On April 8, two individuals were run down by a truck in Muenster, Germany, one of them being a 51-year-old woman, and the other being a 65-year-old man. Twenty people were also injured in the same attack. The incident comes amidst the context of other vehicle-based attacks in Europe over recent years. For many in Germany, this comes as a crude and fearful shock, as they too would appear to have become the victims of such attacks, even in their quaint and seemingly safe communities.
To many people’s surprise, the attack did not seem to be motivated by an act of terror-affiliated with organizations—such as ISIS—like many recent incidents in Europe have. Nonetheless, it is tragic and a demonstration of the sudden and deadly reality that individual decisions can have in the context of global conflict and civilian deaths. It was also a welcomed change for the media to not jump to conclusions about it being an Islamist attack, as often these platforms can overtly perpetuate the violence in the world through their reporting. It is believed that the attack was simply the result of a reported psychological issue within the perpetrator.
Attacks such as these are a constant reminder of the fragility of society in relation to conflict. Individuals such as the perpetrator are not affiliated with terrorist organizations or extremist groups, yet are still hostile and violent in an unexpected scenario. The situation begs three questions: First, should we be excessively surveying individuals that are of risk of perpetuating violence? Second, should we place barriers and blockades around our cities, restricting our movement and freedoms in the process? And third, should we investigate more into how we can support those who are at risk of committing violence?
Using mental health as an excuse for violence obviously doesn’t justify the atrocities committed. However, I feel as though answering the “why” behind mental health and violence, including how we can mitigate and adapt to it, is a crucial step to further protect individuals and societies. The same is often said in the context of school shootings, but in that case, there are bigger factors at influence.
Are people who are lonely or sad, which could be the emotional state of the individual in Muenster, feeling that way because of societal barriers or beliefs? Is it their upbringing, or where they live? If so, then how might these factors feed into other forms of violence such as crime? Criminologists and associated experts often look into both a mix of environmental and genetic aspects in individuals to answer and thus, solve these problems.
Personally, I believe that the best way of reducing violence and crime is to attack it at its source and work from there. This is more of a “bottom-up” approach as opposed to a “top-down” perspective, which implies using more empathy and social analysis, often termed “post-structuralist” ideas, in the fight against conflict. And this is how I personally feel about mental health in relation to violence.