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Dear Dinesh
A Muslim woman, from a "traditional Muslim community" writes a letter to Dinesh D'Souza via Victor David Hanson:

What threatens patriarchal Muslim communities are not the excesses of Western societies but its very norms. Individualism and the relatively equal position of women manifest themselves in the opportunities females have to pursue education and economic independence. And these principles of individual freedom and equality, even Mr D'Souza will agree, are neither Right nor Left, but simply American. There is no way that Muslim women, in great numbers, can be granted similar opportunities without it eventually shaking their societies at their very foundations. Whatever else the Taliban is obtuse about, they understand perfectly the concept of the slippery slope — allow a girl child to be educated at all, and you never know where she will end up — perhaps like me, with only tangential ties to some of the core values of the conservative Islamic community I was raised in.

When I go back home to my country of birth, as I frequently do, I see the changes that education and economic independence have wrought in a once very orthodox community, which slowly allowed its women a more Western lifestyle. Women are waiting longer to get married, having fewer children (going against the Islamic obligation to increase the "Umma" — the community of Muslims), going out of the home to work, often choosing a spouse against the wishes of the family, and initiating divorce in numbers that were unthinkable in the past. The great strength of Muslim societies, the stability of its families, and the cohesiveness of its communities, is beginning , in some places, to fray at the edges and the anxiety provoking question for those who care about this, as I do, is —how much can the foundational thread of conservative Islamic societites, —women's submissiveness, and their economic and social dependence on men — be pulled out, without it unraveling the entire fabric?

In the face of this challenge there are those who believe that the solution lies in reverting to fundamentalist Islam, and among such people could well be some future terrorists. There are others who know there is no going back. To do so would be to tolerate, for instance, some of the rules that governed my mother's life. No leaving the house without a chaperone, no signing your own marriage certificate, and most tragic of all, no going to school, no matter how much you love to learn. Or it could mean, as it did with a schoolmate of mine, a seventeen year old girl would be forced to marry a fifty six year old man, because her family forced her to. If she could have fended for herself, she may have fled her family. But she could not, and went through the marriage ceremony tears pouring down her face.

How can Muslim societies strike a balance between the needs of the individual and the need of the community so as to stay true to some of its better traditions and avoid the breakdown of family and society that has taken place in the West? There are no easy answers to that, and certainly none so easy as staying as far away as possible from pornography, or even making it more difficult for a woman to get a divorce. If Mr D'Souza has any advice to give on this issue, I would like to hear it. Turning the TV off when Britney Spears appears, I know to do on my own.

Posted by aalkon at February 15, 2007 1:28 PM

Comments

> and avoid the breakdown of family
> and society that has taken place
> in the West?

Smokescreen. That's not even potayto/potahto. I'm always ready to complain about the impact of divorce on children... But a lot of things that they might describe as "breakdown," we might describe as sweet liberty. It's really good to be able to select your careers, sex partners and city of residence without worrying too much how the family feels about it. Heck, here in the United States, we even let WOMEN do those things! Young 'uns!

To what degree has western society 'broken down'? We feed the world, police the oceans, put men on the moon until we're bored, and make all the medicine worth taking. Westerners can move into productive, reliable, mutually-rewarding contracts with strangers faster than any other culture, and that gives us tremendous muscle.

Of course the west has problems; of course it does. We spend our lives critiquing each other purposefully and spitefully, and it's a big part of our success. The fact that other cultures can't get any traction from negative feedback speaks to their weakness and our strength, and it's silly for them to imagine that we're therefore incapable of making comparative judgments about the societies. Britney's easy to make fun off, but she's even easier to ignore.

A good teenager who never had a shot at moving forward is likely to be brutally murdered in a drive-by in Los Angeles today, and I'm very sorry about it. But does anyone, anyone, really believe that young people move through their lives in Damascus and Tehran without crushing, and often violent, intimidation?

Puh-leeze.

Posted by: Crid at February 15, 2007 4:35 AM

Crid touched on something that bothers me: the West builds the airplanes and the infrastructure for air travel, and muslims steal the planes to crash into a city. The West builds the internet and modern communications, and the jihaddists use it to organize the killing of our citizens. The West builds the chemical plants and invents the industrial processes to make AK47s readily available, and followers of Muhammad think Allah delivered these for their use against infidels.

You'd think we would get a mention on the credit roll.

Posted by: doombuggy at February 15, 2007 5:03 AM

On D'Souza: When Stanley Kurtz at National Review is telling you that you're giving too much weight to the culture war and criticizing the weight you place on the role of the cultural left in harming America, you've gone too far. *Way* too far.

doombuggy, I'd say that the fact that we can originate these things, and the Arab world cannot, is a big part of the current terror issue. Ugh. It's a lot easier to blow up an infidel than to confront the reasons that your culture has stagnated intellectually (and otherwise).

Posted by: marion at February 15, 2007 5:31 AM

Boy howdy, I sure agree with Crid — what defines "broken"?

I am grateful I can get away from an abusive marriage without endangering my children or shaming my family. If the education and empowerment of women results in behaviors that change society, call it what it is-- a shift, a reordering, an adjustment. We're still figuring it out ourselves.
Trying to force a group of human to accept a societal structure that is hundreds of year old is an absurdity. It's in our nature to invent and evolve.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at February 15, 2007 5:50 AM

Breaking down repressive societies and families is a good thing.

Posted by: Norman at February 15, 2007 7:00 AM

If the fabric of traditional Muslim culture necessitates the abuse and repression of women, it's a fabric that deserves to unravel completely. Cultures should exist for the benefit of the people in them - not for their own sakes. If the only way you can get people to adhere to your doctrines is to keep them from learning about anything else, then you have too much to hide. The proof comes out in the pudding in the end. Those traditional Muslim values only benefit the mullahs and bearded despots who enforce them. Not much different than the other tin hat dictators of this world - keeping their people stunted and behind the curve for their own selfish benefit.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at February 15, 2007 7:06 AM

I think you are all missing the point she's making. A society is an organic thing, you can't change one aspect of it without changing the others, often in unpredictable ways. Clearly she wants Muslim society to liberalize, but how to get from there to here?

This is the problem we're having in Iraq, you can't just wave a wand, create a new constitution and be done with it. When a society gets broken it can stay broken for a very long time, witness what happened to American indians and blacks after their cultures were shredded.

I'm not about to preach kumbayah type "understanding", but it's no good to recognize your enemy as such if you have no understanding of what makes them tick. I'm convinced that in the US today very few have any notion at all of what makes the Muslims tick, and more importantly, that they have at least as much to fear from us as we do from them.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at February 15, 2007 7:38 AM

More! More!

> The great strength of Muslim societies,
> the stability of its families, and the
> cohesiveness of its communities, is
> beginning , in some places, to fray

This "great strength" has paid off for these societies how, exactly? A big theme at Amy's this week is that we westerners can create value with nearby people to whom we would not naturally 'cohere'. The Islamic version of this jams a fertile young cupcake into marriage with a grayboy and ignores her tears because…

Well, why?

Postrel writes often about the importance of feedback in making our society go. This feedback is often very painful, and full of challenging, negative implications. It covers a huge range of unpleasant stuff, from 13,000 Chrysler workers losing their jobs to mocking Britney’s naked cooter. There are dislocations, the tears of our bride: The auto workers will suffer some extra drinking and divorce, but most will find new jobs; Britney will be humiliated, but will live to go nightclubbing again.

Can you learn anything from feedback in Islam except that you don't love Allah enough?

Are we piling on here and beating a dead horse and being repetitive, as well as redundant? Yes! It's FUN!

> they have at least as much to fear
> from us as we do from them.

Goddamn right they do. I think the thing that's held those societies back all these years is an institutionalization of a childish part of human nature: They want to hear nothing but good news, they want to pretend they know what's going to happen, and they don't want those around them to do better than they do. The west makes a better offer to the spirit: You can have a better life, a MUCH better life, but you have strive. Every fucking day.

Posted by: Crid at February 15, 2007 7:45 AM

The 'break down' in the West through a Muslim's eyes is seen through the perspective that the family is everything. So, if there is a 7th cousin who decides to have a career different from the heads of the family. That is 'western imperialism' on the personal level. The family becomes impure and loses face within the standing of the tribe. If the cousin doesn't change his/her mind... expect an honor maiming or killing. Sanctioned by the majority of the family, the tribe and the religious leaders.

Our idea of success is WAY different than their idea. It goes for the differences in failure. Many of my friends will ask me about the Middle East. I always start off by saying: They really do not see the world as we do. Then I stress again: THEY REALLY DO NOT SEE THE WORLD AS WE DO. Sorry for the all caps, just getting a point across.

Remember the Bush's White House plan to 'winning the hearts and minds' of the Middle East? Picking Karen Hughes as the head of the Public Information campaign. A Texas Soccer Mom of ALL choices??? Buying airtime on Al-Jazeera. Why was it a failure? Two words. Institutional Biases. The 1,400 years and sometimes older (pre-Islamic culture) biases within the Middle East. All nations have these biases. Anything that comes from the West is tainted and spiritually impure. If there is a journalist from Cairo who writes a column praising the USA. What would happen to the journalist in the Arab street? He or she would be tagged as a CIA agent. I'm sure we can predict the journalist's limited future career choices? Change the message or change the way you go to work everyday with a heavily armed entourage.

Any American can list off all our great achievements to the average person in the Middle East. The average person from the Middle East will be impressed, but it's completely irrelevant to their lives. Landing men on the moon? Wow. How does that impact my family? My tribe? My faith? What is important for that average person is to work, provide the security to his family and be a model representative of his tribe and faith. The central theme of evolutionary psychology: STATUS. What is my status among my family, tribe and faith. What fuels the Islamic fundamentalists? Status. The status of Muslim civilization when London and Paris were dirty backwater villages. Homicidal and even genocidal nostalgia? Yes.

Does this sound hopeless for us? No. We can exploit these institutional biases. Just stop the ad campaigns through overt US AID agencies wrapped in the Stars and Stripes. Use Muslim-Middle Eastern proxies to buy air time on Al-Jazeera. Set up phony non US or nonwestern charities, think tanks and public information organizations. This would be a start in the right direction. Appeal to their inborn cultural pride, prejudices (not the p.c. definition, but the meaning of pre-judgment) and start infecting them with an undercurrent of western memes. Infrastructure reform (sewage, housing, and public health), secular public education (away from the religious schools) and more reforms for women. Access to education, drivers’ licenses and careers. Women are the key to reform in the Middle East. This is a subject for a whole new post, alone.

No democracy projects. No one person, one vote election reforms. Too dangerous and it will give the fundamentalists a legal political foothold. Keep them marginalized. In hiding. On the run. Constantly looking over their shoulders. Should I trust this new recruit for our Holy Cause??? Keep them guessing. Keep them paranoid. Time and covert ops soldiers will be their worse enemies. Also, an informed American public.

Time is on the side of nations with the unlimited access to money, intelligence services, diplomacy, alliances, ABLE personnel and properly applied military forces. You may be reading this statement and automatically assume the USA or any secular nations. A truly nightmare scenario would be an Al-Qaeda like state.

Posted by: Joe at February 15, 2007 8:02 AM

> start infecting them with an
> undercurrent of western memes.

Translation: Good morning, Miss Spears!

Posted by: Crid at February 15, 2007 8:08 AM

The problem is, there are too few people who think like Joe (ie, who actually understand Muslim societies) running things on our behalf in the Middle East. Democracy just isn't going to take hold in a country where individualism brings shame upon a family. This war, certainly, was never the quick fix the president and his team said it would be. The fact they said it would be a quick, easy war is horrifying. Was a war the right way to go about this -- it seems not. I've always thought globalization -- greasing our way in by bringing prosperity, then, with it, western values, had a much better shot.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 15, 2007 8:11 AM

What a great discussion! Y'all are so wise. Thanks for the inspirational kick in the ass.

Posted by: Lena at February 15, 2007 8:14 AM

Amy, they had prosperity anyway; they're in IRAQ. The French and others seemed ready to make sure of this. Money was not the problem.

Posted by: Crid at February 15, 2007 8:14 AM

Nice piece. It's good to see people in the Muslim world, even, reacting negatively to D'Souza's crappy, stupid defeatist thesis:

"Defeat conservative Islam by making our wonderful, free, liberal (in the old fashioned sense, not the modern political sense), debauched, and - yes - SUCCESSFUL society more like that of conservative Islam, which is none of the above and hates us for it."

The more done to discredit this D'Souza fool the better.

Posted by: justin case at February 15, 2007 8:15 AM

"I've always thought globalization -- greasing our way in by bringing prosperity, then, with it, western values, had a much better shot."

That's it, exactly. It's not really a military problem, if it was we could solve it easily given how strong we are on that count. But too few people in the West really believe in our system for us to be convincing evangelists. That needs to change!

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at February 15, 2007 8:31 AM

Amy and Todd, that's all well and good. But when the religious leaders are outlawing dog ownership as "mimicking the infidel", and saying "Happy Valentine's Day" gets you 40 whacks, do you think we have a snowball's chance in hell of changing them from within?

The best solution would have been all-out war to destroy their military and economic influence in the world, and then quarantine. Seal them off from the rest of the world that they so desperately deplore.

Posted by: brian at February 15, 2007 9:27 AM

Brian, it might come to that.

But that's a really costly way to do it. Think of the implications of an all-out war on global trade, which is our ultimate source of prosperity. And they do have most of the oil.

True, we can't reach into their culture and change it - that's been proven - but we weren't able to do that with communism either. Facing it down with confidence, and force, worked during the cold war. Maybe it can work now too, if we can muster the will to try it.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at February 15, 2007 9:55 AM

Crid,

Western memes: Flushing toilets. Running water. Electricity. A house with windows. Sanitation systems. Non-dirt floors. Text books without religious content or the Jews are behind everything wrong in the world theories.

I should have used the term civilization memes. The strange thing, the height of Islamic civilization had many of these concepts with the limited tech advances of the time period. Instead of electricity, they had public oil lights. Paved streets. Sewer systems. You get the idea.


Brian,

Your option would be the last card option. When everything else fails. I mean everything. The problems of the Middle East goes into cycles. The British Empire experienced this during the 19th Century in the Sudan, Afghanistan and India. It goes all the way back to Alexander the Great and before that too.

There is a cheaper effective methods and it will not cost the lives of too many innocent people in dealing with terrorism.

First, you cannot use standing armies to face the insurgent method of fighting. Instead of occupying, flexing techno-testosterone military equipment or pursue instantly a simplistic Carthaginian pact like solution. The problem with the Bush White House policy is being controlled by unreformed Cold War warriors like Cheney and at the time Rumsfeld.

Al-Qaeda is not the spiritual version of the Red Army or a Middle Eastern version of the Wehrmacht. Middle East terrorism or just plain terrorism is a virus. Treat it like a virus. Quarantine certain areas. Prop up the healthy ones. Avoid uniting the Middle East as a single monolithic entity. Bin Laden's dream job would be to unite the Middle East as a modern Salahuddin.

Also, Todd is correct in his views.

Posted by: Joe at February 15, 2007 10:18 AM

"Western memes: Flushing toilets. Running water. Electricity. A house with windows. Sanitation systems. Non-dirt floors. Text books without religious content or the Jews are behind everything wrong in the world theories."


Hee hee, I can't help but remember Monty Python's "The Life of Brian" quote: "Alright, aside from public safety, sanitation, education, the roads," (etc. etc. etc.) "WHAT HAVE THE ROMANS EVER DONE FOR US?"

Posted by: Pirate Jo at February 15, 2007 10:26 AM

> Flushing toilets. Running water.

That's great! That's ducky, and I'm for it. Totally faboo. But the place was in the grip of a totalitarian whack job, one we'd selected for them, who diverted any incoming revenues towards his own power and aggrandizement. Saying "We should turn them into a contended consumer culture, one in tune with civilization's noble project!" simply begs the question... How? Bush had grown tired of manipulation via proxy tyrants, and for that he should be admired.

> The problem with the Bush White House
> policy is being controlled by unreformed
> Cold War warriors like Cheney and at
> the time Rumsfeld.

Backwards: Rumsfeld is the cold warrior who used to shake Saddam's hand on your behalf. A few years ago, that shit finally came to a stop.

Posted by: Crid at February 15, 2007 10:35 AM

Thanks Jo. I needed the laugh too.

Posted by: Joe at February 15, 2007 10:36 AM

Is Hanson still banging the drum for the Iraq war?

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/blogs/wolcott/2005/12/the_pericles_of.html

Posted by: moe99 at February 15, 2007 12:23 PM

Crid,

You are making oversimplifications in my posts.

No where I have written said that the ideal world would be a Middle East full of consumers. My original post was about a successful PR campaign in the Middle East. While secret special ops were killing various terrorist leaders.

When you are dealing with the leaders of the Middle East. All of them have blood on their hands. Some leaders have blood just on their hands, some have it knee deep and the others are chin deep in it. I would rather negotiated with one Hussein (chin deep) than 10,000 little Husseins or a Sunni backed Al-Qaeda state. I’m sure Iran doesn’t want that too.

One thing you learn about the Middle East is that everything isn't black and white. A very fast lesson, once you get off the plane.

Also, I'm providing realistic solutions to a problem that isn't going to disappear anytime soon. It comes from years of experience in the Middle East. I would like to read some of your solutions. Solutions with details. Not a sentence or two.

Posted by: Joe at February 15, 2007 12:34 PM

Pardon my bad grammar. I just noticed it. The problem with fast typing and multi-tasking at the same time.

Posted by: Joe at February 15, 2007 1:24 PM

Justin -

I've discussed at length in other places that I see only three solutions to Islamism:

1) Reform. Requires the separation of civic and religious responsibility. Iraq was the test case. It hasn't failed yet, but the political left is trying awfully hard to make sure we fail, and the political right is not pushing hard enough to succeed for fear of looking bad.

2) Quarantine. Seal off the middle east. Send any muslims with dreams of Caliphate back to the sealed-off middle east. If you don't assimilate to the local culture, you go away. If you try to demand Sharia in your local city council, you go away. Cost: world loses the majority of its oil supply. The middle east must be isolated UTTERLY for this to work at all, because any opening at all will allow them to trade money for technology that they will use to terrorize others.

3) Annihilation. Exactly what your nightmares are made of. The absolute elimination of one fifth of the human population by force. I don't think this is the method that Agenda 21 folks had in mind to reduce global population, either. And there's the problems of dealing with a billion and a half dead bodies. And the radiation, since nuclear weapons are pretty much the only way to commit that much death in a single shot.

So, unless you've got a better idea, why don't we give this "reform" thing a fair go, eh?

Posted by: brian at February 15, 2007 3:45 PM

> a successful PR campaign in the Middle East.
> While secret special ops were killing

So it's about commercials and James Bond?

People talk as though we came to this crisis by drifting away from the righteous approach of sucking up the Saddams and Saudis and helping them execute their opponents, when the precise opposite is true. We're in this because we trusted the spooks who told us that hiring the puppy-torturer Hussein would help us get our needs met. Better blog commenters than I, decent men of eloquence and conviction, would argue that assasination is almost always immoral, and they'd be right. I'm content to note that the voters have no patience for that shit.

(YOLT was my favorite Bond film. John Barry at his best. Live once for your dreams....)

> Solutions with details.

Reading of a "PR campaign" with "secret Special ops" doesn't exactly make us think about the real world. I happen to know some people at ad agencies who could coordinate a large media buy; what radio stations should we patronize? Hot Tripoli 105.5? Rockin' Riyadh 97? Exactly what message should we put out there? I agree that pop culture should be doing more for this process, but the people with the most popular juice & goo seem to be the ones who don't take these things seriously.

> I would rather negotiated with one
> Hussein (chin deep) than 10,000
> little Husseins

Is anyone offering you the option? 10,000 little Husseins have to contend with each other, don't they?

> A very fast lesson, once you
> get off the plane.

We've had a metric buttload of expertise on this subject. Again, that's what brought to these crises.

> I'm providing realistic solutions
> to a problem

A saturation buy of Booger & the Noodge with Amman in the Mornings on Jordan's Alternative Classics/Viper 101 FM for Ramadan?

I'm totally IN, babe!

Posted by: Crid at February 15, 2007 4:05 PM

Also -

"Memes."

!

Posted by: Crid at February 15, 2007 4:08 PM

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