Victim narrative, young men, and the resort to deadly violence
In the aftermath of senseless tragedy like this week’s van attack in Toronto, the question of “Why?” is often the hardest to answer.
It’s a question lawyer and author Jamil Jivani recently grappled with as he wrote his new book entitled “Why Young Men: Rage, Race and the Crisis of Identity.” The book explores why it’s so often young men who resort to violence when grappling with a world they feel has treated them unfairly.
While details are only just beginning to emerge about the man accused in the Toronto attack, there has been some focus on a message posted on his Facebook page just minutes before the attack that refers to the “incel” movement, an online group of men who feel victimized because they are involuntarily celibate.
Jivani told CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday he doesn’t think it matters what the van attacker’s precise motives were; the broader point is he felt his only outlet was violence.
“I think regardless of what we find out about this attack and the motivations, at the core of it, we have a young man who felt himself so victimized by our society that he could indiscriminately become violent against us and kill innocent people he didn’t know,” he said.
“That is a common thread in how a lot of violence occurs in our society, whether it’s terror attacks or gang violence: these young men who see themselves as justified in hurting others because of how much of a victim they see themselves to be.”
Jivani worries it can be too easy for people – especially young people -- to grow to see themselves as the victims of unfairness. More worrisome are the many radical political and religious movements that are all too eager to allow young people to -- as Jivani says it -- “turn that personal dissatisfaction into anger and hatred toward the world.”
Jivani knows personally about the rage that many young men feel. He grew up with a largely absent father in a low-income, immigrant community in Toronto that faced significant problems with integration.
He looked up to the gangster posturing of the rap artists he listened to, and remembers wanting to channel his rage, even going so far as to almost buy himself a gun.
But Jivani walked away from the sale when he made the realization that buying that gun would force him to cross into a world he couldn’t return from -- a decision he realized that would touch everyone around him.
“I thought, ‘This is going to affect my mom; it’s going to affect how she looks at me. I might lose her out of my life entirely. This is going to justify the unfair treatment police officers directed toward me and my community…,” he said.
" So I had to look at the impact of my decisions on others."
The Yale Law School graduate says learning that level of responsibility and stopping himself from falling into a victim narrative was “key” to helping him change his view of the world.
That refusal to feel sorry for himself is what is helping Jivani deal with the toughest challenge he has ever faced. In February, just weeks before the release of his book, the 30-year-old Jivani was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer has spread to his bones, damaging his neck and spine and forcing him to wear a neck brace.
The devastating diagnosis at a time when he had reached what he calls “a pinnacle” of his professional life, has been like a “sucker punch” to the gut. But he’s trying to maintain a positive outlook.
“The process of grappling with that news is kind of like the central theme of this book, which is that life is unfair and it’s tough sometimes. But you have to accept that and focus on what you’re going to do about it,” Jivani said.
“Are you going to let that change your morals, change your outlook on life and drag you down into negativity? Or are you going to try your best to look at the world in a positive and constructive way and try to make the most out of your situation?”