By Steve Biddulph, Sydney Morning Herald

Along with most Australians, I felt relief at the Coroner’s report on the Lindt Cafe tragedy. For all the shocking failures

that it exposed, it at least gave a sense that the truth could be told, and to the bereaved families, some resolution

offered. On closer reading though, I was alarmed at how superficially the motivation of the killer had been explained.

It jarred with what is known about the psychology of men – which has been a rapidly developing field in recent years.

The role of shame and failure is now being given far greater prominence in understanding men who commit harm.

Terrorism specialists such as France’s Olivier Roy believe that this sense of worthlessness, rather than any after-the-fact

“radicalisation”, is the driving factor for violent acts, and if we ignore this we will not solve the problem.

I think impact is a mistaken emphasis. What Monis was bolstering was his self-importance. It was a quest that had

characterised his entire incoherent life.

The Coroner then states: “Either way, he adopted extreme violence with a view to influencing government action and/or

public opinion concerning Australia’s involvement in the Middle East. That clearly brings his crimes within the accepted

definition of terrorism.” Yet almost by definition, narcissists and the personality disordered don’t give a damn about causes

or the plight of distant people.

This was a man who organised the murder of his wife and committed a number of sexual assaults. Are we to believe he

really cared about the bombing of civilians in Iraq, or the sectarian struggle in the Middle East? In working with men who

committed horrible acts – murder, child sexual abuse, rape – I never encountered a perpetrator who did not have, in his

own mind, a story that made their actions OK. Or in fact, admirable. It’s that last one that an IS or al-Qaeda connection

provides. But a cover story is all it is. If someone robs their milk bar and shouts “God is great”, does that make it a terrorist


The economics bestseller The Spirit Level devotes a whole chapter to the topic of male shame, as the determinant of crime

and violence in unequal societies. Men feel shame in a specific, and quite toxic, way. They often simply feel they cannot live

with humiliation.

Many of the men committing atrocities around the world have experienced severe loss of face: the Boston bombers; the father

of Luke Batty; the Port Arthur Massacre’s Martin Bryant; and the Columbine shooters were all humiliated men. This may largely

explain how nine out of 10 prison inmates are male, and that proportion is true historically. Many men of low status, exacerbated

by early life experiences of rejection or exclusion, would subscribe to “death before dishonour”. It’s a pillar of traditional masculinity,

and has been part of our military code for centuries.

Definitions of mental illness also seem deficient in this context. The Coroner rejected mental illness as an explanation

for the atrocities Monis committed. That doesn’t square with the abundant descriptions of the terrifying erraticism,

defensiveness and, basically, craziness of Monis given by his captives.

I don’t think we can put fences around mental illness with that kind of certainty.

There is no doubt that the tactics of Middle Eastern terror groups have taken a new turn. They are franchising terror to any

taker, any alienated young man, free of cost.

If we do not acknowledge what male disintegration looks like and include this in a more accurate, albeit broader definition

of mental illness and potential for violence, then we may see far more blood on our streets.

If we so easily lend the cachet of terrorism to what would otherwise be simply horrible acts by pathetic men, then that makes

them much more likely to recur. These are the acts of damaged and heartless men, and they are entirely predictable and

preventable once we know what we are looking for.

Steve Biddulph is a retired psychologist and author of The New Manhood.

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