his destiny is traced, he will redeem his first life, failed. Remember the assassin of the Austrian Empress Sissi, Luigi Lucheni, who said: "I wanted to avenge my life. "
How can the study of Islam push as many people on the path of mass murder?
I have met a lot of subjects caught up in Daesh propaganda: they have no real religious culture, they are only parrots of Surahs. For them, the prospect of death is central; religion is no longer a metaphor, but a reality. They believe hard that angels will accompany them to the top of paradise where young virgins await them. This psychological benefit escapes us completely, but we must not lose sight of the fact that it exists and pushes beings deprived of solid landmarks to commit the most deadly attacks possible.