Patrick Crusius El Paso shooting suspect
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‘It isn’t about sympathy or excuses, it is about identifying patterns and breaking them.’ Patrick Crusius, El Paso shooting suspect, pictured after his arrest.
A lot of young men seem to be lost and disenfranchised, but only the likes of Jordan Peterson are engaging with them

A horrific act of violence takes several innocent lives, a frantic live-stream details the events, terrifying mobile footage spreads rapidly online. Then come the tweets of condemnation from world leaders, followed by an onslaught of outrage split down partisan lines.

The way that shootings, or suicide bombings, or knife attacks are politicised depending on the backgrounds of the perpetrators and the victims shows how successful these acts are in deepening the divisions in society. And that is one of the intentions that the perpetrators share, no matter their race or politics.

Tougher gun laws would certainly help, but attackers will still use knives, lorries or homemade explosives to kill and maim, if that's what they set out to do. And while President Trump's words have indisputably fanned the flames of hate towards marginalised and minority groups, the anger and resentment he taps into existed long before he came along.

Surely the question we need to be asking runs deeper: be it anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim, anti-western, anti-women, anti-black, antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ, why are so many young men prone to being radicalised in this way?

I know that discussions around men and masculinity are just as politically charged as discussions around terrorism, which makes this a difficult area to address. This is partially what led to me to make a Guardian video series on modern masculinity this year.

As a journalist, I have covered stories in male-dominated spaces, from culture and sport to knife crime and terrorism. And I've noticed that conversations around the relationship between masculinity and violence were often dragged into a partisan debate where "the left" seemed to demonise men, and "the right" claimed ownership over masculine identity. This discussion has become even more charged with the rise of the #MeToo movement.

Jordan Peterson, whose book 12 Rules for Life is an international bestseller and whose videos on YouTube have amassed millions of views, remains a problematic figure due to some of his ideas. He has been accused of having an "alt-right" audience, although I was surprised when I went to an event of his in Birmingham to see quite a few men in the audience who described themselves as Jeremy Corbyn supporters, "lefties" and even Marxists.

Peterson's main tenet was that men (and women) need purpose and responsibility if they are to find meaning and direction in life. In a Fox News interview last year, Peterson was asked why young men were "shooting up schools". "Because they're nihilistic and desperate," he replied. "Life can make you that way unless you have a purpose and a destiny."


In a seemingly fractured world where organised religion is in decline, this point strikes me as an important one - especially when looking at the profiles of the men who are committing these horrific acts of violence.

Men who have grown up in disrupted families, and gone through the care or prison systems, have been more prone to radicalisation. Often they have little to no engagement with spirituality, politics or religion earlier in life, but are drawn to a vision of the caliphate, posturing on isolated interpretations of the Qur'an to legitimise murders in the name of some higher cause; or isolated white supremacists imagine a race war that paints them as brave heroes on a great mission. These are, of course, horrific extremes but it's clear that when people feel lost and disillusioned, there's a push to tribalism - finding belonging and purpose in a greater cause.

Anders Behring Breivik sought to give meaning to his murderous rampage. He wrote a 1,500-page manifesto railing against "the Islamisation of Europe" in July 2011 before killing 77 people in Norway. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who shot dead 51 people in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, this year, wrote a 74-page screed citing Breivik as an inspiration, and posted it on the web forum 8chan. And last weekend Patrick Crusius posted his own manifesto on 8chan before killing 20 people in El Paso, Texas, in an attack aimed at Hispanics.

In the Fox interview, Peterson had noted how the shooters influenced each other, saying: "It's like a psychological epidemic these people keep track of each other and there's a competitive element to it ... part of what drives them is motivation for notoriety - notoriety is better than being ignored."

Whatever people feel about Peterson's politics, there is undoubtedly something in what he is saying here. People on the left tend to respond to him tribally, rather than engaging with his ideas, but there are times when this is surely counterproductive. Peterson isn't the first to explore these questions of purpose and meaning, but the way he packages them has made him accessible to a huge audience. In turn, this has allowed him to "own" the discussion around masculinity.


Comment: It's very unlikely this was Peterson's goal. How can have a discussion if one person 'owns' it. That's not a discussion, it's a lecture.


His biggest critics accuse him of being a pseudo-intellectual and dismiss him as an alt-right icon. Yet few on the left offer up well-developed ideas on the crisis of masculinity and the role of men - certainly there is no one who is speaking to lost and disenfranchised males with anything like his reach. It's not enough simply to call out the patriarchy, toxic masculinity or misogyny.

Addressing the perceived lack of purpose and meaning in these people's lives would be a first step in engaging the worrying number of disillusioned young men whose frustration, fear and anger is currently being harnessed by hardliners, be they jihadist recruiters or Trump.

It isn't about sympathy or excuses, it is about identifying patterns and breaking them, and offering solutions. The only way we can do that is to come off the partisan political script and ask questions about the complex issues surrounding men. Until we do that, we will be stuck in the same never-ending cycle.

- Iman Amrani is a Guardian multimedia journalist