His descent into the abyss has been adequately documented, both by the press, and in a television documentary. In both, his mother and his brother asked, "How could this happen?" Well, as soon as I saw his history, two factors leaped out at me.
They were a normal English family, except that his father often worked abroad. What they didn't know was that he had started a new family elsewhere. When he left, it came as a bolt from the blue, and his original family was utterly devastated. They had no further contact with him. Thomas was 13 at the time. The following year, the brothers, who used to be so close, drifted apart. Thomas grew his hair shoulder length, started listening to heavy metal music, taking alcohol and marijuana, and getting involved in petty crime. His brother, Michael recognized that he was strongly influenced by his friends. A failed love affair left him desolate. At first, his conversion to Islam came as a blessing, as it brought some stability into his life.
Did you catch the precipitating factor? His father abandoned him! Every study ever done has shown that young people are far more likely to go off the rails if they come from broken or incomplete families. It doesn't happen in every case, or even most cases, but it happens far more often than when a father is present. It is bad enough to grow up without a father. It is bad if you are left with only a part-time father after your parents split up. But it is terrible if your father deserts you. From his father, a boy learns what it is to be a man, how to relate to women, and how to relate to authority in general. And Thomas was only 13. He was about to embark on the turbulent years of puberty, when changed hormones and changed brain structure are working to make him an independent adult. And the man who should have been his rock and his role model had walked out on him - as if he were unworthy of a father's love.
Alas! There were others waiting in the wings. As Jesus put it in another context:
You traverse sea and land to make a single convert, and when he becomes a convert, you make him twice as much the child of hell as yourself. (Matt. 23: 15)It may not have escaped your notice that many of the worst Muslim fanatics are new converts to the faith - apostates from our own society - some even converted in prison. A number of factors work together to produce this outcome.
(1) Even the irreligious recognize that there is such a thing as a "religious experience", which is more than simply intellectual affirmation of a belief. Human beings have a natural religious instinct: a desire for communion with the divine, a longing for meaning in life, a cause to which to devote oneself - the misquoted God-shaped vacuum in the human soul. Some people feel it more than others, or at different periods of their lives. The time when a person most feels the need for God is when his life is falling apart. If he finds Him, well and good. The bad news is that often he finds a false god. In Thomas Evans' case, he had the bad luck to live at High Wycombe, with its strong Muslim presence. Thomas' brother, Michael felt that Thomas had found a substitute family in Islam, for he told him that all Muslims are brothers. The trouble was, some of those "brothers" belonged to a mosque which has produced many terrorists.
(2) Apostates such as, for example, the singer, Cat Stevens, who pick up a counterfeit religion while searching for the genuine article, do not normally make fanatics. But a lot of subconscious emotions drive a person's choice of a belief system. And many people - particularly convicts, but also the dysfunctional - are seriously aggrieved. They carry a chip on their shoulder about the way they think the world has treated them. So, when seeking to fill the God-shaped vacuum, why not choose a religion which rejects the whole of Western civilisation? What better way to cock a snoot at society, authorities, and The System ie your father?
(3) Furthermore, Islam is violent by nature. Jihad is one of its fundamental tenets. Yes, Al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, and ISIS are extreme even by Islamic standards. Yes, most pious Muslims only wish to live a quiet life. Nevertheless, if a convert were to ask a "moderate" imam: "Is it true, based on the scriptures, and the practices of Muhammad and his immediate successors, that the Islamic community is obliged to make war against the infidels and impose Islam on them, to give polytheists the choice of Islam or death, and inflict humiliating impositions on other monotheists?" he would have to answer, "Yes."
Now, experience shows that there are plenty of resentful, disaffected young people around ready to sell their souls to whatever ideology will justify the anger and violence in their hearts. In my day, the cause of choice was a violent atheistic religion known as Communism. But now a better one has arrived: one which offers a real god, who will reward with Paradise and 72 super-sexual concubines anyone who kills and dies on his behalf. The Communists could never offer that!
Thus, the first thing I noticed was that he had become vulnerable because of his father's desertion. The second was the lack of a counter-balancing factor, which is best revealed by his mother's statement that "[E]ventually he stopped respecting my right to be secular."
Secular? What does that mean? It is simply a code word for non-religious. It is purely negative. How can that help a troubled person find meaning in life? Even a positive political ideology like Communism can sometimes do the trick, but normal atheism can't. And the Evanses don't appear to have thought enough about the fundamentals of the universe to even qualify as atheists. Probably, as in most such cases, "being secular" meant simply following the general moral standards which filtered through from the Christian background of Western society - living on the moral capital of the past.
Thomas Evans' parents gave him no religious instruction, with the result that he had nothing with which to defend himself when a dark, false religion beckoned. It happens in other situations. Whenever I hear a parent complaining about how a child has been sucked into some weird cult, like the Moonies or the Hare Krishnas, I feel like asking, "Well, exactly how did you bring him up?" The best protection against falsehood is the Truth, taught early.
Of course, human beings have free will. Not every vulnerable person plunges into the abyss. Thomas' brother didn't. Conversely, it cannot be absolutely guaranteed that the well brought-up offspring of a loving, intact family will not go to the bad, but statistically, it not the way to bet. More often than not the maxim attributed to King Solomon proves true:
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6).