The news of yesterday’s Texas shooting came with a chilling familiarity: a male terrorist, an arsenal of guns, the senseless slaughter of innocent people. It could have been 1987 or 1997 or 2007. It is a violent refrain that scars modern American history, baffling those on the outside and bringing those on the inside, yet again, back to their nation’s most fundamental dilemma: the right to bear arms.
But the shooting of 26 innocent people in Texas had another depressingly familiar stamp. The suspect, Devin Patrick Kelley, had joined Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in 2010. And, in 2012, he had been court-martialled for assault on his spouse and child.
As Helen Lewis wrote in June this year: “Of mass killers between 2009 and 2015, 16 per cent had previously been charged with domestic violence. More than half included a partner or close family member in their death toll.” From the truck that drove into crowds at Nice to the attacks on London Bridge, a pattern has emerged: male terrorists have a history of violence against women. Omar Matten killed 49 people in a club in Orlando in 2016. His wife said: “He would beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that."
Drawing this line between acts of violent terror and domestic violence feels like a fairly new realisation. (After the London Bridge attacks, Lewis wrote: “What we haven't talked about, what it feels like we can never talk about, is male violence.”) Which is dangerous and outrageous and infuriating because domestic violence *is* terrorism; perpetrators of domestic violence *are* terrorists – the very word Luke Hart used to describe his own father who had shot dead his sister and his mother in the UK in 2016.
A gun-wielding man targeting a church is a neat analogy for a violent household. Like those inside the church were, a family is under siege. Like those inside the church, a woman’s most dangerous moment is when she attempts to flee. Like those in the church, in a home you are meant to be in a place of private sanctuary, a place that outsiders can do little to interfere with. And, like the uneasy anxiety in the back of many Americans' minds this morning, the outcome is deliberate – you do not know when the terrorist will strike again; you do not know when a fight will erupt, a phone will be thrown, a punch will be landed, a skull will be smashed against a kitchen cupboard. And, while there is no political ideology, there is a campaign of control and male dominance. The violent rage of hateful masculinity starts in the home.
And yet, just as we intentionally call white suspects “lone wolves” and Muslim suspects “dangerous terrorists”, we change our language and framing of violent men in the situations in which they are violent. If a man punches another man on the street, it’s assault. If a man punches a woman in the privacy of a living room, it’s domestic violence (and only if there’s enough “evidence”). The word “domestic” not only refers to a crime in a home, but more powerfully signifies a crime against women. And, when crimes are against women, they are devalued, they aren’t taken so seriously, they don’t receive the same punishment – we don’t recoil in horror; we shrug at best and perhaps we even make slight judgements about the victim.
Like those in the church, in a home you are meant to be in a place of private sanctuary, a place that outsiders can do little to interfere with
And so we don’t label the perpetrators of domestic violence “terrorists” – or at least those who have never been on the receiving end of it don’t. Because “terror” is a word of grandeur that belongs to foreign policy and government and politics and organised crime – all the territory of important men. Terrorism is too important to happen to women. Yet it happens to women and children every single day.
The reasonable among us know that terrorism, wherever it is grown, depends on a violent misogyny (not a religion) that can shoot and rape and kill. It exists by promoting a masculinity that identifies with causing ultimate fear; a masculinity that rejects otherness in any form, that belittles women and exists to dominate at any cost – compensating for, no doubt, a long history of insecurity that I’ve long lost any sympathy for. And this masculinity is the same masculinity found behind closed doors – tyrants who control all aspects of their three-bedroom semi, who tell their wives what to wear, or how to spend their money, or who they can and can’t see, or what they can and can’t do. Who liberally administer bruises where you can or can’t see them. These women live in constant fear of a life of landmines and eggshells made from razor blades. This is terrorism.
When we don’t want to see the true extent of male violence in our society, we can imagine that a twentysomething walking into a church with a gun is a kind of madman. But if we dare to face the true epidemic of violent masculinity and its tight grip on our women, our children, our families, there is nothing peculiar or unpredictable in this picture. Yet, in the same way white men aren’t terrorists yet, neither are fathers or husbands. Once we start taking domestic violence seriously and digging out its roots, we can also start to meaningfully tackle terrorism. Yes, guns are a big part of the problem – but when will we finally see that men can be, too?