November 18, 2004

Islamism & sex

A lot of people seem to be linking to this Theodore Dalrymple commentary on the reasons behind the murder of Theo Van Gogh (I first saw it on LGF). I generally find Dalrymple's work interesting, although he writes in a manner that seems easy to discount -- one could conclude that he's extrapolating from one or two personal experiences overly broad generalizations:

The abuse of women has often, if not always, appealed to men, because it gives them a sense of power, however humiliated they may feel in other spheres of their life. And the oppression of women by Muslim men in Western Europe gives those men at the same time a sexual partner, a domestic servant, and a gratifying sense of power, while allowing them also to live an otherwise westernized life. For the men, it is convenient; interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, almost the only openly hostile expressions toward Islam from British-born Muslims that I hear come from young women, some of whom loathe it passionately because they blame it for their servitude.

Religious sanction for the oppression of women (whether theologically justified or not) is hence the main attraction of Islam to young men in an increasingly secular world. This explains why a divide often opens between brothers and sisters in the same European Muslim family; the sisters want liberty, but the brothers enforce the old rules. They have to, or the whole gratifying system breaks down.

I am reminded, though, that in describing the milieu in which modern Islamism steeped and stewed and festered before its full blown birth, Nazih Ayubi -- author of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World, written in a style not so easy to dismiss -- considered the threat posed by shifting relations between the sexes as one of the fundamental props of Islamism's appeal. I wrote about all that a bit in an entry on Sayyid Qutb. Ayubi, it bears repeating, wasn't writing about Muslims in Europe, but rather about Muslims in the Arab world.

Posted by Ideofact at November 18, 2004 01:02 PM

The idea that subjugation of women is the main attraction of Islam for young men is a truly bizarre and offensive statement.

There are plenty of problems in the way that Muslim men treat Muslim women, and sometimes Islam is used as an excuse/justification, but the problem is oftentimes worst among "muslims" who are not religious. Arab or other cultural values that have little to do with Islam (this culture is often perpetuated by people who drink alcohol or use drugs, do not pray five times a day and often engage in sex outside of marriage -- clearly not people who are concerned with following Islam or attracted by it) are the biggest factor in such abuse.

And the idea that liberal western secular culture is the answer is a huge joke to me. What do you think is the biggest attraction of the porn industry in the West? Most of it is based on fulfilling the desire of men to subjugate and demean women. The same could be said for much of popular youth music, most obviously but by no means exclusively hip hop music which is widely popular across the culture.

It is true that a divide often develops among immigrant families: but I don't think it is at all a Islam vs. no-Islam divide.

Taking real problems and then attributing motivations that fit what one would wish were the motivations is a big problem on both sides of the "Western"/"Islamic" divide.

To say that the problem of poor treatment of women is the fault of Islam or is what attracts people to Islam is no more edifying than sterotypical views of Western motives that many Muslims have that would be absurd to anyone with a deep familiarty of the reality of western culture.

Oh, and by the way, most converts to Islam among "White" Europeans and European -- Americans are women. I am trying to find a study of the subject but the ratio I have seen quoted is usually 4 women to every man who has converted. How does that fit this little theory? And many men who convert come from a liberal perspective with feminist views of women prior to conversion (this second part is based on my anecdotal experience but I think its really important to real understanding of what is at work rather than sterotypes perpetuated or devised by people suspicious of religion.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at November 19, 2004 11:16 AM

I've never much cared for explanations that cite a single cause for a phenomenon; still, it's interesting that Theo Van Gogh's film rubbed such a raw nerve that he was murdered by someone who believed Islam demanded it.

I wondered whether it had as much to do with the obvious example of female independence and empowerment in the person of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but that would be two sides of the same coin...

I originally thought of writing a longer post on this theme of fascism or totalitarianism and sex -- certainly the Nazis and the Soviets had developed their own ideas about the role of women, as had Mussolini. Maybe I'll get around to it one of these days.

Posted by: Bill at November 19, 2004 12:46 PM