The irrational hatred behind brutal acid attack

The coverage of the acid attack in Zanzibar has been hard to fathom at times.

Reporters have struggled to find a rational explanation for the atrocity in which the attackers planned to disfigure two young women at the very beginning of their adult lives.

Could it have been that they were dressed immodestly during Ramadan? Were they singing? Did they let it be known that they were Jewish?

It would appear that our perspective has become so warped that we can no longer identify an act of psychotic extremism when we see it.

Kirstie Trup and Katie Gee were in Zanzibar as volunteer teachers, an astonishing act of generosity and courage for two 18-year-olds who had just finished their A levels.

What if they had been walking down the street in bikinis, singing the Hatikvah with stars of David round their necks the size of rappers’ medallions? Would they have deserved this?

Even then, a quiet word of advice would surely have sufficed. And anyway, there is no evidence that the behaviour of these young women was anything other than respectful.

There is a highly specialised area of academic work into the psychology of antisemitism and some evidence of a statistical link between antisemitism and psychosis. Research by Steven K Baum, editor of the Journal of Antisemitism suggests that the more an individual holds antisemitic beliefs, the more likely he or she is to harbour psychotic thinking.

Dr Baum’s books, When Fairy Tales Kill and Antisemitism Explained attempt to demonstrate how a prejudice based on a perverse fantasy can spread through a culture and find expression in acts of violence against real human beings. His conclusions are terrifying, especially when extended to modern genocidal fantasies directed at Israel or the conspiracy theory that Jews were responsible for 9/11.

Antisemitism is an ancient hatred. Mysogyny is even older. I have no evidence that the acid attack in Zanzibar was antisemitic, but I have no doubt that it was misogynistic. And I believe a similar irrational psychosis drives the hatred of women that drives the hatred of Jews. It is not by chance that extremist Islam targets these two groups above all others.

Readers will know that users of social media who happen to be both Jewish and female can be the subject of the most appalling abuse, especially if the admit to supporting Israel.

It is quite possible that Kirstie’s and Katie’s attackers did not know they were Jewish. But there are concerns that extremism is on the rise in Zanzibar. One certain consequence of this tragedy is that young people will think twice before volunteering there.

And just like 9/11, how long before the first conspiracy theory surfaces — that the women’s injuries were self-inflicted perhaps?

Last updated: 12:45pm, August 16 2013