From The National Post
What jihadists oppose most
Sure, radical Islamists are upset by infidels and the existence of a Jewish state. But their biggest gripe of all? Feminism
George Jonas, National Post Published: Wednesday, December 09, 2009
In an interview made available on the Internet last month ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2wvqDfitLY), Dr. Hamid Tawfik, a Cairo-born physician who describes himself as a former jihadist, is asked why he came close to becoming a terrorist. He replies that it was the influence of “a certain [fundamentalist] form of religious teaching” he encountered while at university. “It was not poverty,” he explains. “I came from a wealthy family. It wasn’t lack of education. I was in medical school, my father was an orthopedic surgeon, my mother was a French teacher, so it wasn’t any of this …It was basically a religious form of teaching that instructs us to use violence with non-Muslims or with Muslims who do not conform to our value system.”
Later in the interview, in answer to the question of who is the “enemy” –is it the West, any non-Muslim, the Jews –Dr. Tawfik is unequivocal:
“The West, but in particular, women’s rights. Women’s rights was the first enemy for us.”
He adds that it’s strange feminism should have been the biggest gripe of jihadists, but it was. He is emphatic that this is why, wherever a “radical [Islamist] group” acquires power, the first thing it does is suppress women.
“First thing, before anything else, they tell women not to go out, to wear the hijab …”
If Dr. Tawfik is accurate, as I suspect he is, what lessons can we draw from it?
None, I’m afraid, that we could translate into immediate, practical policies. Since we don’t endow universities just to cut jihadists off at the pass, we won’t stop educating people, or stop trying to make them prosper, just because education and prosperity don’t prevent them from becoming jihadists. By the same token, we won’t exclude women from equal partnership in modern society just to assuage the feelings of Taliban types.
But while it would be hard to come up with preventive or protective measures based on Dr. Tawfik’s experience, his observations may orient us more reliably in our search for the “root causes” of Islamist terrorism than most Marxist-tinged left-liberal shibboleths that govern our thinking. It’s important to note that poverty and ignorance, while they may aggravate the “Talibanization” of Islam, aren’t its cause. Though this isn’t exactly news, it’s useful to have it reconfirmed that jihadists aren’t conjured up by economic disadvantage and ignorance alone, as “progressive” dogma would have us believe, but are bred in academia, attracting scions of the educated and moneyed classes just as often.
It’s not altogether surprising that feminism looms larger among the grievances of Islamist militancy than the historic loss of the Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, or even the “catastrophe” of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Cultures, like people, often have a greater tolerance for injury than for insult. When the West added the perceived “insult” of women’s rights in the second half of the 20th century to the injury of outpacing, outperforming and outflanking the House of Islam in the first half, feminism emerged as the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Muslim supremacists might have coped with modernity relegating their culture to second place behind the runaway success of Western civilization, but couldn’t tolerate a challenge to their status as patriarchs in their homes. Their chauvinistic strings, wound tight by the territorial, technological, military, geographic and economic reduction of Islam over the last 400 years, snapped when plucked under their own roofs by their own wives and daughters.
Liberalism’s quest of spreading wealth, power, privilege and knowledge is a worthwhile endeavour for its own sake, but it does little to alleviate cultural trauma. Antibiotics won’t cure a broken heart. An offer of more freedom doesn’t necessarily go over well in a world whose very name — Islam — means submission. Western programs of liberation, redistribution and education resemble the irrigation fallacy of early Zionism, which amounted to the illusion that “if the Jews make the desert bloom, the Arabs will welcome them.” That wasn’t the way it turned out.
The unforeseen side effects of anything frequently turn out to be more important than the anticipated main effects. It’s hardly an earth-shattering discovery that unintended consequences can be as important as intended ones, or more. Few would have foreseen that a group of women burning their bras in New York’s Central Park in the 1960s would help trigger a clash of civilizations complete with buildings collapsing in Manhattan 40 years later.
Even today, few see the nexus between the rise of feminism and Islamist militancy, or dismiss it blithely even when someone like Dr. Tawfik calls attention to it. They prefer chasing the chimera of received liberal wisdom, blathering about poverty, backlash against imperialism, Israeli settlements, lack of education and the rest.
Big mistake, I believe.
Why did Dr. Tawfik quit the jihadists, by the way? That was interesting. When requested to do something cruel, he discovered he couldn’t do it. Presumably, it was the same faith that launched him on the path to terrorism that stopped him. He appears to have remembered that God is merciful.