Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 20 July 2016
Terror, it seems, often starts at home. Whether they are self-proclaimed jihadists or men with a grievance, a pattern is emerging among the mass killers whose murderous rages have claimed so many victims in recent times. A history of grudges against women and a record of domestic violence have been common factors in a number of such attacks, offering startling insights into the psychology of men who set out to kill complete strangers.
One night last week, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel deliberately drove a lorry into crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day on the seafront in Nice. Eighty-four people died, including 10 children. The terrorist organisation Isil claimed responsibility for the attack but French investigators have not disclosed any direct evidence of a link.
What has emerged in the days since is Bouhlel’s undisputed history of domestic abuse. “He beat his wife, my cousin, he was a nasty piece of work’” said a relative of his estranged spouse. Similar stories emerged last month after Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at gay club Pulse in Orlando. His ex-wife claimed that he beat her and denied contact with her family and friends during the four months they lived together. She was rescued by relatives, who she says literally dragged her from his arms.
A third would-be jihadist, Man Haron Monis, was on bail after being charged with more than 40 counts of sexual assault when he took hostages in a coffee shop in Sydney in December 2013. Monis was also charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, who had been stabbed 18 times and set alight in the stairwell of an apartment block. Monis and two of his hostages died when the siege was ended by armed police.
These ‘lone wolf’ attacks are a nightmare for the police and intelligence services, who are more used to tracking groups of young men in contact with known jihadists, or who have returned from Syria. Men who are planning attacks apparently out of the blue are harder to detect, which is why the common factor of domestic abuse is so important. In each case, these mass attacks on strangers appear to represent an escalation of violent impulses they liberally indulged at home until their wives (understandably) left them.
Crucially, it links them to other mass killers who don’t try to dress up their murderous rage as a political act – this isn’t an issue focused just on men with Muslim backgrounds. Violence against family members and deep-rooted misogyny have been implicated in several of the worst mass shootings in the US, including the school massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in December 2012.
When Adam Lanza opened fire on teachers and children as young as six, he had already left his mother lying dead in bed at home. Nancy Lanza, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, was shot four times in the face by her son, offering a shocking glimpse into his matricidal fury.
Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in California two years ago, made no secret about his seething hatred of women in a video he left behind. Rodger stabbed and shot his victims, as well as hitting several people with his car before killing himself. “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it,” he declared on film. “You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male.”
There are other examples from recent history of a hugely dangerous connection between personal rage towards mothers, girlfriends and wives and outbursts of impersonal violence, coldly executed against people unknown. It’s not so long since abuse against female family members was dismissed by some police as ‘just a domestic; those days are gone, in terms of rhetoric at least, but it now seems that domestic violence may be an early warning sign of the sort of destructive impulses we should all fear. And it’s certainly not just a ‘women’s problem’.
It also seems likely that Isil has deliberately framed its rhetoric to appeal to angry and disturbed young men living in countries where gender equality is the norm. It explicitly projects an ideology in which women are subservient, bragging about the way in which its followers are encouraged to rape captive girls and women from the Yazidi ethnic minority. Its leader, Abu Bark al-Baghdadi, is said to have repeatedly raped an American hostage, Kayla Mueller, before her death.
Islamist terror groups offer young men with a record of petty crime an opportunity to re-invent themselves first as victims and then as holy warriors. They are exploiting men who flatly refuse to come to terms with the modern world, with results almost too horrific to contemplate. Other angry men don’t even bother to claim an ideology, but the link between domestic violence and acts of inhumane political terrorism can no longer be ignored.