Even with “Jihadi John” unmasked, there would still be plenty more where he came from. His anonymity has actually revealed three basics we shouldn’t forget: 1) He is male; 2) He has a penchant for violence and a fetish for publicly beheading people; and 3) He does not project an individual personality as much as he does the persona of a terrorist. The last point is key: finding a role that seems to earn other men’s awe is what aimless and aggressive young men often do.
It’s also a good guess that Jihadi John and his terrorist ilk live in a feral mindset. The idea of living a normal domesticated life—that is, working an honest job, and having primary loyalty to a home with loving wife and kids—seems not to be uppermost in JJ’s bloodthirsty mind. What are the chances such thoughts could be buried deep within a terrorist? Is it possible such a terrorist can be tamed? Let’s take this a step farther and dare to ask: What if these most violent men could actually learn to love home and hearth and desire never to stray again? I think it worth engaging in this thought experiment. The implications for understanding human motives, relationships, and behavior are vast.
And guess what? According to a 2001 essay by terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman, such a taming actually happened to members of the terrorist group Black September, a group that suddenly subsided from the public eye in the 1970s almost as quickly as it appeared.
So how on earth could this have happened? Perhaps first we should ask: Why would this have happened?
Do You Remember Black September?
Black September was the scourge of Munich during the 1972 Olympics. Even if you weren’t around then, you’ve probably seen the iconic photograph of the hooded terrorist on that Munich balcony. The group kidnapped and then killed 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman. The world held its breath as the intense standoff and a botched rescue attempt were televised.
Thirteen years ago, Hoffman’s intriguing article for the Atlantic Monthly was entitled “All You Need Is Love.” In it, Hoffman described his conversation with a general in one of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s intelligence services. The general explained how the PLO deliberately dismantled Black September, the most dreaded terrorist organization in the world at the time.
Deliberately dismantled it? Well, yes. Black September was becoming more of a liability than an asset to the PLO during the 1970’s. Yasser Arafat, then chairman of the PLO and head of its al-Fatah faction, formed Black September as a covert—and therefore deniable—special PLO operation. The initial purpose of Black September was to exact revenge on Jordan for expelling Palestinians in September 1970, and to get headline coverage while doing so. Hoffman explained:
Black September’s first operation was the assassination, in November of 1971, of Jordan’s Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tal, who was gunned down as he entered the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Cairo. While Tal lay dying, one of the assassins knelt and lapped with his tongue the blood flowing across the marble floor. That grisly scene, reported in The Times of London and other major newspapers, created an image of uncompromising violence and determination that was exactly what Arafat both wanted and needed.
The Munich Massacre of the Israeli athletes followed. And with it, the Palestinian cause rocketed high onto the world agenda. Black September continued with hijackings and bombings, but by fall 1974 Arafat was invited to address the United Nations General Assembly and the PLO had gained observer status there. So Black September had served its purpose and was seen as more of a liabililty than an asset. Arafat then ordered his chief of intelligence, Salah Khalaf, to “turn off” Black September.
‘A Reason to Live Rather than To Die’
Hoffman’s host had mulled over the options with Khalaf, whom he served as a deputy. How do you simply “turn off” a group of hardened terrorists (without killing them all)? Hoffman explained: “Finally they hit upon an idea. Why not simply marry them off? In other words, why not find a way to give these men—the most dedicated, competent, and implacable fighters in the entire PLO—a reason to live rather than to die?”
They put a plan in motion, which began by scouring large Palestinian communities for the most attractive young Palestinian women they could find. They asked the women if they would come to Beirut “for a reason to be disclosed upon your arrival, but one decreed by no higher authority than Chairman Arafat himself.” About a hundred of these stunning young women were brought to Beiruit and, according to Hoffman: “There, in a sort of PLO version of a college mixer, boy met girl, boy fell in love with girl, boy would, it was hoped, marry girl.”
But wait! There’s more: “The hundred or so Black Septembrists were told that if they married these women, they would be paid $3,000; given an apartment in Beirut with a gas stove, a refrigerator, and a television; and employed by the PLO in some nonviolent capacity. Any of these couples that had a baby within a year would be rewarded with an additional $5,000.”
Did it work?
…as the general recounted, without exception the Black Septembrists fell in love, got married, settled down, and in most cases started a family.
But would they later be tempted to stray back to their terrorist ways? The PLO intelligence operatives factored in that possibility. They tested the men by periodically giving them passports to go to Western Europe on legitimate non-violent PLO business. And: “the general explained, not one of them would agree to travel abroad, for fear of being arrested and losing all that they had—that is, being deprived of their wives and children. ‘And so,’ my host told me, ‘that is how we shut down Black September.”
If you’re interested, you can read the article “The Deradicalization of Terrorists” in Salus Journal (2013) for an overview of recent studies on that topic. But I would guess Black September is likely the most successful and effective case because the terrorists had the blessing of superiors who worked in concert to change their environment and then offer them all they needed to live an alternative life that promised love, family, home, stability, and prosperity.
What Might This Tell Us about Men and Society?
This story tells us a lot about hierarchies, the power of personal relationships, human motives, and our utter need for a reason to live rather than a reason to die. In fact, this story actually smashes the feminist stereotype of “patriarchy.” Deprivation of sexual outlet, family, and work spells disaster for single men, and not because he lives in a particular type of culture or society, but because he is human, and because he is male. When the stability of close familial relationships and a sense of purpose are withheld from a man, he does not socialize well or at all. He tends to resort to a male herd, which too often means finding his place in a hierarchy. He also finds in this an outlet for his aggression, which is generated by aimlessness and pent-up frustration. It’s a violent brew, east or west. I dare say, we’ve seen some of such unrest recently in both the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and in Ferguson, Missouri, USA.
The factors that went into changing the outlook of Black September members were both simple and complex. Simple because, at root, contentment comes from the sense of stability and belonging one gets from happy familial relationships. And simple also because a single man deprived of remunerative labor and a sexual outlet is more prone to violence than a married man with a home, wife, children, and stable work. The complexities in such situations have to do with how invested the man was with the violent gang or terrorist group he is a part of—the depth of his bonds and connections with the group, his devotion to the ideology if there is one, his lack of alternatives, the stability of the environment should he leave, and whether there are outside influences that can wean him away.
Clearly, if you are a young, single man who is part of a violent cult and all of a sudden the leaders of your cult “de-programs” you and offers you a life that promises love, family, and good employment, chances are you would grab the opportunity, especially as you sense all of your brethren doing the same. It seems a no-brainer.
Gender Theory and ‘Jihadi John’
This story flies in the face of the gender theory that’s been peddled for the past couple of generations and now is everywhere in our schools, colleges, the media, and Hollywood. According to its advocates, human beings play “gender roles” that are entirely a construct of society, and have nothing to do with nature. Gender theorists are hellbent on abolishing the natural family. They claim marriage promotes the gender roles that encourage “patriarchy”—or a male superiority complex—which they insist undermines women’s equality. I would expect them to look at the story of Black September and completely miss the point, instead complaining that the women were “rounded up” perhaps like “chattel to be married off.”
But I suggest we all take a good look at the masked “Jihadi John” for a real glimpse of what modern feminism and gender theory have to offer us at the end of the road. The feminist agenda, by tearing down the natural family, has spawned rather than spurned the violent behavior of guys like Jihadi John. Unfortunately, such feminists of today don’t take a long view. They seem nearsightedly focused on cases of domestic violence in the West. This not only gives them an unhealthy preoccupation with what goes on in other people’s bedrooms, but also blinds them to finding real solutions to the entire problem of male violence.
Of course one would have to try to understand men—rather than simply revile them—to accomplish that. Most interesting is how modern feminists are loath to express much outrage for the imposition of Sharia law in the West. How frequently do we hear the politically correct voices of “women’s equality” speak out against honor killings or genital mutilations of young girls, even when they take place within Western borders? Not much. They seem to have fallen in line—as we can see in the case of Rotherham—with British officials and media who turned a blind eye over the past 15 years to the brutal trafficking of about 1,400 girls.
Instead, our western feminists are preoccupied with dismantling the male-female bond, the father-child bond, and the mother-child bond. So their big target is marriage and families with biological connections. The goal is to get the state to serve as surrogate parents to us all. We can see this in a recent article by feminists who argue basically that workingclass single mothers shouldn’t even consider marriage which I discussed here. We can see it in the push for same-sex marriage, which in the end is little more than a bait-and-switch strategy to abolish family autonomy along with state-recognized marriage. We can also see this in the promotion of abortion that is no longer “rare” by severing the mother-child bond that women supposedly should feel good about.
The mascot of our bureaucratic feminists turns out to be “Julia,” their cardboard-cutout Stepford wife to the state as someone for us all to emulate. If we keep traveling this road—of policies that separate men from women and all of us from one another—where might we end up?
Why, at Jihadi John’s doorstep, of course. Where else?
Men and Marriage
We’d do well to reflect on the story of the tamed Black September terrorists when we consider the chaos of crime and violence around us. It applies to all situations in which men feel marginalized, humiliated, neglected, discarded, directionless, and misunderstood. Indeed, it seems men need women to love more than women appear to need men.
When this need is not met, they tend not to express frustration in words, but in destructive action. It might begin with gross inaction, but at a certain point the behavior in young, detached men can devolve into riots, looting, pillaging, killing, gangs, drug cartels, and the like. Leftists and feminists who are hellbent on abolishing the traditional family are of course loath to attribute such behaviors to fatherlessness and broken homes. They prefer to use the catch-all term “poverty,” and to deny there is a male nature or even a human nature.
Economist George Gilder delved into this irony in his fascinating book, “Men and Marriage” (1986): “the denial of male nature in modern life warps and perverts the natural play of male aggression, leading to violence and pornography, to fear and exploitation of women. . . The result is a society that at once denies the existence of natural male aggressiveness and is utterly preoccupied with it.”
Gilder examined a deep truth about men, something those PLO officials recognized when they went about “turning off” the savagery of the ruthless Black September terrorists: Without a sense of connection with family, young men are restless and prone to violence. But with it, they can feel settled. They can then channel their ambitions to constructive ends. Men and boys, particularly, need some kind of civilizing force that allows them to build rather than to destroy. That force is a relationship, especially one of love that truly integrates them into the human family. It’s a force that invites them to build a nest that nurtures the next generation, which they can see—for real—in the faces of their own children.
Gilder, in “Men and Marriage,” also noted: “Biology, anthropology, and history all tell the same essential story. Every society, each generation, faces an invasion by barbarians. They storm into the streets and schools, businesses and households of the land, and unless they are brought to heel, they rape and pillage, debauch and despoil the settlements of society. . . . Every society must figure out ways to bring them into the disciplines and duties of citizenship.”
One of Gilder’s points most worth pondering in the West is this: “The only undeniable winners in the sexual revolution are powerful men.” A society that rejects traditional marriages and families cultivates the ground for destructive patterns of male hierarchies. These detached alpha males—enabled today by feminist women—don’t simply lord themselves over women but they especially lord themselves over other men. As dominated men’s frustrations grow, so does the threat of violence. In the West, women who play along with the sexual revolution, pretend to be oh-so-content with the hook-up culture while accommodating aimless male patterns of behavior, which approach their apex in cultures that promote polygamy and women-as-chattel. So we come full circle.
The men who run ISIS seem to practice a particularly harsh form of hierarchical dominance towards other men, as is the case in most intensely tribal cultures. With Sharia law there is an obvious attempt by the powerful men to lord over other men. We can see how the elites among them prevent and control access to relationships with women. We ought to ask: Whose purpose does veiling women really serve? Answer: Powerful men exerting their dominance over less powerful men, that’s who. And as if the veiling of women is not enough, ISIS has also made sure that in cattle markets the hindquarters of sheep and goats are covered up so men will not be able to view the animals’ genitalia and be reminded of things sexual. No doubt, those coverings—and the degrading message it presumes on sidelined single men—can only accentuate their frustrations.
The unvarnished truth is that when a man is given a purpose, and given the opportunity for an intimate relationship that creates companionship and the promise of his own children, something astonishing can happen to him. Suddenly the garbage of empty violence doesn’t smell so good to him anymore. When he has a sense of order and meaningful work to go along with a family, he has a place in the world and everything clicks—for everyone.