Social Question

mattbrowne's avatar

Most Muslims are not terrorists, but these days most terrorists are Muslims. Why?

Asked by mattbrowne (31605points) November 2nd, 2010

What are the root causes?

My previous related question

was about scenarios what could happen to Muslim societies in the future. This question is about the possible root causes for all the moping, bitterness, anger, aggression and physical violence.

Why do millions take to the streets because of a few (harmless) Danish cartoons in some newspaper?

Why 911?

Why put bombs on cargo planes?

Why is blood still smeared at the walls of the Lady of Salvation Church in Iraq with scraps of flesh remaining between the pews?

Why do radical Muslims have conflicts with everyone else in the world?

With humanists, atheists, Bahai, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists and people of almost any other belief system. While all the other religions and worldviews with very minor exceptions get along just fine, perhaps debating about problems that might exist?

Why have all attempts at reforming Islam failed? Why has the Age of Enlightenment reached India and Japan, but not the Arab world? Why do moderate Muslims not speak up?

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32 Answers

seazen's avatar

In a religion that quotes from its Holy Scriptures, in this case the Quran, how its ok to beat women… what do you expect? See here and adjacent videos.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

I believe Islamic terrorism is an outgrowth of the centuries-long dispute between Muslim and Christian cultures that dates back to the Middle Ages. The formation of the State of Israel after WWII, and the subsequent acceptance of Israel by the Western democracies simply ignited a powderkeg that had been smoldering since Ferdinand and Isabella ran the Moors out of Europe in the 15th Century.

iamthemob's avatar

I think in modern times, it’s less an issue of Islam and more an issue of the resource curse. Now, you generally see Islam taking over from a fundamentalist standpoint in areas rich in fossil fuels or precious gems in particular. Because the market requires no education, you can set up a system without one, or one never develops. Religions that privilege submission over individual exploration will, of course, both thrive and be used by those in control of resources to continue oppression.

Note – this is of course not the reason, but I think people focus too much on the religious reasons as opposed to the economic and power motivations for using religion in that way.

mattbrowne's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex – But why are Muslim extremists also fighting Hindus in India? Or the Buddhists in Thailand? Or the Bahai in Iran? They seem to be at odds with everyone.

kevbo's avatar

I’m sure I’m going to trip on my thinking, so I am open to being corrected on any errors.

First of all, I think many of your supporting details fail to prop up your question. Moping, bitterness, and even physical violence are not capital “T” terrorism. Marching and/or rioting is not capital “T” terrorism. Committing a massacre in a war zone is not capital “T” terrorism. Radicals of any flavor will have conflicts throughout the world. Other radicals that have worldwide conflicts include anarchists who protest globalism, Eco-“terrorists” such as Greenpeace who disrupt commercial and government activity worldwide, and on a smaller scale “radical” Christians who kill abortion providers, (attempt to) fix elections, and who once upon a time not too long ago burned crosses to terrorize their targets (i.e. the KKK).

If we are talking about contemporary terrorism in a post 9/11 sense, then we must acknowledge how such a group of radicals might have come to fruition. Am I incorrect in thinking this is a byproduct of the decades of conflict in Afghanistan that was perpetuated by Russia and the U.S.? Given that and the coming dominance of opium production, would not the minority of Muslims who would become terrorists come to be in a place like this?

Is it possible that nations in conflict with the U.S. saw terrorism as a way to engage in a proxy war without confronting the U.S. directly and therefore fomented Islamic terrorism? Might this be an explanation for the U.S. to declare “you’re either with us or with the terrorists”?

(Also, if we are going to separate—not split—hairs, why did we not invade Saudi Arabia even though the 19 individuals most responsible for sparking the Global War on Terror were Saudis?)

Even without any of the above, a lot of this discussion comes down to definitions and political boundaries. Somalis are “pirates” because they have no Navy or Coast Guard (yet began their aggression in reaction to illegal dumping and fishing along their coast). Recently, a disgruntled man in Texas flew his plane into an IRS building in retaliation for a tax dispute, but that somehow was determined not to be an act of terrorism. Did we, in this case, selectively remove the label because the man was not Muslim and not fighting for Islam?

This article goes further into the problems of invoking “terrorism” as a label vis a vis the Troubles in Great Britain. The parallels are interesting, I think.

Have moderate Muslims not spoken up? I would not be surprised if moderate Muslim voices are systematically marginalized in our conflict driven and sensationalist media. But putting that aside, I’m sure it is difficult in some ways to condemn your brothers when Islam places such great emphasis on the brotherhood of all Muslims. Irish Americans including elected officials certainly gave a wink and a nod (and sometimes more) to the IRA, presumably because they shared Irish Catholic heritage.

@mattbrowne, regarding your most recent comment above, are those examples you cite also instances of terrorism or are they more factional or ethnic conflicts? I’m mostly ignorant of the facts in those cases.

iamthemob's avatar

@mattbrowne – any “one god” religion where conversion is an element will do that. Christianity did it – and does it to this day. Judaism doesn’t, because there is no conversion aspect (it’s actually difficult to become a Jew, traditionally).

Hinduism has its own extremist elements (in many ways, it is like a “one god” tradition in that the major deities are incarnations) – consider it’s use to support a caste system. But it has a distinct element of personal responsibility (i.e., karma and it’s effect on reincarnation) that make it difficult to “spread”.

mattbrowne's avatar

@kevbo – In some cases both, for example in India. In Iran the Bahai are not victims of terrorists, but oppressed by the theocratic system itself.

mattbrowne's avatar

@iamthemob – How many Christian terrorists over the past 50 years do you know who have committed acts of terrorism in the name of Christianity? I only know a handful in the US and a few other countries killing abortion doctors

The IRA in Northern Ireland has killed in the name of nationalism, not religion.

iamthemob's avatar

Christianity’s role in the west and anti-gay violence. The WBC specifically with LGBT issues and generally with its hate-mongering. The emergence of the “Christian Soldiers” in the evangelical movement illuminated in Jesus Camp, where children are, arguably, brainwashed to the point of doing violence in the name of the Judeo-Christian god.

As stated before, the developed world allows for more assimilation, and more development in religion, than the developing world. But one is more Christian and one is more Islam. This means that the root cause isn’t the religion by necessity, but the way people are allowed to understand it. And even in the “western world,” the above examples show how Christianity is used to do violence and cause violence among the people.

Part of the issue is that we generally don’t believe in home-grown terrorism, or define it as terrorism as quickly, as we do foreign-born terrorism. And we can’t forget the Christian elements of the Oklahoma City bombing or what happened in Waco. And I would argue that the Catholic molestation scandals can be considered a direct and heinous terrorist attack on the children of the entire world. Rape when combined with the fear of divine retribution for disclosure should certainly be considered a terrorist event, in a general sense.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@mattbrowne , the Muslim/Hindu conflict in India is a long-standing one. It was Ghandi’s greatest lament. In Iran, the Bahai are a persecuted minority. Christians are persecuted in Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world.

I think part of the reason is just the sheer numbers of Muslims, coupled with the fact that many of them live in abject poverty, witness Bangladesh and much of Indonesia. Poverty always provides fertile soil for extremists.

I’ve never heard of a Kuwaiti or Emerati terrorist. These are people who are quite well off. Who wants to put a bomb on a plane when you can have a new Mercedes?

MilkyWay's avatar

i think that you need to review islam more, i have loads of muslim and hindu friends and we all get along just fine.
you seriously need to state where you read that the Koran said you can beat women up.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Unfortunately, both the Koran & the Christian Bible advocate the beating of women for a multitude of ‘infractions’ such as speaking out in church or presuming to teach a man anything. I agree with IchtheosaurusRex that poverty has a great deal to do with people being receptive to anger & extremism. You also have the Imams who control what these people are allowed to do & think, and religious leaders frequently condem ordinary human interactions & ‘see’ evil in places where it has no relevance. Anger & poverty frequently go hand-in-hand, & anger looks for targets. We do not generally hear about the more peaceful Muslims, because they are not considered ‘news worthy’, but surely they must exist or at least I sincerely hope that they do, as I cannot envision what it must be like to be a woman in an angry, male dominated society. Surely love must exist somewhere in the Muslim world.

ETpro's avatar

One factor is that most of the Islamic world froze into anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism somewhere back in the end of the Middle Ages. Before that, there was a long time when their major cioties were the hearts of human knowledge. But as the West moved into the age of Enlightenment, the Islamic world seemed to freeze further widespread scientiffic and clutural exploration. Why that happened, I have no idea. I am not close enough to their culture and history to even hazard a guess.

The current problem is really fundamentalism, which tends to view every question in pure black and white, with no room for nuance of compromise. We have fundamentalist Christians as well who would, if they were able, trigger a nuclear war in Israel in order to bring on the Rapture they read between the lines of the book of Revelation. These are the Christians that join militias and stockpile weapons for the coming fight they not only expect but in many cases crave.

A fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism, very strong in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is responsible for most of the terrorist activity. The clerics of this branch of Islam have interpreted the Qur’an to call for violent action against those who refuse to convert to Islam, against those who blaspheme, against infidels. setting foot on their sacred sand.

We can hope that, since much of their violence is directed at other Muslims who have a more modern, secular view of the faith, they will increasingly become pariahs within the Islamic world. Those in Islam who do not want

mattbrowne's avatar

@iamthemob – Good points and good examples, still I think in terms of total violence we are talking about less than 1%. And keep in mind that in the case of child abuse, these priests did not commit these acts of violence in the name of Christianity fighting “unbelievers”.

mattbrowne's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex – Most Saudis are reasonably well off and most 911 terrorists come from Saudi Arabia. Why?

mattbrowne's avatar

@queenie – Yes, loads of Muslim and Hindu and Christian friends get along just fine. But you have not answered my question.

mattbrowne's avatar

Here are 6 English versions of the Quran verse 4:34. This passage lays the foundation for wife beating. I provided all these to show their similarity. These translations are all from recognized scholars.

1: Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God has gifted the one above the other, and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them. Virtuous women are obedient, careful, during the husband’s absence, because God has of them been careful. But chide those for whose refractoriness you have cause to fear; remove them into beds apart, and scourge them: but if they are obedient to you, then seek not occasion against them: verily, God is High, Great!

2: Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.

3: Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted, Great.

4: Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for God’s guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them; God is All high, All great.

5: Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in their sleeping places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.

6: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whom part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance) for Allah is Most High, Great (above you all).

1 Corinthians 14:33–35 states: “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

I think the difference here is that today many Christian denominations ordain women and reject Paul’s view expressed almost 2000 years ago. Because they believe in the principle that religions evolve.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Linda_Owl – Yes, love exists in the Muslim world. But there are far too many conservative Muslims in power. And most moderate ones don’t speak up. Hamed Abdel-Samad is an exception, but he lives in Germany because it’s a free country. And the police tries to protect him when he’s being threatened. Moderate Muslim can’t speak up in Egypt or Iran or Saudi Arabia or Jemen.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@mattbrowne , I’m no expert on Islam, but my understanding is that Saudi Arabia practices an extreme form of it called Wahabbism. I don’t know if there is an appropriate analogy for this in the Christian world, but we have a fair number of fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. who are not opposed to violence to achieve their ends – killing abortion doctors and bombing clinics. Demanding that gay people be executed. Stuff like that.

These individuals are usually associated with little independent churches that are loosely Evangelical or Pentecostal – conservative Christianity much as Wahabbism is conservative Islam. They do not come under any central authority, but have in common a very extreme interpretation of Christian scripture. I suspect it’s much the same among the most violent adherents of Islam.

And I would offer this observation: there are between 1 billion and 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. It seems to me that if they all wanted to kill us, a lot more of us would be dying.

mattbrowne's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex – Militant Islamists resorting to terrorism are a tiny minority. But when looking at non-militant Islamism (political Islam), see

we are talking about several hundred million people worldwide promoting a violent, sexist, misogynistic, racist and homophobic ideology. Thousands of them also live in the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany and other countries. While the Christian Right talks about this, promoters of Islamism actually implement this. And that’s a big difference. Use of sharia law is a fact.

400 years of Enlightenment have changed majority Christian societies dramatically.

I’ve shared this in the other thread. I recommend you read the following speech by Djemila Benhabib.

mattbrowne's avatar

Parliamentary Commission on the Wearing of the Full Islamic Veil: An address read before the French parliament on November 13, 2009

by Djemila Benhabib, author of Ma vie à contre-coran

Mesdames les sénatrices, Mesdames les présidentes, Mesdames et messieurs les dignitaires,

Chers amis,

I thank you wholeheartedly for this great honor, for being counted among you today, among the Femmes debout; thank you for this opportunity to allow my voice – the voice of a woman from a Moslem culture, a feminist and an advocate of secularism – to resonate in this prestigious institution of the French Republic.

I thank you, my friends from the Femmes solidaires and the Ligue du droit international des femmes for your relentless, endless work that is so very essential. I thank you for your work on the local scene, with women who are victims of violence and discrimination, for your work with undocumented immigrants. I thank you for your work in the political arena and with officials from the UN. It is on the local level that the work for women’s rights takes root and then resonates on an international scale. Women’s March for liberty and equality is one and indivisible. When one woman suffers somewhere on this planet, it concerns us all, men and women alike. Thank you for making us feel in a thousand ways that we are links in the same chain.

Several years ago, I would never have imagined that my life as a woman, that my life as a militant, would be so intimately connected to feminism and secularism. I will perhaps surprise you in admitting that I did not become a feminist by turning the pages of The Second Sex, nor by plunging myself into Aragon’s magnificent book Les Cloches de Bâle, where he talks about, among other things, Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxembourg, two hallmark figures for feminism and world peace. I did not become a secularist by bathing myself in the light of Spinoza, of Ibn Al-Arabi, Descartes, Ibn Khaldoun or even Voltaire, my teacher. Absolutely not.

I could have averted my gaze to lose myself in the happy childhood of my generous, cultured family, so open to the world and to others, so deeply engaged in the cause of democracy and social justice. I could have lost myself in the beauty of the seaside city of Oran, where life was so wonderful. Oran is the city that propelled the literary career of Albert Camus towards a Nobel prize in literature for his renowned novel The Plague. I could have seen nothing, heard nothing of the anger, contempt, humiliation and violence poured out on women.

I chose to see and to hear, at first with my child’s eyes and ears. Later, I chose to voice the aspirations of all these women who marked my life forever, so that no woman in the world would be ashamed of being a woman. Quite honestly, when I was a child and especially when I was a teenager, I never dreamed of marriage, of a Prince Charming, of a long gown, a big house, children and a family. The handful of marriages I had attended, in Algeria, made me feel like women were objects more than subjects. Needless to say, my perspective was very much in the minority, because women are programmed from childhood to become wives and then mothers. I must have been around five or six, possibly seven years old at most, when I was summoned to join my grandmother in the kitchen – because my natural place was at the stove and the laundry… so that my cooking and cleaning talents could shine when the time came.

In 1984, Algeria adopted a family code inspired by the Islamic sharia (canonical law). I was 12 years old at the time. In short, this code demands that the wife obey her husband and his parents. It allows polygamy and the repudiation of the wife, strips her of any parental authority, allows the husband to punish her. As for inheritances and giving testimony, inequality is systematically established, since it takes the voice of two women to equal the voice of one man… the same inequality applies to inheritance.

As for secularism, I understood its necessity when, in the early 1990s, the FIS (Extremist Islamists) brought my country Algeria to its knees, through fire and blood, by killing thousands of Algerians. Today we must admit that things have not really changed. Too many women in the world are humiliated, beaten, assaulted, repudiated, assassinated, burned, whipped and stoned.

In the name of what?

Of religion, of Islam to be specific, and in the name of its exploitation. For refusing an arranged marriage, refusing to wear the Islamic veil or even for asking for a divorce, wearing pants, driving a car or going out without the permission of the male, women, so many women, are subjected to the barbarity of physical cruelty. I am thinking in particular of our Iranian sisters who marched in the streets of Tehran, causing one of the world’s worst dictators – Ahmadinejad—shudder.

I am thinking of Neda, this young Iranian assassinated when she was 26 years old. We’ve all seen the image of Neda lying on the ground, blood flowing from her mouth. I am thinking of Nojoud Ali, this little ten year-old Yemenite girl, who was forced to marry a man three times her age. She fought to obtain the right to divorce and won. I am thinking of Loubna Al-Hussein who shook the government of Kharoum last summer because of the way she dressed.

The worst feminine condition in the world is in Moslem countries. This is a fact and we must recognize it. That is our first responsibility towards all women who defy the worst tyrannical regimes in the world. Who would dare say otherwise? Who would dare claim the opposite to be true? Islamists and their accomplices? Assuredly. But they are not the only ones!

There is also a current of relativist thought claiming that, in the name of culture and tradition, we must accept the regression that confines the other to the perpetual role of victim. This thinking tries to make us feel guilty for our social choices in labeling us racist and Islamiphobic for defending secularism and equality between the sexes. It is this same left that opens its arms to Tarik Ramadan, for him to strut from city to city, from one television stage to another, spitting on the values of the French Republic.

Know that there is nothing in my culture that destines me to be hidden under a shroud, that ostentatious emblem of difference. Nothing destines me to have to accept the triumph of the idiot, the fool and the coward, especially when small minds, the mediocre, are set up as judges. Nothing that prepares me for having my sexual organs butchered without my indignation. Nothing predestines me to a life of physical punishment. Nothing says I must repudiate beauty and pleasure and accept a cold, harsh blade against my throat. And if that were the case, I would deny my mother’s belly, my father’s caress, and the sunshine of my childhood days, without a moment of regret or remorse.

Islamic politics is not the expression of a cultural specificity, as some people in this world claim. It is a political matter, a collective threat that attacks the very foundation of democracy in promoting a violent, sexist, misogynistic, racist and homophobic ideology. We have seen the way that Islamic movements, with the complicity, cowardice and support of certain political sectors, guarantee the profound regression that has settled into the very heart of our cities.

And yet, in Canada, we came very close to having Islamic courts. That is already the norm in several communities in Great Britain. From one end of the planet to another, wearing the Islamic veil is spreading and becoming commonplace, even becoming an acceptable alternative in the eyes of some, because it is at least better than the burqa!

What can be said about Occidental democracies that abdicate their responsibility to protect the primordial issues upon which community and citizenship are based: the defense of public schools, public services, the neutrality of the State, for example?

What can be said about the retreat on the accessibility to abortion, right here in France?

However, it is still possible to make societies move forward, thanks to our courage, our determination and our audacity. I am not telling you that these are easy choices. Far from it. The pathways to freedom are always steep and uphill. They are the only pathways leading to human emancipation; I know of no others.

This wonderful page of history, of OUR history, teaches us that suffering is not submitting. Because beyond the injustices and the humiliations, there is also resistance. To resist is to give oneself the right to choose one’s destiny. For me, this is what feminism is about. A destiny is not individual but collective, for the dignity of ALL women. This is how I give meaning to my life, in tying my destiny as a woman to all those who dream of equality and secularism, as the very foundation of democracy.

History is full of examples of religions that go beyond the private sphere and invade the public sphere to become law. Women are always the first to lose in this context. But not only women. Life, in its multiple dimensions, suddenly becomes sclerotic when the law of God meddles with the law of men in order to control our every move. There is no longer any room for progress in science, literature, theatre, music, dance, painting, cinema. In short, there is no room for life. What grows is regression and restriction. Moreover, this is why I have a profound aversion to all fundamentalists of any sort, because I am in love with life.

Let us remember something: when religion directs the life of a community, we are no longer in the realm of the possible, where there is room for doubt, where Reason and the rationality so dear to those of the Enlightenment guide us. Separating the public and the private by affirming the State’s neutrality seems indispensable to me, because only the secular provides for a common space – a system of reference where the notion of citizenship is central, removed from beliefs and disbeliefs, in order to take in hand the fate of the community. Before I conclude, I would like to share with you a letter addressed to one of your elected officials.

I hesitated for a long time before writing to you. Perhaps out of fear of being perceived as a woman coming from somewhere else, bursting into “French affairs.” Let propriety be damned. I wasn’t given any talent for propriety, especially when it’s in the interest of the strongest, the most powerful and the most arrogant. Moreover, if I had had to live according to what others thought, I wouldn’t have made much of my life. When it comes to women’s rights, what is suitable must give way to what is essential.

The essential being this: liberty, equality and the emancipation of women. I still hear my French friends insisting: speak to him, tell him, write to him. Curiously, their words remind me of the title of a magnificent film by Almodovar: Talk to Her, where in the opening moments, the curtain is furtively raised for several seconds on a dance featuring the body of a woman – Pina Bausch, who so well and forthrightly expressed in her choreographies the violence trained against women.

Mr. Gérin, my remarks are addressed to you. I would like to talk to you, to tell you about the fear I felt on March 25, 1994 when I was living in Oran, in Algeria and the Islamic Army Group (GIA) ordered that the women of my country must wear the Islamic veil. That day, I and thousands of other Algerian women, marched with our bare heads, to challenge death. We played hide-and-seek with the bloodthirsty GIA. The memory of Katia Bengana, a young 17 year-old high school girl who was killed as she was leaving school on February 28, 1994 was hovering over our bare heads. There are founding events in a life, that give a particular direction to the path of every one of us. That was one for me. Ever since that day, I have a deep aversion for everything having to do with the hidjab, veil, burqa, niqab, tchador, jilbab, khimar, in all their forms. Today you head a parliamentary commission charged with studying the wearing of the full veil in France.

Last March in Quebec, I published a book titled Ma vie à contre-Coran : une femme témoigne sur les islamistes (My Life Against the Coran : One Woman Testifies about the Islamists). From the very first sentences, I used the tone of what has become my life, in terms of political engagement, by writing this: “I have lived the premise of an Islamist dictatorship, in the early 1990s. I wasn’t even 18 years old. I was guilty of being a woman, a feminist and secularist.” I must tell you that I am not feminist and secular by vocation but by necessity, by the strength of things, the suffering that impregnates my body because I cannot abide seeing political Islam gain ground here and everywhere else in the world. I became feminist and secular through seeing around me women suffering in silence behind closed doors, to hide their gender and their pain, to suffocate their desires and silence their dreams. There was a time when France considered the question of the Islamic veil being worn in its schools. Today it is a question of the full veil. Instead of expanding the 2004 law to university establishments, we are debating about the possibility of allowing caskets to walk around in our streets. Is this normal? Perhaps tomorrow polygamy will be the order of the day. Don’t laugh. That’s what happened in Canada; the courts had to intervene. Because after all, it’s easy to blame culture when it comes to oppressing women. By a strange irony of fate, I noticed in several neighborhoods that skirts are getting longer and are disappearing little by little. The array of colors is getting smaller. It has become commonplace to camouflage one’s body behind a veil; wearing a skirt has become an act of resistance. Just the same, the film “The Day of the Skirt” takes place in a French suburb. While in the streets of Tehran and Khartoum women are uncovering themselves more and more, risking their lives, here in outlying areas of the French Republic, the veil has become the norm.

What is going on? Has France been taken ill?

The Islamic veil is often presented as part of a “collective Moslem identity.” It is nothing of the sort. It is the emblem of the fundamentalist Moslem everywhere in the world. If it has a particular connotation, it is political, especially since the advent of the Islam revolution in Iran in 1979.

Let us not be mistaken about this: the Islamic veil hides women’s fear, their bodies, their freedom and their sexuality.

Worse yet, the perversion is pushed to paroxysm in veiling girls less than five years old. Some time ago, I tried to remember at which moment precisely in Algeria I saw this veil appear in the classroom. During my childhood and up until the moment I started high school, in 1987, wearing the Islamic veil was only marginal around me. In grade school, no one wore the hidjab, not the teachers and especially not the students.

I have been living in Quebec for 12 years. Its motto, written on car license plates, is Je me souviens, “I remember.” Speaking of memory, what should France remember? That it is the messenger of the Enlightenment, that millions of women are nourished by the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, whose name is inseparable from that of Djamila Boupacha. That’s an understatement. I have no doubt that France is a great country; this confers on you responsibilities and duties towards all of us, the smaller countries. Moreover this is why today our eyes are on your commission and why we are expecting you to be courageous and responsible, by forbidding the burqa.

As for us in Quebec, we remember that in 1961, for the first time in history, a woman, and moreover an attorney, was elected to the Legislative Assembly in a bye-election. Her name is Claire Kirkland; she goes on to become minister. An old parliamentary rule mandating that women wear hats to appear in the Legislative Assembly was invoked; she was told to cover her head during sessions. She refused. A scandal. One newspaper headline read: “A woman with uncovered head in the Legislative Assembly!” She fights and wins.

What we must understand from this is that the rights we have gained are fragile and must be fiercely, relentlessly defended. We must understand that they are the result of collective battles fought by millions of women and men committed to liberty and justice. I dare to hope, Mr. Gérin, that the commission over which you are presiding will take into account all these sacrifices and all these socially aware aspirations around the world, over the course of centuries.

To you, dear friends, if there is one thing, only one, that I would like you to retain from these words, it is this: despite a certain resigned left, the racism of the extreme right and the laisser-faire and complicity of governments, we have the possibility of changing things. More, we have the historic responsibility of advancing the rights of women. In a way, we are responsible for our future and our children’s future.

Because it will take the direction we give it.

We the citizens. We the people of the world. By our gestures, our actions and our mobilization.

All socially aware energy is necessary, from one country to another, beyond borders. The future belongs to us. The woman is the future of the man, Aragon used to say. And as to men, I want to salute one present here today: my father, to whom I owe everything.

I conclude by quoting Simone de Beauvoir: “We have the right to shout but our cry must be heard, it must hold up, it must resonate in others.”

I dare to hope that my cry will echo among you.

Djemila Benhabib

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@mattbrowne , I think I’m getting that. The answer would seem to be that, while we in the so-called Christian world have had 400 years of Enlightenment thinking to shape our values – and our politics – much of the Islamic world has not. They’ve had the trappings of modernity thrust upon them only in the past century and they have been unable to adapt culturally.

I don’t believe this situation will last forever. The regressive political regimes in militant countries like Iran are under pressure from within. They use violence on their own people to put down dissent. As Western culture has spread along with technology, it has begun to turn the more enlightened among those peoples toward secularism. The militants see this as a threat to their power and react severely.

mattbrowne's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex – As I said before I think Islam needs to change. Dramatically. You’re right, with satellite tv and Facebook and Twitter it might only take one generation instead of the centuries Christianity and Christian societies needed to evolve.

It doesn’t help declaring taboos against criticizing parts of the Bible or the Koran. Or not interpreting parts of the Bible or the Koran in the context of the year 2010, instead of the years 1000 BCE, 100 CE or 700 CE when these books were written. Real Christians in the year 2010 are able to question parts of the Bible without having to resort to simplistic claims that the whole book is nothing but a collection of ancient nonsense without any wisdom in it whatsoever. Where are the new real and enlightened Muslims?

I’m a very optimistic person. We know about the challenges of limited resources on Earth while the total population is still growing. But we already got megatons of good ideas to deal with these challenges. We need gigatons, even teratons of more ideas, but I see no reason why this shouldn’t be possible. We need to harness global collective intelligence. We need every brain capable of critical thinking and innovation. We won’t get this when thousands of Muslim boys just learn recite the Koran for months and years in 14th century madrassas and not much else. We need hundreds of bookstores in Cairo where you can buy books about Buddhism and Nietzsche and Schrödinger and Dawkins and Küng and Abdel-Samad.

We need societies mature enough to be able criticize themselves. And learn. And evolve.

Just blaming others and defending all of the status quo won’t do the job. So I think it boils down to this: How do people deal with well-founded, well thought-out criticism?

1) They see this as an attack from a perceived “enemy” and resort to moping or anger or bitterness
2) They see this as negative feedback coming from a well-meaning friend which might deserve careful thought and further debate

Linda_Owl's avatar

Unfortunately, as long as the US has military forces fighting in countries such as Iraq & Afghanistan – I can’t see any of the Muslim countries/people being willing to listen to anything that the US has to say (moderate or otherwise). Also, unfortunately, as long as these Muslim countries have resources that US business considers to be something they need – the US will have a continued military presence in these Muslim countries (& the mid-east pot will continue to be stirred by our destabilizing presence there). I cannot see this situation racheting down anytime in the near future. Too many people on both sides of Christianity & Islam have decided this is a “religious war” that they MUST win. This is not a winnable situation, but extremists on both sides are willing to die trying to win it.

Paradox's avatar

Extreme brainwashing and propaganda preached to children and the masses in the religious dictatorships (my own term here) that most Muslim countries are.

iamthemob's avatar

I have actually become extremely afraid of the nature of this thread. The assertion in the initial OP is the mirror image of a quote by Ann Coulter, made on September 28, 2001: “Not all Muslims may be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims…”

Please, dispel my concern that this question is destructive Islamophobic propaganda disguised as reasonable dialogue…

mattbrowne's avatar

@iamthemob – Not all terrorists are Muslims. But the vast majority is. In Europe we got left-wing terrorists, for example in Greece. There are a few Hindu terrorists.

This is a list of designated terrorist organizations by national governments, former governments and inter-governmental organizations, where the proscription has a significant impact on the group’s activities:

My question is not destructive Islamophobic propaganda disguised as reasonable dialogue.

iamthemob's avatar

It seems as if FBI statistics seem to indicate that Muslim extremists are responsible for only 6% of terrorist attacks in the U.S. – I’m going to look more into this, but see here here here and here.

Paradox's avatar

@mattbrowne I actually repect the fact you were brave enough to ask this question. One of the main reasons so many arab nations are religious states seem to be because most muslims are either afraid to stand up for themselves or actually tolerate the religious extremism. I do have alot of respect for the Iranians who tried to stand up against their own governments extremism. Too bad more muslims don’t do this.

mattbrowne's avatar

@iamthemob – Interesting links. I couldn’t find any worldwide statistics, though. When you look at the list of terror organization most seem to come from Islamist extremism.

By the way, since we were discussing the effect of terminology I found this:

One scholar, Bernard Lewis, believes that the phrase “Islamic terrorism” is apt.

Jamal Nassar and Karim H. Karim, who contend that because there are over a billion adherents of the religion, the phenomenon is more precisely regarded as “Islamist terrorism” or, because it describes political ideologies rooted in interpretations of Islam.

Karen Armstrong contends that “fundamentalism is often a form of nationalism in religious disguise”, and that using the phrase “terrorism” is dangerously counterproductive, as it suggests those in the west believe that such atrocities are caused by Islam, and hence reinforces the viewpoint of some in the Muslim world that the west is an implacable enemy. Armstrong believes that the terrorists in no way represent mainstream Islam, and suggests the use of other terms such as “Wahhabi terrorism” and “Qutbian terrorism”.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Paradox – Before I asked the question I was aware that I can generate strong emotions. But without finding the root causes we can’t develop good strategies.

I am talking about worldwide terrorism and this actually includes state terrorism in countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Innocent women in these countries are also victims of Islamist extremism or Wahhabi terrorism or Qutbian terrorism if these are actually better terms.

I think this article describes the horrible situation quite well:

“Hissa Hilal, only her eyes visible through her black veil, delivered a blistering poem against Muslim preachers “who sit in the position of power” but are “frightening” people with their fatwas, or religious edicts, and “preying like a wolf” on those seeking peace. Her poem got loud cheers from the audience and won her a place in the competition’s finals, to be aired on Wednesday. It also brought her death threats, posted on several Islamic militant Web sites.

Her poem was seen as a response to Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, a prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia who recently issued a fatwa saying those who call for the mingling of men and women should be considered infidels, punishable by death. But more broadly, it was seen as addressing any of many hard-line clerics in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region who hold a wide influence through television programs, university positions or Web sites.”

Here’s an interview with Alice Schwarzer in Der Spiegel:,1518,329261,00.html

SPIEGEL: But don’t basic rights include freedom of religion?

Schwarzer: That has nothing to do with religion, it’s politics. Add to that the fact that a teacher’s job isn’t self-fullfillment, but rather to represent democracy. If an Islamic headscarf is permitted, then why not a (full-body covering) chador or a burqa? In Swedish and English schools, girls have already shown up in burqas.

SPIEGEL: The courts have been dealing with suits from Muslims who want to assert their ideas in this country. How does Islamic law influence German legal practices?

Schwarzer: Insidiously. The Islamists have been conducting targeted propaganda in Germany since the mid-1980s. Their primary offensive is the social infiltration of their own people. Their second is the undermining of the democratic educational system. Their third is the infiltration of the constitutional state. In concerted actions they have, in the past several years, attempted to infiltrate the Sharia law into the German legal system. The flag of this crusade is the headscarf. Professor Mathias Rohe, a judge in the Nuremburg higher regional court who is active in this area, said very openly when asked in 2002: “In Germany, we are applying Sharia law every day. If a Jordanian gets married here, then we marry them under Jordanian law – including the “right” to polygamy.

SPIEGEL: You want to ward off Islamism using the constitution?

Schwarzer: Of course! We fought arduously for our freedoms, like enlightenment and democracy, and we can’t allow ourselves to fall back from what we have achieved. Human rights are universally valid and indivisible, regardless of culture and religion.

SPIEGEL: What policies do you expect in order to protect women’s rights and to counteract the influence of Islamists?

Schwarzer: There’s much to be done because everything has been neglected. Mastery of the German language and the acceptance of our legal system has to become part of the criteria for naturalization. In the affected neighborhoods in the cities, youth programs and contact with the youth need to be actively pursued so that girls and boys are no longer so alienated from each other and so they are not open to incitement by mosque associations that are enemies of democracy. In these neighborhoods and at the university level, we need to actively and constructively put up resistance to the rat-catcher propaganda of the Islamists. And we have to give concrete aid to the acutely threatened women and girls.

iamthemob's avatar

@mattbrowne – There is no question about whether the term is apt – both Islamic and Islamist terrorism as terms describe the situation quite well.

The thing is, our constitution has come under attack repeatedly from people attempting to escape limitations placed on it by local law by asserting their First Amendment rights. Consider, for example, the Mormons. By their sacred law, they should practice polygamy. It’s practiced at times, but under threat of prosecution. Although this drives the practice “underground,” which can be dangerous, it also shows women how their place in democracy doesn’t require that they submit to men in this manner. I’m not idealistic about the fact that every woman feels free to take these options, but it does make it impossible for them to not recognize the rights are there.

Have we seen the country bend to the will of the Mormons to practice polygamy? Not at all. In fact, polygamy has been one of the main weapons used against “assaults” by the “gay agenda” on “traditional marriage” that was used to get DOMA passed.

The legislative history of DOMA, however, shows how deeply-held Christian beliefs were the impetus behind the law…disguised as attempts to protect states’ rights, government resources, and some nebulous idea of tradition and morality. Below are the stated government interests:


Certainly no legislation can be supposed more wholesome and necessary in the founding of a free, self-governing commonwealth, fit to take rank as one of the co-ordinate States of the Union, than that which seeks to establish it on the basis of the idea of the family, as consisting in and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy state of matrimony; the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization; the best guaranty of that reverent morality which is the source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement.

What we’ve seen in this country, therefore, is the insidious inclusion of a Christian law into the federal law…a campaign that was based on fear and misinformation, much like the one that appears to be waged against Islam and Muslims.

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