A Column By Jack D. Forbes
Native American Studies
University of California, Davis

Male Terrorism

 Aren’t virtually all serial killers men? Aren’t the two guys arrested for sniper killings in and around D.C. both males? Aren’t most hostage-takers and cruel occupation troops equally male?

What George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, and Dick Cheney won’t tell you about terrorism is this: it’s a male disease! Condoleezza Rice and other powerful women notwithstanding, the madness of violence, aggression, war, assault, rape, murder, conquest, dominance, and terrorism is, overwhelmingly, an insanity which strikes males primarily. Is it in the male DNA ? Perhaps; but it is also cultural because aggressive masculine drives to domination, superiority, and revenge seem to typify some societies, and some religious traditions, more than others.

Women can, of course, be vicious and mean, and they can goad men into violent action, but the kind of anger and sheer destructiveness which typifies the aggressive male rarely finds a female counterpart.

From the newsreels I have seen and reports read I would find it hard to imagine Hindu housewives and daughters attacking Muslim neighbors, stoning, beating, or burning them alive! Equally hard to imagine are Israeli women beating up Palestinian olive-pickers or running the Israeli war-machine and ramming down the walls of civilian homes. And while we have seen a couple of Palestinian women as suicide bombers, the overwhelming majority of bombers, fighters, and rock-throwers are males.

Whether it is President Bush threatening terror with his nuclear weapons, first strikes, and “preventive war” doctrine, or the Reagan-Bush administration providing funds to Saddam Hussein when the latter was launching chemical weapons against the Kurds, or extremist Muslim fanatics calling for the killing of innocents as acceptable strategy in a “just war,” we are led to one inescapable conclusion: many males seem insane!

Of course, some have written about the fragile male ego which explodes into violence at perceived slights, but the fact is that many men (and especially men from domineering, patriarchal cultures with exclusivist, “true believer” religious traditions) have a reservoir of smoldering anger just below the surface, or a need to offer proof of dominance by inflicting humiliation, pain, or visible signs of inferiority upon others. Often it is women and children who are the first victims to male ego-needs, as witness the recent male-ordered gang-raping of an innocent teen-age girl in Baluchistan as a punishment for her brother!

But it is terribly dangerous when major societies and movements are ruled by men only or primarily, because male behavior is, historically, all too predictable. Whether communist or capitalist, fascist or junta-installed, clerical or military, totally male government is too dangerous to be allowed to continue, given the kinds of “toys” of mass destruction available these days to angry fanatics and coldly-calculating world-dominators.

Male dominance typifies a number of major religions, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Orthodox Judaism, Islam, Southern Baptists in the USA, Northern Ireland Presbyterians, and, so far as I am aware, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Shinto. Only within indigenous (especially Native American) religious traditions can one find major female leadership and participation accepted widely.

Male priesthoods which can exclude women from religious leadership and which make all legal and doctrinal interpretations (as with the Pope, College of Cardinals, Islamic courts, etcetera) represent the religious counterpart of male secular leadership. Both are totally dysfunctional -  more than that, they are immoral given the track record of fanaticism, brutality, and persecution carried out for ages within and by the male-priesthood religions.

The union of male religion with male military dominance, as with Emperor Constantine’s merger of the Roman Empire with evolving Christianity, has been an all too frequent problem among human beings. The result is the suppression of dissent and, perhaps, of the original core of the religion in question.

It is time that women demand and be given an equal voice in all major institutions, religious and secular. My suggestion is that every parliament (or religious body) have two houses: one elected entirely by women and one by men, both with equal power.

No discussion of terrorism, school violence, domestic abuse, war and peace, or crime should take place without confronting the worldwide phenomena of male dominance-seeking and violence. And without the full empowerment of women such a discussion cannot even begin, since women’s voices are so rare in the scenes of “power.”


[Jack Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is a historian, social critic, and poet, covering issues of international and inter-ethnic relations for 45 years. His web site is