Hatred of Women Is Jihadism’s First Pillar

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Veiled women walk past a billboard that carries a verse from the Koran urging women to wear a hijab, in the northern province of Raqqa, Syria in March 2014. Stringer/Reuters

Conservatives, jihadis and atheist Islamophobes often preach that we are engaged in a war of civilizations between the post-Enlightenment West and Islamic religious extremists. Such apocalyptic talk only feeds the Islamic State (ISIS) death-cult’s recruitment. A meme with the national security punditocracy on jihadis is that they hate our freedom. Of course, the vast majority of Muslims on the planet are not at war with the West. On the contrary, tens of millions are voting with their feet right now, for the West.

But there is one of our freedoms that some of the jihadis do want to crush. How many Colognes and Tahrir Squares, how many ISIS sex slave fatwas, how many Afghan and Pakistani schoolgirls shot or threatened, and how many Saudi prison sentences for gang-rape survivors will it take before people start to understand that hatred of feminism is the first pillar of modern jihadism?

The events in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve dragged the issue into the open. Up to a thousand men attacked women and girls—single, in groups, with men: it didn’t matter—tearing at their clothes, groping, robbing purses and cellphones, and in some cases raping them. The mass assault was reminiscent of attacks on women in Tahrir Square. They reminded the world yet again that violence against women is the sine qua non of a certain corner of cultural Islam.

This is something good progressives are supposed to ignore: Blame jihadism on colonialism, Bush’s Iraq war and Obama’s drones, and blame endemic sexual harassment and violence in places like Egypt on failed economies.

Anecdotes are easy enough to come by. When we lived in Paris more than 10 years ago, we heard stories of French schoolgirls being taunted as “whores” by the sons of Arab immigrants. The problems of assimilating second-generation men, whose covered and cowed mothers are subject to sharia mores at home, into a post-feminist society are well known and easily documented, but very little has been done to address it.

It’s not hard to understand what happens to young men, raised in households where men have total physical and economic control—and, in fact, the power of life or death over wives, sisters and daughters—when they step out on the streets of European cities and find not just uncovered women going about their business and bus ads for Intimissima, but women who probably won’t do what these men order them to do.

Welcome to the West, boys, and specifically the sophisticate cities of Europe, with half-naked female models emblazoned on every billboard and laughing, real women driving cars and spurning frustrated young male newcomers’ heavy-handed advances.

What nobody is asking is how to stem the simmering rage these men feel against the affront of having such an intimate and fundamental power taken away.

The Cologne attacks have so far spawned 379 criminal complaints, with investigations focused largely on asylum seekers or illegal migrants from north Africa, police have said. About 40 percent of the complaints involve sexual assaults, from groping to rape.

On Saturday, police sprayed water cannons on German protesters incensed by the Cologne attacks but fighting each other, one group involving Pegida, the pan-European anti-Islam organization, and the other from the feminist, pro-immigration left.

The Cologne assaults have, predictably, turned into another flashpoint about refugees.

The problem with that response is that while it’s certain they were Arabs or North Africans, police are finding that, of the handful they have been able to identify, none of the men were Syrian. They were, however, among tens of millions of migrants who have poured into Europe, provoking the greatest current political crisis in the EU.

Europeans contemplating immigrants now have a pair of dueling images and dueling sentiments. One is compassion for the dead toddler on the beach. The other is nativist revulsion for the terrorized blonde woman on BBC talking about being stripped, robbed and groped by a mob of non-European men in the center of a European city.  

Very probably, good police work and Angela Merkel’s promise to deport thugs will deter more attacks. Terrorism expert Jytte Klausen, a Brandeis professor who studies jihadi networks in the West, says the Cologne attacks were not spontaneous, but apparently a flashmob coordinated by cellphone. “The question is if gangs were behind the mobilization or extremist elements took the initiative,” she says. “We still have a lot to learn about how cellphone networking is used for rioting and rapid mobilization.“ She says Islamist gangs used similar techniques in protests against the Danish cartoons in 2006, again during the Arab Spring and in 2011 in London.

The targeting of women is no accident, either.

”The mob aggression against women was not an unfortunate result of displaced anger over not having ‘a place’ in society,” she said. “Misogyny and hatred of Jews are central memes in street-level jihadism. It works to prop up the sense of ‘being special’ that the jihadists cultivate as part of their ‘bro’ bonding exercises.”

Middle Eastern women are familiar with the danger of the street. Laws dictating modesty and separation of the sexes in these countries reflect the deeper cultural notion that women tempt men, and that men can’t be held accountable for their behavior. In Cairo, after the uprising, Egyptian women were attacked on videotape, a grotesque reminder for women with any ideas about going outside and confronting the supposed uncontrollability of men around women. But most of the violence is unreported, unnoticed, suffered in silence.

That observation always brings down the wrath of Muslims, who point out that women in Islamist or sharia-law nations do work, that they are doctors, professors, government administrators, even heads of state. That’s all true, but they too must tread carefully. They unquestioningly accept—the way we accept rain—that it’s not just dangerous but illegal to walk around uncovered in places like Riyadh and Tehran, and they know better than to walk on the streets of Cairo with or without a headscarf and expect to be able to get more than a block without being viciously harassed. Sure, some are mobile: Those with money have drivers. The vast rest of them scurry and cower when outdoors, or hide at home.

It’s no coincidence that when women did start stepping out in the 1950s and 1960s—the first uncovered generation—the regional Islamist backlash began in earnest.

Apologists will also say that American women are subject to rape and misogyny. It is absolutely true that the whole world is infected with misogyny. But there’s a spectrum, and we do happen to live on the better end, as Egyptian writer Mona Eltahaway wrote in her seminal piece on the topic in Foreign Policy titled, “Why Do They Hate Us?”

“Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many ‘Western’ countries,” she says. “That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women. So, let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.” Her list includes female genital mutilation, virginity testing and the fact that the Arab countries all rank “rock bottom” in a global gender gap report.

The organized attacks in Cologne had a very specific goal: to sow fear in German women, to put them back in “their place”—the same place they occupy in Riyadh and Raqqa and Kabul, cowering under black or blue blankets. Of course, European women won’t go there, but the sense of unease will linger, an unease that wasn’t there before. On Saturday, artist Milo Moire, a 32-year-old, stripped naked and stood in the freezing air with a sign that said, “Respect Us! We’re not fair game even when we’re naked.”

But curing—and that’s what it will have to be—the emotional illness of acculturated misogyny in young men is going to take a lot more than a naked woman standing in the cold in pink sneakers with a sign, the firing of the Cologne police chief, hand-wringing by Merkel or even the fury and protests of Pegida. Things will get worse for women in Europe—not to mention the real and forgotten victims, hundreds of millions of women in the Middle East—until those pontificating on how they want to destroy our freedoms start naming the one they really want to erase.