Sympathy for violence

It usually takes a tragedy for us to notice, but around the world angry boys are growing up into angry men with no regard for society. Without purpose, structure or guidance they'll find violent ways to cope – I know I did

I was delighted when we ran an interview with Aydin Soei. I have followed his work for some years and always been impressed with his insights into the mentality of angry young men. Having been one himself, he is in a position to provide a realistic and unique perspective on an issue that is alien to most of our politicians.

His work also affects me on a personal level, because I was also once a very angry young man.

Growing up with a single mother and a mostly absent father, I harboured feelings of resentment and embarrassment. When I started school we lived in a two-room apartment and our upstairs neighbor was a junkie with a small daughter. She would throw parties every night, depriving us of sleep and turning my mom into a neurotic wreck. On the top floor lived another single mom with her two sons. My mom once told the boys to stop tagging graffiti in the stairwell, so they keyed our car. The last I heard they were both in prison.

A stressful upbringing can easily create angry kids full of resentment, that spills out from the home and into the schools and everyday life. I never felt like I belonged anywhere. I could make friends, but had a hard time holding onto them. It wasn’t until I joined a group of other angry young men, at age fifteen, that I felt a sense of belonging.

We would go to parties, get drunk, hit on girls, get into fights and be a menace to society. Some kids didn’t seem to have any parents and were therefore always willing to throw parties. There was plenty of fun and carefree times and school mostly felt like a bother.

I ended my Danish education by calling my teacher a bitch, something I’m very sorry for.

But while my social life was so deeply nihilistic that it threatened my education, I needed it for the sense of belonging, a connection I felt I was lacking at home. It is an incredible feeling knowing you have a group of guys who have your back.

Everywhere in society there are wayward, angry young men from broken homes, doing badly at school. Most of them will end up becoming productive citizens, but along the way there are squandered chances, lost educational opportunities and, often, violence.

My turning point from that path is always at the back of my mind.

During a night of drinking right before my sixteenth birthday, my friends and I got into a serious fight. Later that night, as we stood outside a bar, my friend suddenly yelled “run!”. He took off, but as I turned around a police officer grabbed me by the shoulders and dragged me into a police van.

I immediately broke down in tears. I was no good at violence or macho alpha-male behaviour. The following morning, after spending a night in a jail cell, I was done. I would drop out ofhte group – clean up my act so to speak.

My friend who told me to run managed to evade capture that night, but kept getting into trouble, and I often wonder: ‘what if our roles had been reversed?’. Would it have made a difference? Maybe not. I was never particularly brave or strong, but I guess I’ll never know.

When I hear Soei talk about angry young Muslim men I feel a degree of sympathy. Because the problem of angry young men isn’t that they are Muslim, the problem is universal and can be found in every country and in every culture.

There is one amusing observation I’ve made. Having met both far-right hooligans and violent men on the far left, I’ve noticed that they seem to be the same. Angry, anti-society, and completely convinced of their ideas. It is as though somewhere along the way somebody whispered to them that their problems were either due to “the immigrants”, or “capitalism”. Anger is everywhere humans are.

There are no simple solutions or easy answers to the problem of angry men. But in my case, I lacked structure and order on which to build my life. I lacked self confidence because I didn’t feel wanted. I lacked purpose, something to aim for, to enjoy.

There is a poignant story about Mohammed Ali who, aged 12, had his bike stolen. Angry and looking to attack the thief, he met a police officer who happened to be a boxing coach. The officer convinced Ali that he needed to learn how to fight if he wanted to be able to exact revenge. But he never got to beat up the thief, instead he stopped directing his aggression to the street and started spending all of his after-school time at the gym. The rest is boxing history.

Like Ali, angry young men need to find a healthier outlet for their emotions — they need guidance and purpose. Let’s remember Omar El-Hussein might just as well have shot people in the name of a criminal gang as in the name of Islam. We need to confront the environment that fosters anger, alienation and resentment. Angry young men will always find an outlet for their aggression, lets try to make sure it is a healthy one. M


By Elias Thorsson

Managing editor. @Eliasthorsson elias@murmur.dk

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