Labour MP Jess Phillips says she’s had it explained to her in graphic detail what some angry men would like to do to her. She gets messages like this one: ‘Unless you change your attitude, be afraid, be very afraid… Wherever you are, keep looking over your shoulder … You and your Remain friends have been warned’ and messages which are much more explicit than that.
Paula Sherrif MP says she gets death threats ‘every single day’. ‘I’ve received death threats, I’ve received rape threats, I’ve been shouted at in the streets, I’ve had abusive phone calls’. 23 year old Neo-Nazi Jack Renshaw was recently jailed for life for making preparations to kill his local MP Rosie Cooper and a female police officer. He’d bought a 19 inch blade to slit the MP’s throat. As he was sentenced, one of his supporters in the public gallery said ‘we are with you, Jack’.
When Jo Cox was murdered she was shot and stabbed multiple times by a man with far right views. He believed people with liberal and left wing views were the cause of the world’s problems. He saw her as a ‘collaborator’ and a ‘traitor’ against white people. He used those exact words. Trigger words like ‘surrender’, ‘collaborator’, ‘betrayal’ are used by Boris Johnson and his coterie and repeated back by the perpetrators of hate crime. Jess was told she would be ‘dead in a ditch’ if she carried on expressing her views.
What part of this is ‘humbug’? This is not a bunch of hysterical women having a fit of the vapours over nothing. There is clearly a direct link between the use of inflammatory language by politicians and the upswing in violence particularly directed against left wing women.
Jess Phillips spoke recently at the Chiswick Book Festival about this targeted violence against women. She was talking to Joan Smith, who has written a book about domestic abuse and terrorism. Her research shows that the perpetration of violence against their own families is a common trait among men who go on to become terrorists, yet it’s not something which has been considered to any great extent by those whose job it is to identify terrorist suspects and prevent acts of terrorism. What they both had to say about the extent to which violence against women is routinely ignored was shocking.
What do the attacks in London Bridge, Manchester and Westminster have in common with those at the Charlie Hebdo offices, the Finsbury Park Mosque attack and multiple US shootings? They were all carried out by men with histories of domestic violence. Yet ‘terrorism is seen as a special category of crime that has blinded us to the obvious’ said journalist Joan Smith, author of the book Home Grown. Joan has done extensive research into the backgrounds of terrorists and says we should be looking for the obvious. The men who commit acts of terror don’t suddenly become violent overnight; they have a history of violence. That violence isn’t evident to police and intelligence officers because it’s hidden, or rather it’s overlooked. There are no red flags because violence committed within the home isn’t taken seriously. ‘The extraordinary link between so many tragic recent attacks is that the perpetrators have practised in private before their public outbursts’ she says.
From the Manchester bomber to the Charlie Hebdo attackers, from angry white men to the Bethnal Green girls, from US school shootings to the London gang members who joined ISIS, Joan Smith has shown that, ‘time and time again, misogyny, trauma and abuse lurk beneath the ‘justifications’ of religion or politics’. Now she says her work is being taken seriously and criminology departments at universities are asking for copies of her book. “The reaction has been ‘Oh, we’d better come and talk to you’” she told the audience at the Chiswick Book Festival. But before she pointed it out in 2017, criminal authorities routinely missed this connection, which should have been staring them in the face, because violence against women has become dangerously normalised.
Jess Phillips’ exposure to male violence is not a new thing. She told the audience at Chiswick Book Festival that she had worked for many years with Rape Crisis centres and every year on International Women’s Day she had taken to reading out all the names of women & girls murdered by men. “There’s been an outcry about knife crime, but no corresponding outcry against domestic violence against women. There’s a big action being taken by the Centre for Women’s justice at the moment because the incidence of cases being passed from police to CPS has fallen by 22% in the last year… Men get away with it and women give up reporting it”.
Joan’s book looks at a number of case studies. Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the man who drove a 19-tonne cargo truck into crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people and injuring 458 others, “was a horrific abuser” said Joan. “Only after they (his family) had managed to get him out of the house did he take any interest in religion or jihad. He hadn’t been to a mosque until three weeks before”.
Darren Osborne, who killed Makram Ali and injured twelve others in the attempt to kill as many muslims as he could by driving his van into them outside the mosque at Finsbury Park “hadn’t shown any interest in politics before he was thrown out of the family home in Cardiff”.
Jess’s conclusion: “the narcissistic wound of being thrown out of the family home causes them to take up a cause to continue to be violent”. “A long tail of violence leads up to men becoming terrorists. They don’t just snap, any more then they do when they kill their wives. There’s usually been a reign of terror” said Joan.
Haron Monis, the Iranian-born refugee and Australian citizen. who took hostages in a siege at the Lindt Chocolate Café in Sydney in December 2014, was another example of the pattern, said Joan. He was a serial sex offender. He said he was acting for Islamic State, but the Iranian government told the Australian authorities he was a con man. “He’d been in Australia 15 years. They charged him with 43 counts of rape because they found his stash of videos where he’d filmed himself and he was still let out on bail”.
Salman Ramadan Abedi, the suicide bomber behind the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 which killed 23 people and wounded 139 others, had previously punched a muslim woman unconscious because he thought the skirt she was wearing was too short. He had no criminal record for that; he was just given a ‘restorative justice’ sentence, where he had to sit down with his victim and talk about what he’d done – a reaction which is in any case not considered suitable by women’s groups for sex crimes.
In interviews with returnees from Syria, Joan found that about half of them had become involved in ISIS because they’d wanted to own sex slaves. Elliot Roger, the 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured fourteen others at Isla Vista, near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara considered himself “the perfect gentleman” said Jess. “He had a thing about blondes and couldn’t understand why he was still a virgin. He decided to take revenge because he couldn’t get a girlfriend”.
Jess has been on the receiving end of “huge long diatribes explaining exactly how they’re going to hurt and rape me” from men who disagree with her politics, so she’s very well aware of “a culture of grooming young angry men online”. Her conclusion, from long association with the violence of men, was that “victimhood of women is not seen as being unimportant. 177 women murdered in their homes last year. If there were 177 men murdered at football matches, football would be banned”.
In terms of public policy, Joan, who sits as the independent chair of London crime reduction board, has suggested an offenders register for those who have been violent within the home. The response was that it would be impracticable because it would just be too long. Jess’s suggestion is for young men who have grown up in violent homes to be flagged up in the Prevent programme, designed to spot radicalised would-be terrorists early on. “We don’t want people being targeted unnecessarily, but can’t be squeamish about terrorism” she said.
It’s interesting that within two weeks of this discussion, our Prime Minister was dismissing the idea that the language of betrayal is linked to threats of violence against women MPs as ‘humbug’.
Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists is available in bookshops or online