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Monday, July 25, 2016

This is not quite what I mean

...when I say sports and faith go together. (Although maybe it is cause Ronaldo is rather Sexy)

"These tears I cried for my wounded brother were like daggers to the heart, and we all cried with him for the awful pain we had together.

But God is great and just as our saviour Jesus Christ suffered on the cross for a better world for us, Cristiano cried in the pain of not being able to help his teammates and his beloved people.

God is just and they deservedly lifted the trophy, and fulfilled the dream; we are champions."

Ronaldo's Performance During Euro Final Was Like Christ's Victory Over Sin And Death, Says His Sister (Screamer blog)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Among the Thugs Again: When It Goes Off

"You see, what is does is this: it gives violence a purpose. It makes us somebody. Because we're not doing it for ourselves. We're doing it for something greater-for us. The violence is for the lads"

Mark, resident Manchester United supporter, Among the Thugs

The reasons why devotion, especially religious devotion, turns, curdles, into violence are always rooted in some kind of structure, logic, and coherence. The practitioners of this violence can most always explain their propensities with some kind of link, some kind of thread, back to the root and heart of what they are devoted to and to why they are devoted to such a thing, whether it's a teaching of faith, their family, their community, their tribe, their nation, or some combination of all of these things. 

Mark Juergensmeyer, in his erudite and prophetic 2000 tome Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, writes that "it takes a community of support and, in many cases, a large organizational network for an act of terrorism to succeed. It also requires an enormous amount of moral presumption for the perpetrators of these acts to justify the destruction of property on a massive scale or to condone a brutal attack on another life, especially the life of someone one scarcely knows...And it requires a great deal of internal conviction, social acknowledgment, and the stamp of approval from a legitimizing ideology or authority one respects."

The blokes of English Football Saturday in Bill Buford's Among the Thugs certainly had built what seemed to be a fully functioning, hierarchical, multi-tiered Church and Community behind their devotion to Manchester United or West Ham or Millwall. The old standing-room terraces in their stadiums and dens was where the supporters offered their worship, crushed against each other, moving in what Buford described as a constant motion of shove and counter shove. The firms were the hierarchies the supporters adhered to, with the most proven in terms of their reputation for violence and bling, like fancy track suits, jewelry, and Rolls Royces, acquired from related and un-related criminal enterprising, at the head of the firm.

The violence and bling trickled down in the manner of the jib, in which the supporters, by the sheer quantity of their marauding, would find and take and steal anything they could on Football Saturday, from places in the terrace without having tickets, to handfuls of shoplifted bacon-flavoured potato crisps and lagers, and free stowaway passage on planes, buses, and trains all over England and even into Europe. 

The jib, which in many ways was the mechanism of the supporters' devotion, was based on the principle, Buford noted, that "everyone-including the police-is powerless against a large number of people who have decided not to obey any rules. Or put another way: with numbers there are no laws."

Buford noted that many of the supporters were tattooed, but not entirely quite like what Pete Townshend once wrote about. Marking their bodies with what Buford describes as "totemic pledges of permanence", such as great hellscapes with Man U Red Devils devouring famous players of other clubs in eternal flame, or simply with the names of club superstars like Bryan Robson running across the entire forehead, the devotion of these blokes was a matter of needle and blood. 

All in all, the rituals of Football Saturday were all well and structured. Everyone was there for the match and the drink and the laugh, and even if the blokes were a little rowdy at times, especially when they traveled to the foreigner's place, as Buford did with a number of Manchester United supporters to a 1984 Cup-Winners Cup match against Juventus in Turin, they claimed again that they meant well. That they most indeed not hooligans. 

The rudeness of the supporters, as noted by Buford, "was their vitality, and these people were very rude; they were committed to rudeness, as though it was their moral banner." 
They were boisterous, kleptomanic, and oafish because their devotion to their club was so much a part of their very identity, and their devotion was so strong, that anything which was counter to that devotion, like Juventus, or the people of Turin, whether these people were Juventus supporters or not, or anyone in the way of the cut of their jib, deserved their rudeness, simply because they were not a member of the Church.

Yet rudeness is one thing and brutal, rib-cracking, skull-crushing violence is another. The difference is what turns the supporters from blokes into thugs. The difference is when it goes off

Following the match in Turin, which the home-side Juventus won 2-1, to clinch a berth in the Cup-Winners Cup Final, where they beat FC Porto, 2-1, to win the Cup, in case you're keeping track of such things, the Man U supporters, with exquisitely disturbing precision and intent, reflecting and expressing the structure of their Church, "like some giant, strangely coordinated insect", laid waste to the people and places of Turin. Buford noted the sudden, startling change: "If anyone here was drunk, he was not acting as if he was. Everyone was purposeful and precise, and there was a strong quality of aggression about them, like some kind of animal scent. Nobody was saying a word."

It goes off. The threshold is crossed. The blokes encounter the Other. The blokes become thugs. They batter merchandise sellers, bashing heads repeatedly against the merchandise table. Shop windows, buses, and cars are assaulted by maniacs wielding giant blocks of concrete they shouldn't be able to carry aloft in more normal, more sober circumstances. They swarm upon local lads hopelessly caught in the mob, beaten to a pulp by six or seven supporters at a time, Yes, some of these local lads are Juventus' own firm, there to protect their turf, but many, all too many, are not. It is, by any definition, a riot. It is, by most definitions, terrorism.

Most disturbing is an encounter with a family caught in the mob of thugs. The husband, in a panic, is somehow able to get his wife and children in their car before he is set upon, struck across the face by a metal bar. Buford horrifically wonders "Why him?...What had he done except make himself conspicuous by trying to get his family out of the way?...The others followed, running on top of the man on the ground, sometimes slowing down to kick him-the head, the spine, the ass, the ribs, anywhere."

As much as there is a consistent consistency to the presence of coherence and reason within the phenomenon and practice of religious violence, to the ways and means devotion curdles into violence, there is always something profoundly incoherent and irrational to it as well. The mystery of religious violence which tortures us stands against the rational structures and ideologies which support it. The rationality of the structures and ideologies behind religious violence, which can be so easily identified when we widen our contextual lenses, only make the mystery of the irrationality deeper. 

We can only go so far in our study, our understanding, our attempts at sympathy. There is something so dark in human nature which emerges in this mysterious space which defies our intellect and stains our heart and soul. What causes someone who is so devoted to a cause, a club, a community, a deity of any sort, to decide the Other, whether or not this Other is a legitimate threat to the devotee's safety and well-being, must be violently attacked, even to the point of murder, of slaughter?

By this point in Buford's immersion, he clearly understands the structure of Football Saturday and the devotees of the clubs. He understands, and experiences, their rudeness. But when it goes off, when their devotion turns into violence, when they become thugs, the structure of it all becomes a horrific, unfathomable mystery. What is most mysterious of all, to Buford, was the emotional reactions of the thugs to the violence they were committing.

Buford writes:

There was an intense energy about it; it was impossible not to feel some of the thrill. Somebody near me said that he was happy. He said that he was very, very happy, that he could not remember ever being so was someone who believed that, at this precise moment, following a street scuffle, he had succeeded in capturing one of life's most elusive qualities.

Even when they are back in Manchester, far away from the animal scent of that evening in Turin, the supporters, even some of the most obviously successful ones, those with jobs and pensions and wives and kids (and Buford will clearly point out later in the book that the kind of economic depression which otherwise logically explains the phenomenon and practice of religious violence is not widely present with these highly privileged young English men) continue to express that their violence is a kind of emotional and spiritual necessity, that the violence is a part of their inherent being which can not not be expressed. 

Buford meets a Keith Richards look-alike who quite logically insists:

The violence, we've all got it in us. It just needs a cause. It needs an acceptable way of coming out. And it doesn't matter what it is. But something. It's almost an excuse. But it has to come out. Everyone's got it in them.

We go back to the lead quote, from Mark, one of those supporters with the job and the pension and the wife and the kid. For him, even for him, the violence "makes us somebody. Because we're not doing it for ourselves. We're doing it for something greater-for us. The violence is for the lads." There is nothing inherently wrong with the kind of devotion that brings atomized individuals together for a common cause and purpose, something "greater" than mere individualism. There is something inherently spiritual in such common cause. Yet there is something deeply wrong when the kind of violence the thugs commit is needed to justify and keep the devotion together, to make it stronger, to make it something real and meaningful. There is nothing spiritual about that (but is it still religious?)

It makes perfect sense, yet it is so, so disturbingly macabre, senseless, and mysterious. The violence and the devotion of the thugs is one-to-one, hand-in-hand. It makes perfect sense to the bloke why he becomes a thug. To those of us observing the thug, studying the thug, we are horrified, perhaps because we know these tendencies are not ultimately foreign to our own experience and nature. Buford, again recalling an encounter with one of the materially successful supporters, writes that "he was rational and fluent, and had given much thought to the problems he was discussing, although he had not thought about the implications of the thing-that this was socially deviant conduct of the highest order...I don't think he understood the implications; I don't think he would have acknowledged them as valid."

The deeper Buford gets into the crowd of the thugs, the more clear and the less clear it becomes. In our next blog, we will examine Buford looking at the nature of the crowd itself, the phenomenon of the crowd, when the morals and ethics and boundaries that we, as civilized individual citizens, hold dear and claimed that our ancestors fought and died for, disappear under the influence of that mysterious compulsion which turns sanity into insanity, bonds into bones breaking, devotion into violence. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Among The Thugs Again: Devotion Curdling Into Violence

"We look forward to Saturdays, all week long. It's the most meaningful thing in our lives. It's a religion, really. That's how important it is to us. Saturday is our day of worship"

Richard in Among the Thugs

When does it go off?

When does devotion turn into fanaticism? When do the intense feelings of devotion, the one-pointed approach to someone or something, fueled by what Freud describes as an "oceanic feeling", beyond the pale and the mundane, the aching desire for meaning, fulfillment, happiness, and seeming sense, curdle into the kind of fanaticism which then fuels any and all means of violent expression? 

In Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, The English Football Saturday is the weekly religion of the bloke, the young English man, struggling to get by in an increasingly corporatized and globalized world, yet still full of the all of the privilege centuries of empire and colonization can buy. The bloke claims that the ritual of the Football Match, where he is a supporter of the Football Club, the totem of civic pride, is simply an event of communal enjoyment giving deep meaning in an increasingly meaningless world. The bloke/supporter simply is there "for the laugh...and the drink and the football."

Yet, in the context of Thugs, in the 1980's English football world, where Buford, as an American journalist, decided to immerse himself in the world of English football supporters, sometimes it goes off. Sometimes the devotion of English Football Saturday becomes the setting for literally skull and rib-cracking violence, committed against anyone who can be labeled the Other.

Buford describes a trip with a group of very drunk, very sunburnt, very half-conscious Manchester United supporters to a 1984 UEFA Cup-Winners Cup match in Turin, Italy against Juventus. The initial problem with this trip by the blokes was that the blokes were not supposed to be there. Because of a stream of violent incidents preceding them everywhere that they went, their own Club, the very totem of their devotion, had banned them from traveling to away matches, especially to away matches in other parts of Europe. 

Yet the blokes, to a man, as Buford was able to shed off a bit of his American foreignness and earn the trust of the blokes, told him that they were simply there for the laugh and the drink and the football. They were adamant that they were simply supporters of the Club, devotees of the Club, there for a very important European match, there with no intention of creating the kind of violence which on every level can be considered psychotic and terroristic.

Yet Buford will next horrifically recall and reveal, with a literary panache which makes you feel and sense and smell the physical crack of the violence itself, how it went off

In Hindu/Vedic sacred and philosophical texts, the art and act of devotion, like nearly every element of material existence, can be framed through the three gunas, or modes of nature. The practice and expression of devotion for someone and something can either be in the guna of sattva (goodness/peacefulness/nonviolence/contemplation), rajas (passion/intensity), or tamas (darkness/ignorance/violence). Yes, ideally devotion to the Divine, as also explained in texts like the Bhagavad-Gita, is actually beyond these gunas. This ideal devotion is explained as the practice of bhakti-yoga, or the yoga of selfless love. 

A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, one of the preeminent contemporary scholar/teachers of the Gita, describes that the mode of goodness, sattva, is the platform to practice our devotion in a more loving and selfless way. He writes that "when the mode of goodness is developed, people will see things as they are...when they are actually educated in the mode of goodness, they will become sober, in full knowledge of things as they are. Then people will be happy and prosperous."

Yet, when we consider the history, philosophy, theory, and practice of religion, we are confronted with the mystery and the reality that our devotion often curdles into these other gunas. The passion of our devotion can so easily lead into a vision of the world where our sober and clear understanding of our inherent interconnectedness with all other planetary beings curdles into a conviction of Otherness towards those who do are not our immediate kin or who don't share our exact convictions of devotion. Our devotion then enters into tamas, where we find ourselves thinking and feeling, to the seeming core of our being, that we are justified committing the worst violence against those we consider the Other.

Mark Juergensmeyer, in his book Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, writes:

"Since public violence is a display of power, it appeals to those who want to make dramatic statements and reclaim public space. In moments of social transition and uncertainty it can simultaneously hold both political currency and religious meaning...This is one of history's ironies, that although religion has been used to justify violence, violence can also empower religion."

The intersection of religious feeling and violent expression is one of humanity's most intense crises, whether we consider this intersection in more "traditionally" extremist religious veins such as the presence and phenomenon of ISIS, of Buddhist violence against the Rohingya community in Myanmar, of Hindu violence against Dalit communities, and Christian histories of Crusades and more contemporary expressions against, for example, the LGBTQ community worldwide, or in more out-of-the-usual religious box extremist veins such as the religion of white supremacy committing violence against black bodies/bodies of color or, as in our current case, the religion of the English football thug against everyone who does not represent their exact flavor of thuggery. 

This crisis is of deep existential import, for it not only threatens the most vulnerable members of our human family, but also the very fabric of our planet itself. I don't think we can deepen our understanding of this crisis, and our understanding of how to solve this crisis, until we attempt, as Buford did, to enter into the very experience, the very hearts and minds, of those whose devotion has completely curdled into violence. 

Our instinct, when faced with people using their devotion to commit violence against that which we hold dear, is to Other them, to make them the enemy in return, and this sentiment has immense truth and justification behind it. We are never to coddle or excuse those who commit such violence, but I argue that if we dehumanize them in return, the crisis of devotion-into-violence will only increase. The mystery of why devotion curdles into violence exists in the hearts and minds of human beings who feel completely justified in their ways and means. We have to confront their justification with all of our courage and condemnation, yet we have to hold them, in a kind of compassion which seems impossible but which is all too necessary, as fellow human beings with the same fundamental desire and concern for meaning, love, happiness, and fulfillment as we have. To make it plain, we have to try to know them as we know ourselves. 

In our next blog, we will follow Buford deeper into his immersion and experience as he reveals what it means when it "goes off", when the devotion of the Manchester United supporters becomes violence against everything which is Other to them. Shockingly, their violence is both chaotic yet deeply and distinctly structured, completely illogical yet intelligently explained, and never disconnected from the very fabric of their devotion. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Among the Thugs Again: The Nasty Ghost of Hooliganism

All the stories have been told
Of kings and days of old
But there's no England now
All the wars that were won and lost
Somehow don't seem to matter very much anymore
All the lies we were told
All the lies of the people running around
They're castles have burned
Now I see change
But inside we're the same as we ever were

The Kinks, "Living on a Thin Line"

Bill Buford's Among the Thugs is the most remarkable book I have ever read. The front cover features a picture of one of these "thugs", a skinheaded English bloke half-lidded smoking a cigarette whose visage gives off the impression of a personality barely connected to the reality around him, yet who also gives the impression that he's about three seconds away from punching your nose into your brain-stem. Below this face is the novelist John Gregory Dunne's very apt description of the experience of reading this book: "A grotesque, horrifying, repellant, and gorgeous book; A Clockwork Orange come to life."

Thugs marks a moment in time, but like any moment in time, that moment's tentacles connect irrevocably to our present moment and how our present moment is warped by our preoccupations of the past and our fears and hopes for the future. Among the Thugs is Buford's deep dive as a American journalist into the horrifying and fascinating phenomenon of English football hooliganism. David Rudin, in his review of Thugs in Howler Magazine, marking the 25th anniversary of the book's publication, writes that "Buford's account of the thugs he moved with are by turns amazing, repugnant, stunning, horrid, and exhilarating. In the same way the 'crowd violence was their drug,' Buford's account gave me a fix. The same passages turn me on and make me want to turn away."

I'm not sure what it says about me that I'm now into my third reading of this hell-scape tome. But there is a tremendous relevance to Thugs in our present moment. The phenomenon of football hooliganism does indeed seem, at least at the highest echelons of European football, to be a gruesome relic of the past. For those of us, so many of us, who have been part of the great emergence of football in America over the last couple of years, we are learning so much, being exposed finally to the greatest sport the human being has produced. We are experiencing fully, finally, since now the "beautiful game" is all over our tele's and streams, the religious experience of being a football fan. Hooliganism never enters into our vision in the slick, mannered, utterly professional and global presentation of the Premier League. So many of us learn about the mechanics and intricacies of football by playing FIFA and Football Manager and never even think about the hooligans and thugs who once threatened the very emergence of football which now blesses us. 

Yet the thug on the cover of Thugs has not completely disappeared. Yes, the corporatization and globalization of the game have moved us far away from the disasters at Heysel Stadium in 1985 and the stampede/crush at Hillsborough in 1989 (ESPN's 30 for 30 doc is Hillsborough is essential viewing to understand this moment in time-there are images you must see but that you never want to see again). But the menace of violence surrounding the game of football remains present like a nasty ghost. The violence at this summer's UEFA Championship tournament in France was intense enough that the English and Russian national teams were threatened with expulsion. What is even more pertinent to Thugs' ongoing relevance was the recent Brexit. As Buford makes clear throughout the book, the phenomenon of the thug was/is rooted in people who feel unmoored, discarded, and disconnected from the splendors and wonders of the corporatization and globalization of society. 

The thug is threatened by the Other. The Other is what inspires the thug to act like a thug, to create a whole religion of thuggery. Buford writes:

"The rest of the world is a big place, and its essential inhabitant is the stranger. The supporters did not like the stranger...And there was no stranger more strange, and therefore no stranger more detestable, than the foreigner...The problem with foreigners was this: they were incomplete...foreigners had never quite climbed all the way up the evolutionary ladder; there was a little less of the foreigner, especially foreigners of a dark complexion..."

Watching videos coming out of the UK since the Brexit, videos in which modern-day thugs berate people of color on public buses, telling them to "get back to Africa!", hearing that hate crimes have surged 42% in England and Wales since the Brexit, understanding that a "frenzy of hatred" not only fueled the Brexit but is being fueled by the Brexit, we watch the visage of the thug on the cover of Thugs step out and come alive again. We must understand the thug if we are to understand the complexity of the rise of far-right/neo-fascist populism in Europe and in America. To understand the thug we have to attempt to do what Buford did: to enter into the world of the thug, the everyday life of the thug, to even have compassion for the thug and to hear his grievances at being left behind by forces beyond his control, forces which can be considered the real enemy.

Among the Thugs is also a deeply religious book, for it reveals to us what happens when devotion becomes the motivation and mechanism of violence. Devotion curdling into violence is a virus which continues to infect our bodies of faith. With this understanding of Thugs ongoing and increased relevance for our social body infected by the presence of visceral, murderous hatred, we will explore, through a series of upcoming blogs, how Thugs helps us to understand why, when, and how devotion becomes violence. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sports Ecstasy as Religious Ecstasy

In case you're not sure what about talking about. Go Iceland!

The Boy Who Lived for Football and Died For Hate

Reprinting Wright Thompson's compelling piece on ESPN FC on Abou Omar Brams, teenage football devotee turned ISIS foot-soldier, and the mysterious horror of the turn from devotion to fanaticism.
MOLENBEEK, Belgium -- Not long ago, I met a grieving mother so she could tell me about her dead terrorist son. This can be a strange job sometimes, and few moments have been stranger than sitting on a quiet Sunday morning, a little rain falling outside, talking to Geraldine Henneghien. The neighborhood around us, known in Europe as the breeding ground for radical Islam, looked quiet and even quaint.
Abou Omar Brams had curly hair. He hung a poster of New York City on his wall, dreaming of going there one day. He loved football, both playing and watching, and his email address had French star Thierry Henry's name in it. Four years ago, as silly as it seems now, she remembers being angry and worried during the European Championship, because all he did was watch games, all day for a month, when he should have been studying for his exams. She banned him from the television and then caught him upstairs in his room, following the games online
The thing he loved most was FC Barcelona
The family went on vacation about five years ago to the French town of Perpignan, in the Pyrenees near the Spanish border, and Brams talked her into driving him two hours to visit Camp Nou, Barcelona's stadium. They took the tour, walked through the museum and then went a little crazy in the gift shop. She bought him a bedspread, a scarf and a jersey. "The real shirt in the stadium," she says. "It was very expensive but I said, 'OK, I will buy it.'"
The bedspread is still on the bed in his room and the jersey is in his closet. She hasn't touched a thing. Even now, with him dead more than a year, she still stops and checks a score when she sees Barcelona is playing.
"When they win, I say, 'Oh, he will be happy,'" she says.
That's as close as she can get to a prayer over his grave; she never saw his body or even a photo of it. He died in Syria, where he went to join Al Qaeda, and likely ISIS, after being radicalized by an imam in their town. Brams had been friends with the man's son, who told him it was his duty to fight for other Muslims. As parents in some American neighborhoods worry about gang leaders, parents in Molenbeek worry about radical imams. The Belgian government, as of January, says 470 of its citizens have tried to join the war in Syria.
In the background picture on Brams' Twitter account -- the last tweet came two days before he died -- he's smiling on what looks a beach with three other boys. They look like kids, grinning in mismatched camo gear, but they're not. Two people to the right is Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the Paris attacks, which included gunning down trapped civilians in a concert hall. These aren't wayward teenagers who stole a car; they are cowards and killers, and they grew up in the same European countries they wanted to destroy.
One of them grew up under Geraldine's roof.
Four years ago, he was a normal teenager, and she's trying to figure out how that boy who followed every second of the Euros became a monster. (A monster to other people; she still sees him as a good boy led astray.) But figuring out how all this happened, and reliving every missed opportunity to stop it, will be her struggle for the rest of her life.
It started the summer he turned 18, in 2013. He wanted to find a summer job, so he could make some money, but when he'd apply, he'd get asked about his Moroccan name. (His mother was born in Belgium, and his father, a Belgian citizen for 20 years, was born in Morocco.) That's where it began, with something as small as looking for a way to make some extra cash. In all the interviews, he got asked about his background and nobody ever called him back. By the end of the summer, already angsty like nearly every 18-year-old, he talked to his mother.
"I have no place," he said to her. "When I am in Belgium, they say I am Moroccan. When I am in Morocco, they say I am Belgian. Where is my place?"
By September, his parents noticed he started to pray more, which pleased them at first. What parents don't want their child exploring their faith? They didn't know to look for signs that radical recruiters were influencing their son. Later, she'd see the literature used to lure teenage boys to ISIS: talking about helping create a new country, where they belonged and were important. Brams started waking up early for the predawn prayer and still they didn't sense anything amiss, until November when he began talking about wanting to go help the Syrian people. "For a young boy who is thinking, 'I have no future,'" she says, "it's very easy to go there. We tried to talk to him a lot of times. We spent a lot of time forbidding him."
Brams and his father started arguing about the Quran, and on Jan. 12, 2014, his dad pushed back on his son's interpretation of the book. Geraldine says: "His father was saying, 'You may not explain my religion. I'm Muslim, but I'm old so I have experience. You have no experience.'"
That's the last time they saw their son.
He told them he was going to Syria with or without their blessing. They went to the police and told them the whole story, hoping to have his passport blocked. She says the local cops told her they'd take care of it but they didn't. Two weeks later, Brams got on a plane and left for Syria. (The police, however, are now investigating her for aiding terrorists, because she gave money to a woman who married her son in Syria.)
She wishes now she'd have known the police couldn't help.
"I would have gone to the airport to block him myself," she says.
They communicated while he was gone, over the internet and through phone calls. Once he asked her to buy him a ticket out of Syria, and she told him she'd pay anything it took. He said he'd call back with details in two hours, and she now suspects that ISIS leaders were listening to all of the calls, because when she and her son got back on the phone he said, "I will stay here with the brothers."
His tone with her always depended on whether he was alone.
"I received two different kinds of conversation with my son," she says. "One was a son with his mother. Very kind. 'How are you?' The other was, 'You must come here. You may not go out in Belgium with men. You must come here to live in a Muslim state.'"

ISIS started calling itself that in June of 2014, although it had existed under different names since 1999 and broke away from Al Qaeda in February 2014, at the same moment Brams was arriving in Syria. Geraldine never found out for sure if her son joined the group, although the photos in his Twitter feed indicate that he almost certainly did.
"Are you in ISIS?" she asked him once.
"You must not know," he replied. "I am here and I am working."
The day before he died, they talked. He told her he wouldn't call for a week.
"I must go to work," he said.
Two days later, she received a text message from a number she didn't recognize.
"You must be proud of your son," the man wrote. "He was a good guy. He was loved by everybody. He was a lion."
That's how she found out, and even though she knew the answer, she asked the question anyway.
"Your son is dead," the man replied, explaining Brams had been killed while defending an airport in Syria, shot in the face.
"Where is he buried?" she asked.
"Just near the airport," the man replied.
That was a year and a half ago. She honors him with an association she helps run, joining together other parents whose children have gone to Syria. They work with psychologists to help the moms and dads use the right language in urging their children to return, so the kids don't push them away. Through the association, she now goes to schools and tries to get to the young men before the recruiters do it first. One day, she wants to go to Syria and see where her son died, then she wants to find his body and bring it home.
For now, she's left with her work and many regrets.
"If I knew, I would speak with him more," she says, "and I would help him to understand it's possible to live here."
She breaks down for the first time and starts to cry.
"I would speak with him more and more," she says.

After the interview, I had a train to catch. Geraldine insisted on taking me, so she drove across town, an especially nice gesture since she was going straight from the interview to tutor a young person in math. I meant to write this story on that train, two weeks ago, but I didn't. Before diving into the notes and recorded interview, I checked my phone for the first time that day, reading the overnight news from home.
That's when I learned about Orlando.
I didn't write the story then because I didn't want to say in public what I felt viscerally in that moment: A part of me was glad Geraldine's son was dead. He'd died before he could come back to Europe, like his friend on his Twitter page, to kill someone for wanting to listen to a band, or eat Cambodian food, or just sit in a wicker chair and drink a glass of wine with friends. His death, and her pain, seemed a small price to pay. That thought troubled me these past couple of weeks, surrounded by a French security apparatus, with wide avenues sealed off and armed soldiers patrolling leafy neighborhoods, millions of dollars and thousands of people looking for one person in a crowd. It's not scary here, but there is a bit of the garrison mentality that will be the new normal in Paris, and maybe around the world. I'm not glad Geraldine suffered, although the world is probably better off without her son. He knew the planner of the attacks in Paris. Did he also know the people who killed 36 on Tuesday in Istanbul? I've been in that airport four times in the past six weeks. I got lucky I guess. There's nothing to do really but wait for the next news alert about another shooting or bombing somewhere in the world, and try to manage the gnawing fear that something beyond our control has been unleashed.
A senior writer for and ESPN The Magazine, Wright Thompson is a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi.