In 1935, Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote the short story,The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim. As with all of Borges’ stories, it is brief and dense with meaning, a critique of a fictitious novel that Borges invents as a plot device. Quoting Wikipedia,
The narrator then summarizes the plot of the novel. The book is a detective story about a freethinking Bombay law student of Islamic background. He becomes involved in a sectarian riot in which he impulsively kills a Hindu, after which he becomes an outcast among the lower classes of India. …
He meets a man who, though destitute, is happy and spiritual. The student encounters many such people radiating a small amount of this spiritual clarity. From these experiences, he infers the existence of a perfect man, whom he calls Al-Mu’tasim. (Al-Mu’tasim means “he who goes in quest of aid” or “the seeker of shelter”.) This perfect man is a higher spiritual being, the source and originator of this pure spiritual clarity. Obsessed with meeting Al-Mu’tasim, the student goes on a pilgrimage through Hindustan to find him. He eventually hears the voice of the Al-Mu’tasim resounding from a hut. He pulls back the curtain and goes in. The book ends at this point. The reviewer then gives his criticisms of the work.
Borges’ story is fiction, yet it illuminates in two ways:
- The inference of a “perfect man” is analogous to the problem of the “mastermind”. When can the existence of a “mastermind” be inferred, and when is it just a leap of imagination?
- The story intertwines murder with the problem of human perfection. It offers an empathic view of the mind of the terrorist, as only fiction can provide.
Borges’ story was an unconscious influence towards the theory of a mastermind, presented in Sri Lanka Bombings.