“The Quran liberated women from subhuman status, gave us rights to choose whom to marry, to work, to be in leadership positions, and to ultimately live in full dignity. And yet in 2015 Wahhabi imams have relegated women to subhuman status by allowing husbands to cane their wives into obedience and promoting a version of Sharia that permits forced and child marriages and condones honor killings. Women have become sexual objects through forced veiling, which makes our voices, skin, hair, and faces off-limits, and even a handshake is deemed a potentially arousing sexual experience.” ~ Ani Zonneveld (2015)
The U.S. pledges commitment to countering violent extremism. Paramount in this is a commitment to combating oppression and tyranny against women, as it can be a crucial building block in the development of civil society. This series of articles critically analyzes the perspectives and outlooks taken toward radical Islamist ideology and its attitude toward gender. It also attempts to elucidate why American attempts to counter such radicalism have been muted. Despite sincere emphases to work through economic development, civil rights, secularism, modernity, and moderate Islamic philosophy, just to name a few, the results remain uninspiring. Is it possible the most basic causal element in this fight has been missed? Namely, is there a fundamental ‘masculine obliviousness’ that is hindering the fight for greater female equality and liberty abroad? This work considers a gender/sexual explanation to assess conflictual masculine motivations that encompass more than the standard cultural, religious, and economic explanations dominating conventional political wisdom today. Most importantly, this approach pushes for new dialogues about masculine mindset that are necessary to empower the vaunted ‘missing male’ in this problem.
This gender issue is fundamentally important to foreign policy. It is not only a human security issue or Women’s Studies curriculum foundation and supports the evidence that how a state treats its women is the one of the single biggest indicators as to how peaceful a state will be: more than wealth, more than democratic consolidation, and more than ethno-religious identity. As Hillary Clinton expressed in 2010 when she was Secretary of State, women’s equality is not just about morality or humanitarianism or fairness. Rather, it is about the fundamental security survival of a state and is in the ‘vital’ interests of the United States.
The problem is not recognizing how important this challenge is in the 21st century. It is more about understanding why there seems to be so little progress in eliminating violence against women and general ignorance amongst men, many of whom wield significant decision-making power across the world. The Bush School database, for example, ranked most of the countries in the world on several categories of women’s security from best (0) to worst (4). Unfortunately, not a single country scored a high-ranking 0. Perhaps more disconcerting, the global average was 3.04, meaning even the most developed and free countries still suffered in one degree or another from widespread violence or hostility toward women. For comparison’s sake, the United States only scored a 2 because of the prevalence of domestic violence and rape. While some places can indeed be worse than others, the reality is that the situation is poor just about everywhere. It is time to expose the disconcerting unity of general male ignorance around the globe and the international security consequences it creates, especially within the context of Islamic radicalism.
Before a more serious analysis of the issues of gender, radical Islamist ideology, and American foreign policy is begun, there is value in showing how seemingly incomprehensible this subject can be: in 2015, the chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami Fazl (JUI-F), Maulana Fazlur Rehman, held a press conference in Pakistan in which he pleaded for the Pakistani military to launch military operations against women wearing jeans. According to Rehman, women’s general immodesty was responsible for everything from earthquakes to inflation to the Baluchistan crisis and even the lack of energy supply. Rehman would further say that any woman not dressed like a ‘sack of flour’ was akin to being a mobile weapon of mass destruction that was incurring the wrath of Allah and causing the Taliban to attack Pakistan. It was this final piece of foreign policy that motivated Rehman’s desire to have the Pakistani military attack not the Taliban but women inside of his own country, since they were the root cause.
While it would be easy to dismiss such anecdotes as absurd farce, there is relevance inside of the ridiculousness that remains all too common: namely, the innate discomfort of men to interact openly with women on a fully cooperative and co-equal basis. Until men are better equipped to understand their own need to dominate social, economic, and cultural relationships with women (and ultimately dismiss that need for dominance as inimical to societal progress and freedom), then most of the measures, policies and programs instituted to empower women will be failures. Despite good intentions, this is exactly why such initiatives from the United States meant to improve the plight of women, especially across the Middle East, have lacked impact.
Indeed, through most of the rich and diverse literature addressing gender issues within radical Islamist ideology, short analytical shrift is given to this attitudinal culpability of men. This series of pieces seeks to delve into a seemingly shared male mentality that is still uncomfortable with femininity, unless it is in a position of subordination. Applying this to the fight for advancing women’s progress in the Islamic world leads to the introduction of the term ‘enlightened demeaning sexism,’ a pernicious and pervasive version of feminist literature’s ‘benevolent sexism’ concept. Perhaps most disturbingly, understanding the impact of this version of sexism will help explain why Western institutions trying to improve the situation instead end up making little progress against extremist Islamist groups that openly fight gender equality and advancement. This series will no doubt not be popular for many. But it may be the discussion needed to propel new ideas forward that might create more effective policies.
Valerie Hudson. 2012. “What Sex Means for World Peace.” Bush School of Government and Public Service Communication. Texas A&M University. April 24.
Valerie Hudson. 2012.
Valerie Hudson. 2012.
Staff Desk. 2015. “Women Wearing Jeans are Reason Behind Earthquakes.” The New Indian Express. May 30.