KNIGHTS AND MAIDENS
CHIVALRY IS NOT A WORD NORMALLY ASSOCIATED WITH terrorism, at least not in the West. But the world in which Osama bin Laden would like to live, and the vision that inspires so many of his followers, is literally about days of old when knights were bold—and fair maidens were kept behind veils, their virtue protected, their lives entirely controlled by men. Since the 1990s, bin Laden has cast his fight as one against "crusaders," and the most important ideological tract by his right-hand man, Zawahiri, bears the title "Knights Under the Prophet's Banner."
While gender roles are evolving in many of today's societies, Al Qaeda has hoped to freeze them in a time of feudal traditions. Many of the organization's leaders have been intellectuals, doctors, lawyers and engineers who are perfectly at home with other aspects of modernity. But they differ violently with the West about the way women should be allowed to participate in daily life, viewing females as chattel in some cases, as revered mothers in others and almost always as icons to be protected from outside influences. In jihadist propaganda, the invasion and violation of Muslim lands is intimately tied to the violation of Muslim women, either directly or through the corrupting role of Western values [Christian fundamentalists excluded] and attitudes. In its 1988 covenant, the Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas laid out its view of "the Muslim woman" as "the maker of men" and the educator of future generations—the person who prepares future fighters. "The enemies have realized the importance of her role," says the fundamentalist manifesto. "They consider that if they are able to direct and bring her up the way they wish, far from Islam, they would have won the battle."
In fact, many Arab and Muslim men, not just jihadists, see foreign occupation as a form of emasculation. (Just weeks after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, Qasim Alsabti, the cosmopolitan owner of a Baghdad art gallery, told Newsweek the U.S. occupation was "part of a plan to steal our souls—to castrate us.") Years under Israeli rule have broken down the structures of Palestinian families. "The image of the strong, providing father who can protect his women and children has been badly damaged and the male role has been eroded away," says Dr. Eyad Sarraj, director of Gaza Community Mental Health. That opens the way for radical groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to teach young boys that the way to be real men is to be religious—and to be ready to die. [CLOSE QUOTE] —Newsweek (Dec. 12, 2005)
Except for American fundamentalists, most modernized world populations have surrendered a backward notion of the difference between men and women. We learned that to hold those ideas is to enslave women. There is nothing more sinister than the man who wants to “protect” his woman. It’s obvious in how Moslem men “protect” their women in all sorts of abusive ways. How often protection in the hands of a fundamentalist turns into enslavement, eh? Not always, but often enough to make it an idea which doesn’t belong in a democracy even though some women gladly give up their freedoms in order to feel protected. Come to think of it that’s another reason why so many fundamentalists can’t find it in them to oppose Mr. Bush. They’ll sell out freedom to feel safe. Where’s their god when we need it?
Here’s another little story with an interesting moral from the same article in Newsweek (Dec. 12, 2005, p. 29):
[OPEN QUOTE] . . . in late 2001, an aging mujahed named Sufi Abdul Aziz Baba was given the task of caring for the widows of 22 Qaeda fighters. As casualties mounted among the men, the number of women in the group continued to grow. On the run from the Americans, they hid out in a compound in the southeastern province of Paktika. The women—Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs—were given Kalashnikovs to defend themselves, and soon began training within the compound walls, out of sight of the men. Forced to flee again across the border into Pakistan, they fought a three-hour gun battle against the forces of an Afghan warlord who had gone over to the American side. A year later, to avoid an offensive by Pakistani troops, the women fled again to a new hideout near the Afghan border, Baba told Newsweek. All the while, they continued military training. Last year a new Pakistani offensive forced these women, now well versed in the arts of killing, to disperse again along the Afghan frontier. There, says Baba, they are supported by a tightly woven network of jihadist organizations and family ties.
Indeed, in these remote lands Al Qaeda's fighters and their wives and widows often seem to be part of one extended family. Frequently the sisters and daughters of a holy warrior will marry one of his comrades in arms. The widows of slain guerrillas commonly wed one of their late husband's jihadist relatives. Although these networks appear isolated, they could form an enduring core of Al Qaeda in the future, or a new incarnation of it. And some of the women among them are now more than ready to take up arms, or to carry bombs, whenever the organization needs them. Or whenever the men are gone, or get out of the way. As Mia Bloom writes in a forthcoming book, "The underlying message conveyed by female bombers is: Terrorism has moved beyond a fringe phenomenon and insurgents are all around you." But that is only the message for their enemies. In their own world, their willingness to carry out suicide attacks means something different. Among Palestinians, for instance, "the idea of violence empowering women has spread throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip," writes Bloom. Suicide bombing is changing the rules of deference and subservience that have dominated the traditional society—a strange path to liberation for women hidden behind veils and burgas. [CLOSE QUOTE]
Liberated by violence? Stranger and stranger yet!
The photo comes from a short afternoon drive we took into the scabland and wheat fields of the country Southwest of Spokane.