Really? Human beings are social creatures. More than that, from even before our births and regardless of culture, we are constituted by and through social relations. We might make our history, albeit not under circumstances of our choosing, but more deeply what we build of ourselves is a process of working on social stuff assembled by countless interactions. We are legion, for we are many. For that reason, given the irreducibly social (and sociable) character of our being, I am unwilling to accept that people just "flip out" and commit extreme crimes for no reason. People choose to do these things, and choice never occurs in a vacuum.
Going by material available on Monis, here was someone determined to court notoriety and assert himself against the world. Following a protracted trial, he was convicted and sentenced to community service for sending "offensive letters" to the widows of Australian service personnel killed in Afghanistan. Like many cyber jihadis, he used social media to disseminate Islamist propaganda and post up shock images of dead children. He also styled himself as a cleric, albeit seemingly without any tie to an established mosque. In his life before declaring himself Muslim, he was a self-styled spiritualist guru with expert knowledge of all-things hocus pocus. From this period dates 47 outstanding charges of sexual assault and impropriety, allegations Monis maintained were proof of the state's campaign to discredit and defame him. Likewise the allegations facing his about his involvement in the murder of his former wife.
There are interesting continuities between him, rampage murderers, and pathological Narcissism. First things first, in unpeeling Monis one needs to look beyond the imam's garb, his professed conversion from Shia to Sunni Islam, and indeed Islam itself. The hostage-taking was not about being a Muslim, nor even ISIS. They are but foils for the real star of the show: him. Consider the evidence: the cloyingly desperate attempt to make like an Australian Anjem Choudary, albeit more extreme and tasteless. The framing of impending criminal cases as political persecution and comparing himself with that other self-styled fugitive from justice, Julian Assange. The assumption of a clerical persona can be read as him conferring some kind of Islamic authority upon himself, and the latter - unasked for - association with ISIS another wheeze to accumulate look-at-me points.
There are some parallels between Monis and the narcissism of the disgraced child abusing rock star, Ian Watkins. Revealed telephone recordings in court showed the latter to be an amoral thrill-seeker almost devoid of internal life save the desire to repeatedly break every sexual taboo. The public persona fronting a relatively successful rock outfit fed an increasingly reckless and criminal private life in which people and children were foils for his perverted appetite. His celebrity status established him. The narcissism was exercised in his crimes. With Monis, the situation was different. He had no celebrity. He was a nobody who wanted to be a somebody, and it did not matter what the content of his fame was. His self was his political (and religious) object, and he set about a journey into notoriety with a sense of its inflated importance as the destination. Grief, shock, ridiculous claims, and finally a protracted siege were moments of his passage through life.
To go from no one to someone in this manner, doing anything and everything to get noticed means matters can quickly run away with themselves. Looking at shooting sprees, a core motivational component is asserting one's self against an indifferent, if not conspiratorial world, by commanding a situation. Too often rampage shooters in America especially plan their killings in advance, leave pre-recorded messages and/or rambling justifications, and commit suicide at the end - either by cop or turning their gun on themselves. From start to finish, the perpetrator is in control. The question of life and death is theirs to determine. The spree begins and ends at the killer's discretion. Monis's seizure of the Lindt Cafe took place in a context where his "celebrity", such as it was, was careening out of control. The sex assault and accessory to murder charges would, in all likelihood, have placed him behind bars. Criminal notoriety is but a fleeting form of fame, unless one is a prolific serial murderer. Taking hostages and flashing a few flags similar to the sort sported by ISIS allowed him, in his mind, to impose his desired narrative on the situation. Challenging Tony Abbott to a live debate and asking for more ISIS paraphernalia to be delivered to the cafe was a desperate go at rewriting his script. Had he survived, the outstanding charges could again be threaded into a narrative of persecution. Perhaps his "heroic" example would have attracted the attention of admirers and maybe a nod from actual jihadis themselves. From prison he could have played the Islamist/terrorist prisoner, as a dangerous somebody official society fears, and crucially an authority for those inspired by the death-laden vision of ISIS and friends. But he has not. The murder of two of his captives however ensures he lives on as a self-styled martyr and a case who will be picked over first by the media, and then as twilight as a case study for academics. As the life ebbed out of him, I have no doubt he felt gratified.
Monis is a product of the pathologically narcissistic end of our cultural spectrum. His bedfellows are Anders Breivik, Elliot Rodger, and pretty much every lone gunman-type you can mention. He wasn't forced to take hostages and commit murder. But his actions are consistent with a trajectory he had been pursuing, a trajectory craving recognition and standing. Man Haron Monis is not an outcome of a terrorist/Islamist subculture. He's a culmination of ours.