Islamic Extremism and Fear of Women's Sexuality

Thursday, January 19, 2006
The German weekly, Stern, talks with Salman Rushdie.


British author Salman Rushdie said the West had failed to grasp the extent to which Islamic extremism was rooted in men's fear of women's sexuality.
...
"The Western-Christian world view deals with the issues of guilt and salvation, a concept that is completely unimportant in the East because there is no original sin and no savior," he said, in comments printed in German.

"Instead, great importance is given to 'honor'. I consider that to be problematic. But of course it is underestimated how many Islamists consciously or unconsciously attempt to restore lost honor."
...
Rushdie, 58, said that much of the anger toward the West was provoked by that split on sexual issues.

"(It is) because Western societies do not veil their women. Because they do not defuse this potential danger," he said.

Well, there certainly are other cultures with no concept of original sin and redemption and though they repress their women, probably for much the same reasons, they don't exactly veil them. Nor do they inflict suicide bombers on the rest of humanity in protest. I would surmise a lot of the actual overt behavior has as much to do with the not-to-be-named individual these Islamists are emulating.

Western culture has its rapists and sexual predators like any other society, and they existed long before women went bikini. But the majority of Western men adapted along with the hemlines. Today's erogenous zones are much smaller than they were a century ago.

But a religion written in stone and immutable does not allow its adherents to adapt, nor its erogenous zones to change. And it forces its women to be the keeper of the zone, refusing to give the male any responsibility for his own behavior.

(h/t Rantburg)

40 comments:

Syl said...

You all chicken?

::ducking::

Knucklehead said...

Nor do they inflict suicide bombers on the rest of humanity in protest.

Pretty much sums up the what has to change. When mom's and sisters finally achieve the power to tell husbands, sons, and brothers, "You're not leaving this house dressed like that!" rather than the other way around, the suicide bomb vests will find their way into attics. Not exactly where they belong but it would be an improvement.

If one wants a better society one must free one's women... It don't make nuttin' simpler or easier, just better.

Eric Blair said...

I seem to remember some book, the crux of which was that white racism against blacks was all wrapped up in white guys being afraid that black guys were going to bone white women. (Or something like that. Maybe it was all racism. Anyway, white guys being afraid of black guys boning white women was the point.)

I'd love to see what that author would make of the Saudis.

All that being said, the issue of things like 'honor killings' and what not do seem to support Rushdie's assertion.

flenser said...

Why are women so consumed with the idea that men have this great fear of womens sexuality?

I guess a follow on question would be why women are so obsessed with the topics of sex in general and their own sexuality in particular. See any issue of any women's magazine.

I have never heard a man obsess about his own sexuality in a similar fashion.


More directly on topic. it's a mistake to see all this as a male vs female issue, although that is the only prism through which feminists can view the world. The hard fact of the matter is that Muslim women are on the same side as Muslim men. People are kidding themselves if they think otherwise.

Knucklehead said...

Syl,

Flenser is definitely no chicken! It seems he may have been absent the day they did the whole "Discretion is the better part of valor" schtick in 3rd grade, but the boy ain't no chicken.

And what is it wit broads and the whole sexuality thing anyway. Get back in yonder kitchen an' quit frettin' 'bout it.

Put another log on the fire.
Cook me up some bacon and some beans.
And go out to the car and change the tyre.
Wash my socks and sew my old blue jeans.
Come on, baby, you can fill my pipe,
And then go fetch my slippers.
And boil me up another pot of tea.
Then put another log on the fire, babe,
And come and tell me why you're leaving me.

Now don't I let you wash the car on Sunday?
Don't I warn you when you're gettin fat?
Ain't I a-gonna take you fishin' with me someday?
Well, a man can't love a woman more than that.
Ain't I always nice to your kid sister?
Don't I take her driving every night?
So, sit here at my feet 'cos I like you when you're sweet,
And you know it ain't feminine to fight.

So, put another log on the fire.
Cook me up some bacon and some beans.
Go out to the car and lift it up and change the tyre.
Wash my socks and sew my old blue jeans.
Come on, baby, you can fill my pipe,
And then go fetch my slippers.
And boil me up another pot of tea.
Then put another log on the fire, babe,
And come and tell me why you're leaving me.

Knucklehead said...

Syl,

Silliness aside, I tend to doubt that this is a matter of "fear", or at least not wholly so, of women's sexuality. A sense of ownership, perhaps, but not simple fear.

This is more like a case of "property rights". If there is "fear" it is fear of losing the property rights and/or having those rights restricted in any way. Perhaps fear of the demands that would accompany any "liberation" of the property.

I suspect that it is not simply women's sexuality they wish to retain absolute control over but the entire package. Sex may be a high value part of the package but not nearly everything.

Don't be so Freudian. Think out of the box. Sex and sexuality is not everything. Mastery, in the slaveholding sense, is the larger issue. Rushdie, I suspect, was playing to his audience here (or maybe he has succumbed to his audience, that is a chronic malfunction among writers - especially ones with bills to pay).

Syl said...

flenser

You making generalities again?

Why are women so consumed with the idea that men have this great fear of womens sexuality?

don't look at me.

I think men have a fear of their own. But it's much much less in some cultures than others. In ours I really believe it's very little.

You're on a roll today:

it's a mistake to see all this as a male vs female issue, although that is the only prism through which feminists can view the world.

First nobody is viewing 'all this' as only a male/female issue. It is one aspect of it.

Second, since when is Salman Rushdie a feminist? And you'd better as heck define just exactly who you include in 'feminist'. I bet your definition would be tautological.
However one spells it.

The hard fact of the matter is that Muslim women are on the same side as Muslim men. People are kidding themselves if they think otherwise.

When one knows only dependence and life under rules (for everything), it's sometimes hard to even conceive of any other way. And some people prefer it that way. It's true.

Some other people would at least like to have the choice.

flenser said...

Knucklehead

I also thought that Rushdie was "playing to the audience" a bit.

But I'm not sure that your master/slave relationship holds up either. I think its a mistake to view Islamic women as being an oppressed class. I have seen Western secularists make similar remarks about conservative Christian women - that they must be somehow coerced into thinking as they do. Surely all "enlightened" women would reject such retrograde thinking?

I don't know any way to prove the matter one way or another, but I believe that most women in the Islamic world fully embrace the Islamic worldview. They appear to see Western women as the ones who are degraded and treated as mere objects.

Syl said...

Knuck

Why the vehemence? The relationship between males and females in these societies is complex, yes. But dismiss sexuality as 'Freudian' is kind of silly.

I've personally seen aspects of this in closer cultures. Yes, possession of the woman as your property is spot on. But that property includes her sexuality.

I've been yelled at because somebody in public was looking at me. Somebody I didn't even notice.

If one man gets 'turned on' by something, he assumes every other man will too. I've experienced that. If Osama gets excited seeing an ankle, then all women should cover their ankles.

Just look at some old photographs. See what bathing suits looked like a century ago.

The erogenous zones certainly aren't the entire story, but they do play a role.

You guys are all fine. No problem. It's the cultures which don't accept the changes you have which are.

Buddy Larsen said...

After raising a few little rug-biters, I call them zones "error-genius".

markg8 said...

Al Sistani says men are not to go shirtless and if they wear shorts they have to be below the knee.

markg8 said...

Are we to assume the whole islamofacism problem is a manifestion of small penis syndrome? We gotta start bombing them with penis extension spam then.

Knucklehead said...

Syl,

I assure you, no vehemence intended. I've been impish today but have not even been remotely on the same continent as vehement. And darn, too, 'cause I was just on the verge of deciding that since the day has gone this far without giving in to aggravation, annoyance, or frustration I might as well just declare the whole thing a "negative fellings free day". Now this. Sigh... Well, sadness is better than madness. Nonetheless my entire day, which had progressed so nicely, is ruined. And it's all your fault!

"Fruedian" was used purely tongue in cheek. I'll go revisit what I said and see if I can do better.

flenser said...

I can tell Knuck is a married man. ;)

Buddy Larsen said...

It takes strong identity-formation to use 'Freudian' and 'tongue-in-cheek' in the same sentence.
\;-D

Knucklehead said...

Flenser,

In so far as I got through what Rushdie had to say I understood him to be analyzing the male side of this. My assertion (a pretty ignorant one as I have no evidence for what lies in the dark minds and cold hearts of Islamic extremists, male or otherwise, in matters of sexuality) is that the MALES view women as "property". Whether or not the females see it that way is another matter.

flenser said...

Knucklehead

I saw a retrospective piece on the Iranian revolution (1979?) a couple of weeks ago.

One scene which stuck in my mind was an Iranian woman if full chador telling the camerman "This is true dignity! This is true freedom!"

National Geographic had a picture on the cover back in the '80's I think of a young Afghani woman with haunting eyes. I'm sure you have seen it.

They tracked her down a few years ago and spoke to her. She is not "anti-American" I think, but is fully commited to her own lifestyle and culture, including the veil, and had no interest in coming to America.

I'm sure you have also seen the Palistinian women bragging about how many children of theirs were killed as suicide bombers.

These are anecdotal examples rather than generalities.

Here is a generality and a theory - women are the key element in the transmission of culture from one generation to the next. Muslim culture could not exist as it does unless Mulsim women on the whole were commited to it.

I don't doubt that the male-female thing in the Muslim world is different than in ours and is hard to understand. It seems analogous to what existed in the West a hundred years or so ago.

This goes to the question of whether we are involved in a great "clash of civilisations" or not. If we are, then even the Muslims we are currently allied with are simply allies of convience and we will end up fighting them down the road. You read Yon - the Kurdish troops he admires are all Muslims, I assume. My guess is that their relationship with their women is not what a modern Westerner would consider proper. But I'm not sure that we can or should try to change it for them.

Knucklehead said...

Syl,

But dismiss sexuality as 'Freudian' is kind of silly.

Yes, it was. I started out that post by putting silliness aside but given my mood today I could not sustain it.

Please accept my apology. I was unaware that the term might touch a nerve. That is a result of my own insularity. At the risk of bringing the wrath of Jamie (and our other mental health professional) down upon me I admit to the fact that what little exposure I've had to Freud always struck me as pretty absurd.

I've personally seen aspects of this in closer cultures. Yes, possession of the woman as your property is spot on. But that property includes her sexuality.

Yes, it is everything, all facets, attributes, and services.

I've been yelled at because somebody in public was looking at me. Somebody I didn't even notice.

Ummm... Does that experience really tell you something about men in general? For example...

If one man gets 'turned on' by something, he assumes every other man will too.

This may be common enough among we males to be categorized as "ordinary" behavior but I seriously doubt it is universal. It may, perhaps, be more accurate that males carry around a largely unconscious notion that if a woman is capable of, and takes some "action" to, "turn on" one man then she can do the same for "all" men.

It would probably be even more accurate to say that some men see being "turned on" as an internal mechanism and others see it as the result of external mechanism (the intent of the woman). It would probably be most accurate to say that men switch between the two and are never entirely certain which is which.

Women's sexuality is, of course, one of their attributes and a source of power. I think it is a mistake to believe that men beyond adolescence are frightened by sexuality. Wary, curious, any number of feelings but rarely fear.

Fear is strong stuff and not all that easily provoked under reasonably ordinary circumstances among reasonably ordinary men. That may sound like some nutty macho statement but I don't believe it is. I suspect that females experience fear more frequently and easily than males and, therefore, tend to use it as an explanation a bit too readily. I may be getting overly hung up on the word but I still suspect Rushdie chose it carefully and purposefully for the sake of his audience.

I've experienced that. If Osama gets excited seeing an ankle, then all women should cover their ankles.

Yeah, but Osama is a freakin' loon. All males may have a whacky streak but precious few of us are apocalyptic, mass murdering, nutballs.

Just look at some old photographs. See what bathing suits looked like a century ago.

Ummm... we've come a long way, Baby. Pretty rapidly as far as social norms or acceptablility go. Vast swaths of the world still want their women covered pretty thoroughly and there ain't gonna be no photos of no bathing suits.

The erogenous zones certainly aren't the entire story, but they do play a role.

I didn't claim otherwise. I assert, however, that there's far more to the way men treat women than erogenous zones.

You guys are all fine. No problem. It's the cultures which don't accept the changes you have which are.

Yeah, like we had a choice; "Look guys, we're not talkin' simple 'no sex' here, we're talkin' no more ankle flashing and toe cleavage!"

Knucklehead said...

Flenser,

One scene which stuck in my mind was an Iranian woman if full chador telling the camerman "This is true dignity! This is true freedom!"

Fine, but what can we take from that? I have a vague recollection of a nun once desrcribing her situation as something like "freedom". Clearly not every woman in Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan agrees with that. Kris Kristoferson tells us freedom is "nothing left to lose". On an individual level freedom is whatever we decide it is.

Has that woman arrived at her sense of dignity and freedom by her own decisions as to what those things mean to her or has she arrived at them because she lives in a world where the only way a woman can walk about in public without suffering the indignities of being scorned, or vilified, or far worse, is by covering herself in full chador?

Notfuhnuttin', but if women in the Islamic world are fine with the world they live in, then more power too them. The rest of us, however, would appreciate it if they would exert such influence as they might have to stop, as Syl pointed out originally, inflicting suicide bombers on the rest of us simply because they disapprove or our notions of dignity and freedom. Nobody is telling her she can't wear her chador. We'd just like her to get some freakin' control of her whackjob male relatives.

Syl said...

Knuck

Hey, no problem. I knee-jerked my reaction. So I apologize too.

As to the 'fear' bit. That was Rushdie. I don't think men, in any case, fear woman's sexuality. If anything they might be leery of their own. (Speaking only of the specific group.)

And the rules as laid forth centuries ago both sexes live under. Accept the rules and life is easy--unless you're the one being stoned or put to death or having your hand cut off.

I'm falling asleep here...

terrye said...

This reminds me of knucklehead's post on the marriage gap. In a way. From mother to child....the family and its importance in society.

I read a story the other day about a Pakistani man who killed his three daughters to save his honor.

Their lives, his honor.

When we say that women seem to be participating in this therefor they are as responsible as the men we should remember that there were slaves who refused to leave the plantations when slavery was ended.

Just where were they supposed to go?

Women are property in a tribal culture that is patriarchal in its structure.

But when women are free and educated they tend to raise children who are free and educated. And an educated society can progress, but progress can be threatening to the guy in charge.


BTW honor killing predates Islam.

Knucklehead said...

Syl,

As to the 'fear' bit. That was Rushdie. I don't think men, in any case, fear woman's sexuality.

Nervous and jerky, high anxiety, hives, loss of motor skills and brain function, yes. But fear - never! I'm afraid Rushdie misused "fear" here.

(BTW, I explained the facts of male life to my daughters: there's only enough blood in the male body to operate one his two major organs at a time. If the one is operating the other is shut down.)

If anything they might be leery of their own.

Leery. Now there's a nice, non-threatening term. I'll gladly leave it at that ;)

Knucklehead said...

Terrye,

I read a story the other day about a Pakistani man who killed his three daughters to save his honor.

Their lives, his honor.


Wearing a full chador is one thing. Does anyone suppose any woman, anywhere, would describe this cultural condition as one of "freedom".

For the men among us, just try to imagine the mindset that allows a man to protect or recover his "honor" by killing his daughters. And if he'd kill his, what would he do to yours?

Why do we fight them? Not for their daughters but for ours. If theirs eventually benefit all the better.

Buddy Larsen said...

It was Mrs. O'Leery's cow that kicked over the lantern and burned down Chicago. Never, ever, forget that.

terrye said...

knucklehead:

I agree with you, it is for our daughters. But saving their daughters can save ours as well.

I read something interesting. Jodi Picoult writes fiction but like Crichton she has a background in science. In her latest book Vanishing Acts she makes the point that the gene in women most identified with nurturing is actually passed through the male line. Perhaps that is why men feel the need to protect their children, they too are wired for it.

I think that people fear change, even when change is desperately needed. Those women are afraid of something worse, their life experience is such that they don't expect anything better. And perhaps they fear the wrath of God.

flenser said...

Whose cow kicked over the lantren again? I forget.

Knucklehead said...

Terrye,

the gene in women most identified with nurturing is actually passed through the male line. Perhaps that is why men feel the need to protect their children, they too are wired for it.

I personally have no doubt there is some form of "wiring" that produces this. One does not convince oneself, or come to terms with some societal expectation. It is as if a switch is thrown - this is my child, I will protect and provide for her.

Assuming that this wasn't part of the ficton (I know nothing about any gene associated with nurturing) consider this within two contexts.

One is the context of the honor killing. I suppose it is somehow possible that the notion, the wiring, of "nurture" (protect and provide for) could be twisted and redirected away from one's female children and, instead, channeled to one's "honor". But it does not seem likely. Might there be a genetic difference between men who would kill their own daughters for honor and those who would not?

Also consider it within the context of the "Marriage Gap". Consider what Hymowitz called "The Mission". IIRC (and it's been ten years), one of the claims made by Herrnstein and Murray's Bell Curve was that natural selection applies to humans to some degree and that one of the things we (and particularly women) select for is successful child rearing; we try to pick mates who will not only produce strong offspring but will succeed best at raising them.

A portion of us have apparently stopped selecting for the child rearing success factor. In fact, a significant portion of us have apparently stopped selecting for anything. Childbirth is an afterthought - the mating selection was made upon other criteria entirely.

Nobody wants to talk about his because the discussion appears to be far too close to one of race. But it is not a matter or race. It is social clues which provide hints which guide the selection. When some segment of the population has lost all track of the social clues, let alone the orderly aquisition and implementation of the skills necessary, they become doomed, over time to failure (by societal measures). Over time we transform a social issue into a genetic issue.

As you said earlier this was probably always so. But the US had (surely still does to a degree) some intrinsic safeguards in place to stall the progress of the transformation. The intrinsic safeguards are the lack of a social class/caste system. The social clues could not be easily mimiced by elaborate class rituals. One was either "doing OK" or one wasn't. Slowly but surely we seem to be elaborating upon the class rituals that help to mimic the social clues for the top end while simultaneously erasing the social clues for the bottom end.

We still have no real social barriers to the top end and many social attractions for seeking to enter it. On the other hand, while there are no barriers to the bottom end there are certainly no attractions leading people to seek to enter it. Mobility among the bulk of the population will likely continue but we're wiring the poverty end of it right into its place. This is almost certainly still a matter of primarily social factors but time, and natural selection, will convert it to a hard-wired problem.

Knucklehead said...

Flenser,

Don't worry about it; there's no point fretting over burned down cities. Just be leery so it doesn't happen again.

Jamie Irons said...

In my line of work one rapidly learns that sex is an irreducible mystery. I was privileged to have been a protegé of the late, brilliant Robert Stoller; I highly recommend his book "Sexual Excitement," which attempts, through a detailed an strartlingly original case study, to understand just that one facet of the problem named in the title. Ingenious as he was, I don't think Dr. Stoller succeeded.

I am extremely suspicious, a fortiori, of any attempts to explain the behavior of groups by an appeal to sexual psychology, or sexual factors.

But there is no doubt in my mind, for all that, that the Islamic take on sex is a catastrophic -- what? mistake? -- and one source, among many, of the chronic misery of that benighted "civilization."

Jamie Irons

Jamie Irons said...

Of course, I meant to say startlingly original...

A further query about what I called the "chronic misery of Islamic 'civilization'"...

Perhaps that's not fair, as I have seen plenty of pictures of what look like happy, normal people and children coming out of Iraq since we toppled Saddam. But the more "fundamentalist" Muslims do seem distinctly miserable, and chronically angry, even when they aren't lobbing bombs at us. Do these people ever laugh (I mean of course in a mirthful, not fiendish, manner)? Do they ever just kick back and relax? Or is it just a sort of pious hatred, all-pious, all the time, 24/7/365?

Jamie Irons

Buddy Larsen said...

Don't look on THIS planet for a happy-go-lucky religious hysteric.

flenser said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
flenser said...

Monomaniacs of any sort are not noted for their cheerful and easygoing dispositions. But many writers who have visited the Middle East have found the Arabs to be great people.

See Jim Geraghty here for example. He says they rank up there with the Irish for their personal warmth. And I have seen similar accounts before.

terrye said...

Knucklehead:

I have known a lot of people who married or mated with people they thought they knew, but did not.

I was one of them.

Knucklehead said...

Terrye,

How's that old saying go...

Men marry women expecting they will never change. Women marry men assuming they will change.

Successful marriages are the ones where the woman changes the man to her liking before he even realizes it happens to him.

Unsuccessful marriages are the ones where the woman puts to much emphasis on a full head of hair and, ummm... other stuff. (BTW, I'm just screwing around here, not trying to tell you that you should have done anything different than dump the dolt.)

Syl said...

Jaimie

I am extremely suspicious, a fortiori, of any attempts to explain the behavior of groups by an appeal to sexual psychology, or sexual factors.

But there is no doubt in my mind, for all that, that the Islamic take on sex is a catastrophic -- what? mistake? -- and one source, among many, of the chronic misery of that benighted "civilization."


Thanks for weighing in here, Jaimie!

Syl said...

knuck

Men marry women expecting they will never change. Women marry men assuming they will change.

Funny, but I fully expect my men not to change. It's what they 'are' that I fall in love with.

In fact, for me, it has been the hope that I would change. That's just as delusional as to expect the other to transform.

Buddy Larsen said...

I think, you can make another person miserable, but you can't really make another person 'happy'.

People have to want to BE happy. If your spouse expects you to make her happy, without her really wanting to BE happy--well, welcome to something that works a little less well every passing year, as Mr (or Mrs) Make-Happy slowly runs out of fresh routines and Mrs. (or Mr.) Needy wanders psychologically out of the magic circle.

Thing is, the Performer may've originally wanted that sort of rapt attention, and only 20 years later gets tired of slipping on banana peels and farting Dixie.

So there's two sides to every story, i 'spose, and then the third, or "true" side, which just belongs to the wind.

Knucklehead said...

Syl,

That makes you the rare angel.

Literature suggests that women marry diamonds in the rough imagining what and incredible gem they can cut from such promising raw material. Men marry diamonds imagining nobody would dare take hammer and chisel to such a gem ;)

My wife is sitting now with a pile of rubble that has some vague industrial worth wondering "WTF?!?!, There was a gem here, where did it go!"

Buddy Larsen said...

Like Ronald Reagan's (blessed be his name) joke about the little boy shoveling the great big pile of manure, "There's gotta be a pony in here SOMEPLACE!"