James Holmes: It Serves Him Right to Suffer

Jazz and Islam, Part 7

See last week's part 6: The Questions Nobody Wants to Ask About ‘Moderate Islam’

The debate over James Holmes’s sanity has raged hotly ever since he murdered twelve people and wounded 58 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in July 2012. But now the controversy can be laid to rest: Holmes is sane. The clearest indication of his sanity came last week, when the Daily Mail reported that he had converted to Islam.

The Mail reported that Holmes is apparently quite devout: he has grown a lavish beard, eats only halal food, prays the obligatory five daily prayers, and studies the Qur’an for hours every day.

Holmes’s conversion reveals that instead of being unaware of what he did, or utterly remorseless, as one might expect of a psychotic or a sociopath, the murders must trouble him a great deal. For it is souls that are troubled -- intellectually, morally, spiritually, psychologically -- who cast about for some solution to what troubles them, and often find it in religious conversion.

But it is what Holmes converted to that is significant. Had Holmes converted to Christianity, he might have found relief for any remorse he might be feeling for the massacre in the proposition that in Christ his sins, no matter how great, were forgiven; if he had explored Buddhism, he might have focused upon developing right intention, right speech, and right action, and eradicating the illusions that led him to kill in the first place.

Instead, Holmes chose Islam. A prison source noted: “He has brainwashed himself into believing he was on his own personal jihad and that his victims were infidels.”

This suggests that Holmes’s conversion is a defensive action against any regret that he may be feeling. But instead of meeting that regret with repentance, he has found a way to justify his actions. Instead of acknowledging his wrongdoing, he chose a belief system that justifies violence in certain circumstances, and has attempted to cleanse himself of any wrongdoing by seeing his murders in light of that belief system.

Jihad may take the form of indiscriminate mass murder of infidels, as we saw on 9/11, and 7/7, and in Beslan and Mumbai and Fort Hood and in so very, very many other places. Unfortunately for Holmes, however, jihad is not retroactive. If Holmes was an infidel at the time of the murders, then it doesn’t make his actions jihad to convert to Islam afterward.

Nonetheless, his conversion illustrates yet again why Islamic supremacist groups make such a concerted effort to make converts in prison. They know that men who are already in many cases notably aggressive and violent, and who have a grievance against society, are perfect fits for a religion that contains teachings that are themselves aggressive and violent, and that sets itself against infidel society. Islamic proselytizers in prisons hope to channel that aggression by sanctifying and thereby justifying it – as Holmes seems to be trying to justify his murders by affecting Islamic piety now.

But in reality, there is no justifying mass murder of innocent people, whether by invoking the religion whose holy book exhorts believers to “slay the polytheists wherever you find them” (Qur’an 9:5) or in any other way. If Holmes is really trying to excuse his murders by dismissing his victims as infidels, prison officials’ tolerance of his Islam is no more explicable than the military’s accommodation of the beard of Fort Hood jihad mass murderer Nidal Malik Hasan. Hasan maintained that he grew his beard in violation of Army regulations because he had a duty to do so as a devout Muslim; yet he also murdered thirteen people at Fort Hood out of the same sense of Islamic duty. Should murderers really be reinforced in the very ideology that they use to justify their murders?

If James Holmes is using Islam to justify murder, prison officials should make no allowances for his practice of Islam, any more than they should allow a white supremacist neo-Nazi prisoner to hold a Mein Kampf study group. If he has converted to Islam in order to short-circuit and eliminate any remorse he might be feeling for his murders, prison officials should give him a treat: a music break, consisting entirely of the title track from the notable bluesman John Lee Hooker’s sole and luminous album for the groundbreaking 1960s jazz label, Impulse Records: It Serves You Right to Suffer.