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Kathy Sheridan: Time to look at link between extremism and sexual violence

Many who kill in the name of religion have a history of assault on wives and partners

No evidence emerged that Khalid Masood had been radicalised in prison in 2003, or had an association with Islamic State or al-Qaeda, but "there was clearly an interest in jihad", said Neil Basu, the senior national co-ordinator for UK counterterrorism policing, on Monday.

An “interest in jihad”. What does that mean? Was Masood, the Kent-born, 52-year-old who killed four people and inflicted catastrophic injury in Westminster last week, really all that interested in the selfless, principled “struggle in the way of God”, as sane Muslims define the word jihad?

Was he even a terrorist ? That is, was he acting “in furtherance of political or social objectives”, as defined by the US government, or involved in an act “intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal” ?

This matters. Language matters. Words can lend nobility and notions of heroic martyrdom to a big, delusional bully with an anger-management problem and a craving for social recognition.


‘Rescued’ In the acres of coverage about Masood’s life, the big question was how or why he had gone so quiet following his release from prison in 2003, after serving time for a knife attack. The police records since show

no sign of criminal activity. But there are strong intimations of domestic violence. In 2004, his second wife, Farzana, fled their three-month-old marriage with just a suitcase, after surviving a violent episode at the hands of her "controlling psychopath" husband, a relative told the Daily Mirror.

But is domestic violence just a puny irrelevance in the far mightier scheme of “an interest in jihad”?

Look closer. Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at an Orlando LGBT club last July, had a long history of domestic abuse, assault and threats to kill his former wife. After four months of marriage, she was "literally rescued" by her parents, she claimed.

Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who drove a truck through a crowd in Nice on Bastille Day, killing more than 80 people, also had a criminal record of assaulting and abusing his wife.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, had been arrested a few years before for aggravated domestic assault and battery on his wife.

Man Haron Monis, the gunman who in 2014 laid siege to a Sydney cafe, where two people were killed, was on bail as an alleged accessory to the murder of his former wife – who had been stabbed and burned to death – and had more than 40 counts of sexual assault against him.

It would be ridiculous, of course, to conclude that only men with some kind of (claimed) Muslim background had a history of combining domestic violence and mass killing. So meet Robert Lewis Dear, the devout Christian who killed three and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado in 2015. He had a long history of violence against women, including a 1992 arrest for rape and sexual violence.

Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who went on a shooting rampage near the University of California campus in 2014, killing seven, including himself, left a video detailing his fury at women who had rejected him. "I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me but I will punish you all for it. You will see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male".

According to a study for Everytown for Gun Safety, more than half of the 110 mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2014 included the murder of a current or former intimate partner or family member. Sixteen per cent of the attackers had previously been charged with domestic violence.

Much of it can probably be explained away by common-or-garden misogyny, a desire for control, or a general lust for revenge against society for failing to give due recognition to a “true, alpha” male. But the signs are that many men who commit mass violence, first refine and perfect it against their families.

The question is whether this link is taken into account by authorities attempting to work out what makes the likes of Khalid Masood tick. “I know when, where and how Masood committed his atrocities, but now I need to know why. Most importantly, so do the victims and families”, said Basu.


Does the fact that a man like Mateen kept his wife a prisoner and assaulted her daily tell us something? Does an impulse towards gendered violence, sexual slavery and traditional gender roles attract many men to extremist religious groups such as Isis? “An interest in jihad” hardly covers it.

Six years ago, a British women’s Muslim group called Inspire, launched a “jihad against violence”, in an attempt to reclaim the term jihad from extremists, specifically targeting domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and terrorism – the crimes that some perpetrators attempt to justify in the name of Islam.

A closer look at the meaning of “jihad” is overdue.