As highlighted in last months blog article (April 2017), dreams have led to waking life actions in the service of humanity and have inspired a variety of creative pursuits. Sadly, dreams have also prompted others to act in violent ways. Dreams have been linked with the killings of individuals and groups, children included.
In June of 2016, I met Iain Edgar of Durham University. We were both presenting our work at the 33rd annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD), held that year in Kerkrade, Netherlands. Dr. Edgar gave a presentation about the dreams and decision-making processes of radical, militant, or extremist individuals and group members. The May 2015 Garland, Texas attacker, Elton Simpson, for example, posted his dreams online, which indicated that martyrdom was near. The 2016 Brussels Metro bomber had dreams prompting him to act as well. In addition, dreams of Al-Qaeda members and Taliban leaders have been reported, including some of the most well-known jihadist commanders. Osama Bin Laden spoke about the dreams of his followers in one of the first videos released after 9/11. Bin Laden said,
Abu’l-Hassan al-Masri told me a year ago: “I saw in a dream, we were playing a soccer game against the Americans. When our team showed up in the field, they were all pilots.”
Bin Laden continued,
He [Al-Masri] didn’t know anything about the operation until he heard it on the radio. He said the game went on and we defeated them. That was a good omen for us.
According to Edgar, “Dreams can facilitate conversions, either into Islam or into militant jihadism” and have confirmed and legitimized radical group membership and action. “Dreams of heavenly spaces and the glorious reception of the martyrs are reported; dead friends appear with metaphysical information” Edgar wrote. Many militant Islamists and Jihadis attach a considerable amount of significance to dreams, as they are an important part of their religious experience. Futhermore, Islamic State/Daesh sympathizers have discussed dreams on Twitter, and it is quite possible that dreams impact the decisions made by these group members as well. For more information, there is a section in Edgar’s book The Dream in Islam: From Qur’anic Tradition to Jihadist Inspiration that gives attention to these topics. On an important note, Edgar reminds us that “not all Muslims who believe they have true dreams about jihad or martyrdom, become militants. For some radicalized individuals, however, a dream or series of dreams can be a catalyst for taking up arms.”
More recently, on December 26, 2016, People magazine reported that a Texas man recently accused of the murder of his wife and infant son had a dream in which he decapitated his wife and her father. Less than two weeks after revealing this dream to one of his co-workers, he allegedly murdered his wife and their baby. Their bodies were found in the master bedroom with knife wounds to their necks (see article by Harris, 2016). This differs from the reports above, yet in the end, two people were murdered – and one was a baby.
While a dream cannot push anyone into action, it can bring forth imagery associated with a wish, fantasy, or desire, no matter how terrible. When one can ‘see’ a terrible act committed in the mind’s eye, through dream, how might that experience alone affect a person? Some would be absolutely startled and describe the episode as a nightmare, but that may not be the case for everyone.
When I first learned of dreaming being linked with militant action, I was surprised. The connection just never occurred to me. Dreams, as we can see, can mean different things to different people. Dreams do not force one to commit violent acts, however, dreams can be a source of inspiration and provide confirmation for those already contemplating particular actions. In the end, the interpretation of a dream varies from individual to individual. In an effort to grow as evermore-conscious beings, may we dream of peace and for peace.