After Nice: Is the real questions one about bringing up a boy?

The perpetrator of the Nice attack is said to have been troubled, a woman beater, separated, involved in petty criminal activities. The same was true of some of the Paris attackers, or of Mohammed Emwazi, the killer in a gay club in in Orlando,  of Mohammed Emwazi, the so called Jihadi John of Daesh, and many more. It doesn’t just apply to terror attacks in the name of a fantasy version of Islam, distant from how most Muslims live their lives. Take people like Anders Breivic or David Copeland, in fact any number of terrorist or  self imagined “liberation assailants.”  Without going too deep into these specific cases,  what I am going to say may apply to any of them .    There are many examples across the world.

Even if the attacks were planned and premeditated,  violent movements prey on young insecure men to exploit their vulnerabilities, and vulnerable young men are attracted to them and their theories likewise.  Vulnerabilities which  can exist independent of any achievements like degrees or A-Levels, and more relate to issues that regard definitions of manhood, or  how men are brought up, what the expectations are for them and of them by others and themselves. There is a difference between emotional maturity and achievement in any other sense.

So, before we go to blame religions and cultures, the phenomenon of violence across the world seems to be again and again an issue that has also something, perhaps crucially, to do with being a man, especially being a younger man. Something about the way men imagine themselves and the disconnect between one’s real actual limited ability and situation and the imagination of quick fixes to power, and perhaps more human overall to men and women, the wish for immediate redemptive change of fortunes.

Whilst men are still the privilege gender (by their forced yet socially constructed  grip atop social orders ), there appear to be far more obstacles for men to develop real empathy for others (and hence respect for others lives) than for women. It must have something to do with this idea, as it exists in many cultures, that men must always be tough enough and non-emotional and seek some sort of glory for themselves, always in competition for bigger, stronger.

This is why some  men find in hard to develop or show emotion and why they often can not deal in constructive ways with life’s frustrations. The result is that it is easier for young men in particular to engage and imagine themselves in otherwise terrible acts of murder and mass murder, and not think or care of the pain of the victims and disconnect. That is why intense work with men to channel their often blind and violent impulses and frustrations,  lack of care for themselves and others, into effective inter-personal communication skills and skills for the development of their emotional maturity, are the way forward. It  is more important to teach them that than teaching them any other skills.

The “real tough”, is being tough enough to talk it through to find solutions without force, to accept that you can be the looser at times, or the weaker, to learn that if you want to win you must not be stronger, but be just better, better trained, equipped, travelled and experienced. To achieve this, amongst others, we must empower more women, and more “progressive men” (men who are are emotionally mature ), and seek out boys and men at risk everywhere and work with them.

Secondly, we must fight the traps that leave men without hope or plan, be they created by regional poverty, oppression and racism or lack of opportunities. The fight against violence projected against women and others is therefore not just a feminist enterprise relevant to women, but one that also serves men, often also victims, emotionally and physically, a road that often enough also  stretches  into the suicide road. Suicide amongst  amongst men is disproportionally higher for the very same reasons, particular when men   are single,  struggle in work, or have lost employment or are unemployed. Men have to grow to become strong enough not physically but emotionally, and learn coping strategies,  in order to reject the idea that force against others (and the self) is an acceptable way of self affirmation, or that sacrifice, even self martyrdom counts for anything significant at all. There are some violent women too, but above and foremost, evidence shows we need to work with men to reduce violence, and that counts as much for men prone to be attracted by violent theories, as much it counts for men who engage in more personal destructive acts, usually against women and peers.

This is not all one needs to be aware of regarding violence. The reasons for violence have many facets. One common one is the mind game that certain people, due to their religion, ethnicity, physical appearance, language, colour or culture, are not really fully human or human at all, therefore giving oneself the permission to hurt these as assumed subhumans. Another problem, that also applies to women is peer pressure. But it is easier to fall victim to such believes and pressures, if the person is already preconditioned with a lack of empathy, lack of coping strategies in stress situation and lack of self management in general.


The author studied violence for several years on university research level and was engaged for several years in a peace and conflict transformation charity.

Updated on Sun 17 2016 for clarity of argument