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Thread: Women in Islamist Movements

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    Default Women in Islamist Movements

    CEIP, Jul 07: Women in Islamist Movements: Toward an Islamist Model of Women's Activism
    ...We conducted interviews with women belonging to Hizbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as well as less structured conversations with women Islamic activists in Morocco, Kuwait, and other countries. Their responses indicate that there is much ferment and discussion among Islamist women. The outcome of these ongoing debates is still unpredictable and it is doubtful that the participants themselves know how far their ideas will develop and evolve. But it is certain that women’s political activism in Islamist movements is a growing phenomenon that needs to be watched carefully.

    The idea that Islamist women play important roles in the movements to which they belong and that through their participation they may be defining a new model of Islamist activism or even feminism is contrary to views commonly held in the West. There, it is generally assumed that the battle for women’s rights is being fought by secular, modern organizations, not by Islamist movements that are part of a tradition that has historically oppressed women. The idea that women in Islamist movements may have something to contribute to women’s rights is also rejected as preposterous by most secular Arab feminists. Many angry debates have broken out at international meetings of women’s organizations concerning this issue. But many Islamist movements today are breaking new ground in terms of their views of politics and society, and the rise of women activists is part of this renewal. Past history is not necessarily an indication of future positions....

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    The idea that Islamist women play important roles in the movements to which they belong and that through their participation they may be defining a new model of Islamist activism or even feminism is contrary to views commonly held in the West. There, it is generally assumed that the battle for womenís rights is being fought by secular, modern organizations, not by Islamist movements that are part of a tradition that has historically oppressed women. The idea that women in Islamist movements may have something to contribute to womenís rights is also rejected as preposterous by most secular Arab feminists.
    This is a very good point.
    1) There have always been women of important status in every society, it does not suprise me at all that there are activist islamic women.
    2) This is a kind of cultural imperialism. After all, we know what is best for their women, we know that the way they treat their women is wrong, and we know what to do to fix it. Part of the reason we went into A-Stan was linked to womens rights, but it is always tricky when you are telling others how to live.
    If they came here and were all "dont drink or have sex" I am sure we would tell them where to go.......

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Part of the reason we went into A-Stan was linked to womens rights, but it is always tricky when you are telling others how to live.
    Let's not confuse propaganda points with actual goals. I am reasonably sure that ensuring women's rights are respected are not high on the agenda for U.S. commanders in the 'Stan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    Let's not confuse propaganda points with actual goals. I am reasonably sure that ensuring women's rights are respected are not high on the agenda for U.S. commanders in the 'Stan.
    I've recently been arguing that women's empowerment is a vital and greatly underestimated part of counterinsurgency. My reasoning is that a lot of the young males who compose the foot soldiers of an insurgency participate not because of any political grievances, but because doing so is psychologically empowering. In other words, they do it in part to get girls. Empowering women gives allows them to influence this decisionmaking process.

    My response to "women's empowerment is not part of our culture" is to respond with "Well, it IS part of our culture so if you want our help, address the issue." In other words, you can't help those who won't help themselves. If a potential partner is not serious about altering the social, economic, and political structures which give rise to armed conflict, we shouldn't waste our time with them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    In other words, they do it in part to get girls.
    That's an interesting idea that I hadn't read before.

    The only girls they ever publicly cite, however, are the 35 virgins (or whatever the allocated number are) they're going to receive in paradise as a payoff to their suicidal attack.

    But who's to say there aren't some groupies in the here and now attracted to the jihadists, despite their puritannical image?
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    Dont be silly Tacitus and SteveMetz.
    Premarital sex is a sin!
    you wouldnt want that to stop you getting into paradise after you kill some innocent women and children.

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    I can't say I really agree with you, Steve.

    Psychological empowerment does not necessarily equate to "getting girls." I agree that many young men become insurgents or jihadis for much the same reason that young men in the United States become Marines - the urge to be part of something larger than oneself, a sense of mission endowed with the glamor of violence and danger, community admiration. However, I find it doubtful that sexual conquests are really part of the bargain given typical marriage structure typologies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Women available outside these typologies are not generally those drawn to jihadis, either - they are, more likely, among the targets of such --- witness the recent trigger for the Lal Masjid siege.

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    I can't say I really agree with you, Steve.

    Psychological empowerment does not necessarily equate to "getting girls." I agree that many young men become insurgents or jihadis for much the same reason that young men in the United States become Marines - the urge to be part of something larger than oneself, a sense of mission endowed with the glamor of violence and danger, community admiration. However, I find it doubtful that sexual conquests are really part of the bargain given typical marriage structure typologies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Women available outside these typologies are not generally those drawn to jihadis, either - they are, more likely, among the targets of such --- witness the recent trigger for the Lal Masjid siege.
    I was kind of using a cariacature of my position. You're absolutely right, of course, that psychological empowerment is a multi dimensional phenomenon. What I was really getting at is that in nearly all societies, women's empowerment constrains risk taking behavior by men. That's the reason that women tend to be disempowered in gangs, the Mafia, etc. So counterinsurgency needs to be more than just creating a bunch of low paying jobs and holding elections. It needs to constrain male risk taking and provide non-violent forms of empowerment. Exactly how that is done will vary from situation to situation.

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    I suspect that women, and issues related to women, are central to the struggle with radical Islam. One of radical Islam's chief beefs with modernity is its inevitable consequences for women. Thinking of radical Islam as the enemy, they want the field of battle to be primarily economic, and secondarily military. I strongly suspect that if you wanted to really take the fight to the enemy, you would choose the field of battle to be cultural. There is nothing, I suspect, that strikes deeper fear in this enemy's heart than the emancipation of women in their world. I suspect that our advantage is primarily in the battle of ideas, and that a really good grand strategy will do everything it can to make that the main battlefield. It is ashame that the current administration has botched that battle so badly. But, as the Nobel laureate economic historian Douglas North put it:

    "It is simply impossible to make sense out of history (or contemporary economies) without recognizing the central role that subjective preferences play in the context of formal institutional constraints that enable us to express our convictions at zero or very little cost. Ideas, organized ideologies, and even religious zealotry play major roles in shaping societies and economies."

    In this respect, I suggest we rethink the common supposition that culture is terribly rigid, and makes beliefs and decisions likewise rigid. Lots of culture is quite fragile. We had a labor economist through here that looked at the simple effect in dominantly Arab towns of an Israeli policy that reduced the cost of childcare for Arab women. Because the timing and locations of its implementation varied more or less randomly, it was like a natural experiment. Some scholars had said that the low labor force participation rate (LFPR) of Arab women in these towns was cultural. But sure enough: Once the childcare initiative was in place, the LFPR of Arab women in these towns shot up like a damn rocket. So much for rigid cultural norms.

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    There is nothing, I suspect, that strikes deeper fear in this enemy's heart than the emancipation of women in their world. I suspect that our advantage is primarily in the battle of ideas, and that a really good grand strategy will do everything it can to make that the main battlefield.
    But who should do the emancipatin? Should we go over there with force and tell them what to do? That causes all sorts of problems.
    Egypt banned FGM on their own.
    I think the issue of rights for minority groups will only improve. The issue is education not force.

    The idea of having the advantage in the battle of ideas.
    We had it during the cold war. Everyone could see we had the moral high ground.
    We still do have the high ground I feel. A lot of people dont feel like me.

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    I'm not culturally relativistic enough to regard what is basically chattel bondage of women in much of the world as simply somebody else's business, though I realize that we in the West have deep disagreements about these sorts of things in these postmodern times.

    Force isn't working, and banning groups is counterproductive.

    I would say that the issue is not so much education as aggressive, well-thought-out subversion. For instance, the Israeli childcare subsidy mentioned above almost certainly wasn't conceived as cultural subversion, but getting the women out of the house is going to have some consequences that the enemy really doesn't want to see. Economic empowerment and, in general, economic change are profoundly disruptive of social and cultural norms. We want that--lots of it. We want to think about how to make it happen without force, banning and so forth.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nat Wilcox View Post
    I'm not culturally relativistic enough to regard what is basically chattel bondage of women in much of the world as simply somebody else's business, though I realize that we in the West have deep disagreements about these sorts of things in these postmodern times.

    Force isn't working, and banning groups is counterproductive.

    I would say that the issue is not so much education as aggressive, well-thought-out subversion. For instance, the Israeli childcare subsidy mentioned above almost certainly wasn't conceived as cultural subversion, but getting the women out of the house is going to have some consequences that the enemy really doesn't want to see. Economic empowerment and, in general, economic change are profoundly disruptive of social and cultural norms. We want that--lots of it. We want to think about how to make it happen without force, banning and so forth.
    I agree with your thinking. I believe the major shortcoming of our current security strategy is that we've put so many things "off limits." And those are the very things that represent the solutions. This is just one example.

    Others are ones that I've mentioned in here (and am weaving into the monograph I'm writing): control of visitors and immigrants from states which tolerate the ideology of Islamic extremism; aggressive measures against ISPs which host sites or transmit messages for violent Islamic extremists. Etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    am weaving into the monograph I'm writing
    Steve, if you wish to cite (as an example) the research I was talking about, the paper is by Analia Schlosser, and you can get it here in manuscript:

    http://pluto.huji.ac.il/~ani/PublicP..._Schlosser.pdf

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    Default Arabic Lysistrata?

    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    What I was really getting at is that in nearly all societies, women's empowerment constrains risk taking behavior by men. That's the reason that women tend to be disempowered in gangs, the Mafia, etc. So counterinsurgency needs to be more than just creating a bunch of low paying jobs and holding elections. It needs to constrain male risk taking and provide non-violent forms of empowerment. Exactly how that is done will vary from situation to situation.
    Are there Arabic translations of Lysistrata ("dissolver of armies") in circulation? Maybe somebody should do an airdrop. Instead of the very popular Reading Lolita in Tehran maybe there should be a Reading Lysistrata in Sadr City.

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    Default The New Muslim Woman?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nat Wilcox View Post
    I'm not culturally relativistic enough to regard what is basically chattel bondage of women in much of the world as simply somebody else's business, though I realize that we in the West have deep disagreements about these sorts of things in these postmodern times.

    Force isn't working, and banning groups is counterproductive.

    I would say that the issue is not so much education as aggressive, well-thought-out subversion. For instance, the Israeli childcare subsidy mentioned above almost certainly wasn't conceived as cultural subversion, but getting the women out of the house is going to have some consequences that the enemy really doesn't want to see. Economic empowerment and, in general, economic change are profoundly disruptive of social and cultural norms. We want that--lots of it. We want to think about how to make it happen without force, banning and so forth.
    Nat: I donít really know how you could emancipate women in the Middle East by force, anyway. Unlike our Civil War, where emancipation of those in bondage could occur through just walking off the plantation when a Northern army showed up, that just isnít going to happen in the Middle East. They arenít going to throw away the burka just because some Gis show up in town, if for no other reason than they have nowhere else to go. They have to live in their society, whether we are there chasing around terrorists or not.

    The cultural subversion plan seems very interesting. Change the economic component of a society, and then you change the cultural norms. I just wonder if this can be imposed on a whole population. I am reminded of the Soviets in their efforts to create ďThe New Soviet Man.Ē
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Soviet_man

    Just free mankind from his oppressed economic relationships with men who have the power to oppress him, and then you have a selfless man who will labor for the common good.

    Are we making a similar assumption about Muslim women? Free them from their oppression at the hands of their male relatives, and we will see a more enlightened Muslim civilization, at peace with the world?
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    "Soft as the earth is mankind, and both need to be altered
    (intendant Caesars rose and left, slamming the door)."

    --W. H. Auden, from In praise of limestone

    I am not one of Auden's "intendent Caesars." Do not worry.

    When I have read about the intellectual roots of radical Islam, it seems clear that it stems from a revulsion toward, and terror of, Western modernity on the part of what were essentially devout fundamentalists (of course, highly intellectual and very smart devout fundamentalists...I do not view this as a contradiction in terms).

    If you look around the world over the last couple of centuries (but particularly in this century), once the balls of modernity, individualism, sexual liberation and consumerism have gotten rolling almost anywhere, they are very difficult balls to stop. Remember that the attempt to build socialist man was in large measure an attempt to stop (some of) those balls from rolling as well (individualism and consumerism in particular). It didn't work. I think this was also crystal clear to the intellectual forebears of the enemy.

    They plan on building "Islamic man" just as devout communists tried to build "socialist man." They are not interested in an insipid, moderate version of Islamic man, any more than communists had any patience with insipid liberal welfare states. (I remember a chant at my left-wing alma mater: "2-4-6-8, smash the liberal welfare state.") I think the comparison is apt.

    Islam is not some automatically totalizing ideology. In Afghanistan and Pakistan's Pushtun regions, Islam and Pushtunwali have been "at war" with one another as systems of cultural norms for something like four centuries. If a sort of "totalizing Islam" never even won any sort of complete cultural victory in and around the mountains of Tora Bora, I don't see why we treat it as some kind of totalizing, strong cultural system which is very tough, or that automatically shapes people's thoughts in some sort of totalizing manner. Our enemy is very tough, but the idea that your median muslim women can't discover quite easily through experience that it is swell to have money and be away from the house seems pretty weird to me. This is precisely what the enemy fears, and for good reason. I think the enemy basically admits this in their own writings. They are terrified.

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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tacitus View Post
    That's an interesting idea that I hadn't read before.

    The only girls they ever publicly cite, however, are the 35 virgins (or whatever the allocated number are) they're going to receive in paradise as a payoff to their suicidal attack.

    But who's to say there aren't some groupies in the here and now attracted to the jihadists, despite their puritannical image?
    Then you haven't read Van Der Dennen.

    http://rint.rechten.rug.nl/rth/dennen/dennen.htm

    He posits that the basis of war is at least partly based on the availability of mating opportunities.
    Last edited by 120mm; 07-13-2007 at 07:31 AM.

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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FascistLibertarian View Post
    Dont be silly Tacitus and SteveMetz.
    Premarital sex is a sin!
    you wouldnt want that to stop you getting into paradise after you kill some innocent women and children.
    You overlook the possibility that pre-marital sex is forbidden in many cultures for practical reasons. The "modern western" view that the sex organs are a form of home entertainment system ignores the purpose they actually serve and is socially destructive. In this, I understand perfectly why the radical islamist feels the need to defend their society by attacking us.

    I will not comment on killing innocent women and children, as I think it is a straw man and doesn't belong here, but I do not think that if we can only get a bunch of Arab men laid, that it will stop the fighting.

    Now, if Van der Dennen is correct, better chances for reproduction within the societal construct would lessen the strident nature of Violent Islamic Fundamentalism.

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    You overlook the possibility that pre-marital sex is forbidden in many cultures for practical reasons. The "modern western" view that the sex organs are a form of home entertainment system ignores the purpose they actually serve and is socially destructive. In this, I understand perfectly why the radical islamist feels the need to defend their society by attacking us.
    Thing is, it's just prohibited for daughters, not for sons.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    I've recently been arguing that women's empowerment is a vital and greatly underestimated part of counterinsurgency. My reasoning is that a lot of the young males who compose the foot soldiers of an insurgency participate not because of any political grievances, but because doing so is psychologically empowering. In other words, they do it in part to get girls. Empowering women gives allows them to influence this decisionmaking process.

    My response to "women's empowerment is not part of our culture" is to respond with "Well, it IS part of our culture so if you want our help, address the issue." In other words, you can't help those who won't help themselves. If a potential partner is not serious about altering the social, economic, and political structures which give rise to armed conflict, we shouldn't waste our time with them.
    I sort of disagree with you that women's issues and empowerment are a vital part of COIN. First what makes us think that the women in societies which are dissimilar to ors want out involvement in the first place. I worked as an NGO security director for a few years and in the ten 3rd world places I investigated or lived I found that women wanted to be empowered inmainly one way... micro-economics of the family. They did not want to wear bikinis, take off the Burqa or be shown western respect that would be disrepectful in the eyes of their own men. They wanted education for the children and mico-credit. Doesn't our view that helping them will help us only show a disdain for their connections to their own cultural identity? Levae it to Phase IV NGOs or the UN who have the cultural senstitivty to do this. In 2003 pre-war the head of USAID made some very similar statements about our ability to change NGOs way of thinking about helping foreign cultures that sounded very similar to the ones above. He made a statement that NGOs who want to help traditionally can leave the coalition and 'we will find NGOs who will do what we want them to do' with regard to 'adjusting' other cultures to our own humanitarian world view.

    If we all agree that respect of cultures, traditions and peoples is job one in COIN, why would we suddenly make adjustments for such a core issue as not harassing their women and children? I believe the rumors in Somalia about African-American soldiers 'feeling and disrespecting our women' at checkoints, the rape and murder of the girl in Mahmudiyah by US Army soldiers (which resulted in the deaths and mutilation of two others) and the use of female Marines to search women in Fallujah were all exploited by the enemy as examples of the deep disrespect Americans show moslem women.

    There are proper ways to do it, within UN standards but it should be left to the touchy-feely NGOs... they can be quite good at empowerment, particularly in improving the family welfare.

    One other thing ... as for the part to impress girls ... I am sure it is a deep down possibility that depends on the locale of the conflict. Here in the ME its about the respect of your peers and community. Salafists are staunchly mosogynistic unless that woman has been given to him by a trusted-source imam and blessed by Allah otherwise ... death and the virgins ... my favorite bumper sticker here in the Gulf is the one on Landcruisers. Its the International female symbol with a red circle and line through it ... they refer to it as the "No Women (B**ches)" sticker ... they mean to say impure women (aka sluts) don't get in their cars, just the guys. Amazing.
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