Where Were The Men? Or Do You Mean Why Are So Many Terrorists Men?


‘Where were the men?… The only man really there was the man with the gun.’

Fred Nile said this regarding the Sydney siege, criticising the male hostages who did not stay to protect the female hostages.

Nile is wrong to blame the male hostages and valorize the gunman (incidentally, Fred, why do you valorize the gunman before the gay man who did fight to save his fellow hostages? Oh, that’s right…) but he is right in linking gender and terrorism.

It is near impossible to determine how many terrorists are men – the question of who counts as a ‘terrorist’ is tough enough. But I think it is safe to say the terrorists in Westerners’ consciousness – the ones we are concerned about, the ones that make it on our television screens – are, almost exclusively, men.

Imagine if terrorists were almost exclusively women.

Just imagine it. We would all be talking about gender. What is it about women that make them violent? Make them hate? Make them kill? Sunrise, Time Magazine, Mamamia, the New York Times, the Herald, the Tele and every other media source would be stuffed with analysis, experts and pie charts on the subject.

But because terrorists are almost exclusively men we don't examine gender. We treat it as neutral. It’s not The Other, it’s The Norm so it avoids scrutiny. Instead – if we need to peg this on an Othered group – we turn our magnifying glass on Muslims. What is it about Islam?

Is it fairer that the lens be on Muslims than males? No. As Anne Aly states:

“The fact is that the role of religion in radicalisation (and de-radicalisation) is grossly overestimated. There is actually no empirical evidence to support the claim that religion (any religion) and ideology are the primary motivators of violent extremism. The revelation that wannabe foreign fighters prepared for battle by reading copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies, underscores this. The point has also been made by some of the world’s most renowned scholars of terrorism who agree that other factors play a much larger role.”

Factors that play a more prominent role in radicalization, however, include the following: “anger at injustice, moral superiority, a sense of identity and purpose, the promise of adventure, and becoming a hero”.

It is difficult to be definitive and this is a complex issue. But it seems to me that men – more so than women – would be motivated by these factors (especially the last two), whether it’s for reasons of nature or nurture. It seems to me there’s a reason why it tends to be lost or gullible young men who are attracted to ISIS or school shootings.

It seems to me there must be a reason why the Sydney Siege gunman also had a horrific domestic violence record. It seems to me there is a link between terrorism and rape culture. It seems to me both are caused by men feeling they are entitled to have their ego fed with other human beings’ bodies.

‘Where were the men?’ It seems when it comes to this problem, they are everywhere.

And it seems the problem is what type of men we champion and which we condemn.

This is why Nile is so wrong – by valorising the gunman over the male hostages he is making out that violence in men is to be honoured regardless of which way it is aimed – and why, if we are serious about wanting to combat terrorism, we need to put men and masculinity under the microscope.

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