Random acts of terrorist violence inevitably raise the question of why. Why did they do it? Why do they hate us? Why did Khalid Masood drive that vehicle towards dozens of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge – including children – with the sole intent of killing as many of them as possible?
The same question is always asked in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. And usually people’s answers tell us more about their own preoccupations and anxieties than about the motives and passions of the latest individual to commit callous acts.
Far too much time has been spent trying to figure out what made Masood tick. As is the case with so many instances of lone-wolf terrorism, relatives, friends and acquaintances of Masood have come forward with stories of a once ordinary, sociable individual who somehow went down the road of crime and then violent terror. Usually such testimonies speculate about what turned an otherwise fairly normal individual into a murderous criminal. Increasingly, the idea of ‘radicalisation’ is used to explain a person’s shift from a normal to an abnormal state.
In the media discussion of Masood’s ‘radicalisation’, old acquaintances of his have said it was the racism he experienced in rural Kent that made him snap. Others, citing his past instances of drug-fuelled anti-social behaviour, suggest he was not quite responsible for his violent behaviour. Some of these claims contain a hint that he was a put-upon, vulnerable individual and perhaps even suffered from some kind of mental illness. Reports claim that when he left prison – following a conviction for violent assault – he was a ‘changed man’. In prison he converted to Islam and some think it was this process of radicalisation that led him to jihadist violence.