…But the attraction of women to men with a propensity to violence is, in fact, hardly anything new. Serial killers are frequently bombarded with female attention: take John Wayne Gacy, who wed a woman he met while on death row, Carlos the Jackal, who married his lawyer four years into his life sentence, or of course, the original Bonnie and Clyde, a relationship of such a recognised dynamic it even has an eponymous syndrome, more scientifically known as Hybristophilia.
The American computational neuroscientists, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, in the 2011 book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships, noted: “It turns out that killing people is an effective way to elicit the attention of many women: virtually every serial killer, including Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and David Berkowitz, have received love letters from large numbers of female fans.”
While such examples are clearly extreme, when it comes down to it, this is perhaps little more than an extension of that hackneyed but most maddeningly inescapable of truths: some women just love a bad boy.
I myself am by no means immune to the charms (or the curse) of the bad boy. From the nightclub manager with a raging drug problem to the serial womaniser who insisted “I was different” (spoiler alert: I wasn’t), the landscape of my love life is littered with the men my mother warned me about. I’ve never personally ventured into the criminal or terrorist underworld in search of a date, but it doesn’t take too much mental manoeuvring to see that it’s essentially the same phenomenon, writ large.
As difficult as a bad boy curse is to live with, evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense, according to scientists. Dominant, swaggering alpha males, ‘bad boys’ tend to have the power, aggression and steely efficiency that, in a more primitive age, would have marked them out as competent protectors and providers. In A Billion Wicked Thoughts, Angela Knight, the author of erotic fiction, is cited as saying: “Our inner cavewoman knows Doormat Man would become Sabertooth Tiger Lunch in short order.”
In the modern world then, it is perhaps unsurprising that the bad boy instinct appears to be more acute in societies facing significant dangers of poverty or violence. In a 2011 survey of secondary school girls in the Mexican state of Michoacan – home to one of the country’s most notorious cartels, the Knights Templar (formerly La Familia Michoacana) – forty per cent said they aspired to have a cartel boyfriend. At the time a Mexico correspondent, I was far from shocked. In the drug war ravaged badlands, that is an entirely logical desire: it is they who can provide protection, social status and security, it is they who command armies, and respect. In a world of “fear or be feared”, they are the winners.
For many would-be jihadi wives, the Michoacan equation has a great deal of resonance. Within the confines of a certain viewpoint, the jihadi husband is a warrior, fighting for survival, for the interests of his tribe – and in the imagination of the lusting female at least – for his queen.