On October 22, 2014, the world was deeply shaken by an act of terrorism in Ottawa, Canada. Micheal Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a solider on ceremonial duty at the National War Memorial. Michael then launched an attack on a nearby Parliament building, where members of the Canadian Parliament were meeting in caucuses.
He fought with security guards, before being killed inside the building. It was a horrifying act of violence that brought Canada to a standstill.
Evil acts committed by a man in deep need of help
While we should not excuse the tragic and violent acts he committed, it must also be acknowledged that the shooter, 32 year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was a man going through some very deep struggles. He might have had religious beliefs that others might consider extreme, and some sharp disagreements with Canada's foreign policy, but looking deeper into Zehaf-Bibeau's life, we find less the stereotype of a radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorist, and more of a sense of desperation of someone feeling deeply mentally disturbed and trapped.
As a teenager, he frequently ran into problems with his parents, and then the law, over wild partying and drug use. He was arrested multiple times for possession of marijuana and PCP, and driving under the influence.
After multiple arrests and moves around Canada, Michael was addicted to cocaine, and had converted to Islam in hopes it would help him turn his life around, but his addiction continued to overtake his life. However, he was probably struggling with the sense of self-shame and self-hatred that may be familiar to many people struggling with recovery.
In 2012, Michael committed a robbery, and actually asked to be jailed, in hopes that would help his efforts at sobriety. His request was denied, but he expressed to the judge that "I'm a crack addict, and at the same time, I'm a religious person."
This feeling of a conflicted, double life is one many addicts can identify with. They try very hard to get in control of their lives, but find themselves falling for their hatted addiction time and time again, feeling powerless and anger at themselves. According to a report by the Daily-Mail, he would attempt to convert non-Muslims one day, and then smoke crack the next.
This feeling of anger at himself, for feeling like a failure to live up to the high standards, was, in his case, apparently projected outward, so he became angry at the world around him. He began alienating his fellow Muslims by loudly embracing a radical, fundamentalist vision of that faith.
For example, he was angered by a Vancouver-area mosque community outreach efforts, complaining it would cause "infidels" to visit. The Muslim community in Vancouver made an effort to reach out to and support Michael, but felt overwhelmed by the erratic behavior created by his drug use and addiction.
David Ali, of Masjid Al-Salaam recognized the sign of drug abuse, and kicked him out the mosque as his erratic behavior became too much to handle. Isolated from his religious community and his mother, he ended up in a homeless shelter.
Canadian jihadists, including people supportive of the ISIS movement in Syria, did reach out to him, perhaps encouraging his deep anger and plans for violence. Thus, Bibeau's life appears to be a cycle of addiction, isolation, hopeless, and violence all contributing to each other, one that ended tragically.
Lessons we can learn from Micheal Zehaf-Bibeau's life
While this is an extreme case, it does show the seriousness to how drug addicts can commit actions deeply harmful to both themselves and others. Thus, more clearly needs to be done to give all people access to rehab centers and recovery efforts. Zehaf-Bibeau commited at least one of his many crimes because he incorrectly assumed that jail would be the best way to enter a program to get clean and sober.
The truth is that there are many resources to help addicts, and opportunities for rehabilitation need to be made available and easy to find, even by those unable to pay for them. This tragic act was one born of out helplessness, but the truth is that help is available.