The man who attacked Westminster shared a hatred for women with other mass murderers
We may never know what went through the mind of the perpetrator of last week’s attack in Westminster, London. That’s the opinion of the police who have been investigating why Khalid Masood, born Adrian Elms, drove a car into dozens of pedestrians, stormed into the Parliament and stabbed a policeman, leaving four people dead and at least 50 injured.
I am struck by one thing we do know about him: a history of perpetrating domestic violence against his wives and partners.
In the record of notorious attackers, he shares this feature with his heinous peers. Because if there is one thing that has become clear in their histories, it is that violence against women is an embedded feature of their lives long before they set out on their inglorious ends.
A relative of one of Masood’s former wives said that he was “very violent towards her, controlling in every aspect of her life – what she wore, where she went, everything”.
Last year, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel killed more than 80 people when he drove a lorry into a crowd in Nice, France. He had a history of domestic violence.
The former wife of Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in a Florida nightclub, last June reported that “he would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished”.
Before anyone cries that this is about Muslims or Islamist ideologies, let’s be clear: this misogynistic world view cuts across all religions, backgrounds and classes. Whatever the background of such men, domestic violence abuse is a clear factor in their histories. In some cases, the atrocities they perpetrate are even announced as revenge on feminists.
Elliot Rodger killed six people in a mass attack in California in 2014. He hit several people with his car, stabbed and shot people and then killed himself. He declared: “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male.”
We must put front and centre how violence against women is a clearly identifiable factor. Hatred of women and their abuse is a hallmark of terrorism. Just look at the way ISIL has treated women, talking of them as sex slaves and raping them at will.
But also consider the case of Dylann Roof who sat quietly in a church in Charleston, in the American state of South Carolina, and after 45 minutes shot nine black churchgoers. One of the abuses he hurled at them was to use women as pawns, accusing the victims of “raping our women”.
It is important to remember the victims of terrorism and to commemorate their loss. The shock of the incidents shakes us, as terror is designed to do.
But when we talk to women who suffer domestic abuse – and it is a global epidemic we are talking about here that knows no class, religion, education, wealth, ethnicity or privilege when it comes to its victims – it is an everyday terror that they face. In the same week that four people were killed in the Westminster attack, two women in the United Kingdom were killed by their partners. Countless more will have suffered attacks, or had to flee for their lives with their children from life-threatening situations.
We need to join the dots between these horrific mass attacks and the “everyday terrorism” that women face. The impunity such men feel in attacking women is a glimpse into the dark souls of those who then feel rage at a wider world and believe they have the freedom to conduct horrific atrocities.
Their hatred and violence may be couched in different rhetoric. They may clothe their hatred in the language of self-righteousness.
But what we know for certain – long before the incidents that brought them infamy and splashed them onto the global stage – is that they were perpetrators of domestic violence. All of their victims need to have the root causes of the violence addressed: those who suffered their awful terrorism, as well as those who suffer everyday terrorism in their own homes.
Shelina Janmohamed is the author of the books Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World and Love in a Headscarf
On Twitter: @loveinheadscarf