In today’s must-read article, the philosopher Roger Scruton puts forward a novel theory as to why so many young men in the Middle East are attracted to violence: it has to do with the status of women in the Middle East.
The Middle East is, as we are discovering, not one thing: on the contrary, it is a patchwork of communities whose peaceful coexistence depended on conditions that no longer exist.
And many of those communities are in the habit of producing the two greatest scourges of the human race: young men without women, and puritanical rage. These same scourges have visited Afghanistan and North Africa, and they lie dormant throughout the Islamic world.
Scruton praises the reforms in Turkey of Kemal Ataturk, who made polygamy illegal and reduced the barriers for women entering public life. Women were not hidden away after Attaturk. Ataturk’s reforms also allowed alcohol—“the other great solvent of social tension.”
Remove wine and women, however, and the tension quickly escalates. This is especially so in societies where the women, although hidden away, are encouraged to have children, and where the quantity rather than the quality of children is the most important sign of status. Just to consider one of the many flashpoints, the median age in Gaza is 18, compared with a world-wide figure of 28 and a European average of 40. We see the result on our televisions. When conflict erupts in an Islamic country and people come out into the streets we witness vast crowds of young men. In Turkey there are women too among them. But Turkey is the exception that proves the rule. The norm is young men without women, their anger fuelled by the anger of those around them, gesturing towards something that as often as not they are unable to describe except in vast, vague and metaphysical terms – the reign of God, the death of the infidel, the destruction of the Other who stands in their way….
Only when women are public, uncovered and competing on terms with their men; only when they are able to show to the world that male violence is a threat to them, and that the destiny of the male is not the band of warriors but the supper table at home, will the puritan rage be quelled. And if a bottle of wine could be put on that supper table, that too would be good.
The anthropologist Lionel Tiger came up with a similar theory on the violence that attracts many young men in the Middle East in the aftermath of September 11, 2002.
By the way, Scruton says that Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri, who flew bombing missions against ISIS, is a positive example for the "foolish young men" who are attractive to the ISIS ideology.