Vengeance can be justified forever

Psychologist on blood revenge: "A grandiose narcissistic gesture"

How is vigilante justice justified? The director of the Sigmund Freud Institute on Justice and Collective Offenses.

In Afghanistan the anger of demonstrators against "Charlie Hebdo" is evident. Image: dpa

taz: Mrs. Prof. Dr. Leuzinger-Bohleber, can blood revenge be a means of bringing about justice?

Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber: I think it is a laboriously achieved cultural achievement that revenge as a means of "establishing justice" is dispensed with. Revenge is more reminiscent of Mafia methods or a cultural regression in archaic times.

Nevertheless, thirst for revenge cannot always be avoided in everyday life.

We all know the desire for revenge when we experience injustice - but these are the first emotional reactions that we can certainly feel internally, but at the same time should also control and not translate into concrete actions.

Would you in the caseCharlie Hebdospeak of a religiously motivated act of revenge?

You have to be careful there. What can be said in any case, is that it has been for centuries in most, especially in Western societies by generally applicable laws, to kill in revenge. The Islamist terrorists do not accept these constitutional laws, but refer to another legal conception, which they ascribe to Islam.

Let us assume that the murderers' motive to avenge the prophets was just a pretext. What reasons for the attacks could be given from a psychological perspective?

From a psychoanalytical point of view, these are - unfortunately - emotionally very primitive mechanisms: one's own grandiosity becomes the only valid yardstick for personal action: instead of feeling obliged to a common legal system, this is negated in a grandiose narcissistic gesture and one's own primitive Vengeance impulses uninhibitedly turned into actions. Associated with this is a fall back on archaic mental functions, which are characterized by processes of division between good and bad, right and wrong, pure and dirty or holy and wicked. The good is ascribed to one's own - the “enemy” is the evil, which may then be destroyed or, in the subjective opinion of the perpetrators, even has to be destroyed.

To person: Born in Glarus / Switzerland in 1947, studied medicine, clinical psychology and German literature. She received her PhD in 1980.

To work: Since 2002 she has been director of the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt am Main.

Another attempt to explain this type of vigilante justice would be the bad socio-economic situation of the attackers in France and the associated social frustration.

The precarious economic situation is certainly an important factor, but by no means the only one: not every poor person is capable of such brutal acts of terrorism as the attackers in Paris. Terror is the product of many different factors: personal, institutional, and social.

The attacks were not met with incomprehension everywhere, but were perceived as being proportionate. Could the wars of the so-called West in the Muslim world and the demonization of Islam be collective psychological causes for this?

Yes, there were demonstrations against, for example, in Chechnya Charlie Hebdo, in which Muslim believers accused the cartoonists of insulting the Prophet and thus believing Muslims. As a result, they are complicit in their murder. The collective insults caused by the “wars of the so-called West” against Iraq or Islamist terror groups such as IS probably play a role in these demonstrators.

For the young attackers in Paris it can be assumed that they were also deeply disappointed in Western values ​​such as “freedom, equality, brotherhood”: For young people who grew up in the banlieues, these ideals of the French Revolution often seem like malice: to It is obvious to them that they do not have the same future prospects as young people from the French middle and upper classes. In addition, the pictures of torture in Guantánamo or on Iraqi prisoners of war by Americans have probably contributed to an extreme disillusionment with Western democracies.

Islam as a religion is often criticized - too one-sided?

Yes. All religions can be used to delegate one's own responsibility to a "divine authority" and to legitimize the division just described between "good" and "bad", "saints" and "devils", "heaven" and "hell" to abuse. This could be observed, for example, in the Middle Ages among Christians who worshiped St. Mary and burned "witches". A similarly archaic worldview prevails in the so-called holy war of the Islamist terrorists.

What does that have to do with?

This has little to do with genuinely religious motives - more to do with the abuse of religion for one's own purposes.

Would you speak of a marginalization or a lack of recognition of Muslims in German and French society?

It's more about social divisions. Images of the enemy do not only affect Muslims: as is well known, anti-Semitism in France has also increased at an alarming rate. For a comprehensive analysis, the interaction of complex economic, psychological and social factors would have to be taken into account.

However, some factors clearly promote the increase in fundamentalist and terrorist attitudes and actions: high youth unemployment, lack of prospects, the feeling of not having arrived and accepted in society - but of course also personality factors such as emotional early neglect or extreme willingness to use violence, for example in so-called borderline- Personality disorders. In addition, it is certainly correct to point out that particularly unemployed, disadvantaged young people are prone to fundamentalist radicalization and that returnees from Syria or Iraq have learned to kill brutally and to override any inhibition to kill.

In “The Future of an Illusion” Sigmund Freud wrote in 1927 that religious practices are like neurotic compulsive acts. Could you explain that?

With these theses, Freud thought of a basic psychoanalytic knowledge - namely that the mental development of all people develops from relatively primitive archaic states and mechanisms to more differentiated ones. We never lose the opportunity in stressful and overwhelming situations to fall back on mental functions that correspond to those of small children. These include the aforementioned primitive defense mechanisms such as splitting, projection, negation and denial. In fundamentalist religions Freud did indeed see the possibility of projecting the “good”, “pure”, “just”, “ideals” onto God - onto the devil (“the traitor”) one's own repulsed negative impulses, the “evil” "," Unclean "," Reprehensible "etc.

Did Freud speak out in favor of replacing religion with scientifically founded reason?

Freud was a culture pessimist. He spoke, for example, of the “quiet voice of reason”, but saw in it the only possibility in a democracy to counteract the danger of the above-mentioned regressions on primitive mental states, hatred and violence. After witnessing the atrocities of the First World War, however, he was very aware that cultural progress is always threatened and that barbarism is possible at any time.