October 11, 2023 - 2:30pm

Terrorists hate women. They rape girls; they parade women’s bodies; they deliberately target events where many of the injured and dead will be female. Hamas did it at the weekend, killing and abducting young women from a rave in Israel. An Islamist and his brother did it in Manchester six years ago, bombing an Ariana Grande concert packed with teenage girls.

What has happened to the hostages taken to Gaza by Hamas hardly bears thinking about. Yet every atrocity has its apologists, who claim the terrorists are really freedom fighters. They’ve been out in force since the weekend, taking to the streets and social media to blame the victims, while hailing marauding sexual predators and killers as heroes. It’s as if terrorists have to steel themselves to assault helpless young women, doing it for the cause rather than because they enjoy it. 

Witnessing this species of rape apology over the last few days has made me sick to my stomach. One of many horrifying images showed the inert body of a young German-Israeli woman lying in the back of a truck, being driven round Gaza while men spat on her. Are we supposed to believe that these jubilant misogynists eventually parked up, went home and read bedtime stories to their nieces?

In 2017, when there was a series of fatal terrorist attacks in London as well as the Manchester Arena bombing, I noticed that almost all the perpetrators had histories of domestic violence. It was true of the Right-wing extremist who attacked worshippers leaving a mosque in North London, as well as the Islamists who drove into pedestrians on London Bridge.

I wrote a book, Home Grown, which was a catalogue of men who had beaten and sexually assaulted women in their own families before they became notorious as terrorists. I argued that conventional wisdom, which blames terrorism on ideology, had got it wrong. These men were excited by violence, and that’s why they were attracted to terrorist organisations like ISIS which trafficked women, among other war crimes.

After the book was published, I was invited by the police and the Home Office to be involved in a project that analysed just over 3,000 referrals to the Prevent programme in England and Wales in 2019. It showed that almost 40% of adults referred to Prevent had a history of domestic abuse — and that was no doubt an underestimate, given that domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes. The comparable figure for children was 30%, another likely underestimate because under-16s were not routinely questioned about domestic abuse in the home.

If that’s true of men living in a relatively peaceful country like the UK, imagine what it’s like living in a claustrophobic environment like Gaza. Rates of domestic violence soar in conflict situations, and in 2019 the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics said that 41% of women in Gaza had experienced domestic violence. In a patriarchal society, where reporting this kind of violence is likely to be met with indifference, the real figure is bound to be much higher.

What this means is both chilling and obvious. When people who imagine themselves to be “progressive” cheer on Hamas, they’re siding with pitiless misogynists. And it is women, in both Israel and Gaza, who get forgotten when idiots make excuses for rapists and murderers.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.