Women, Islam, and the West’s Loss of Cultural Self-Confidence

Young European women, as well as young European men, are joining ISIS, in numbers which–while not huge–are still large enough to raise concern.

And in the United States,  more Hispanics are turning towards Islam, and  more than half of Miami’s 3,000 Hispanic Muslims are female.  One converted-Muslim Latina, who holds a masters degree, explained the appeal of the religion partly as follows:

It defines their world on a clear grid of what’s permitted or ‘halal,’ and what’s prohibited which is ‘haram’. So they know exactly where they stand. So the Qur’an becomes this guidebook that tells you exactly what to wear, what to eat, how to wash, how to behave, when to pray.

From the above-linked article about European girls converting to Islam and joining ISIS:

The girls sought out IS fighters because the West seems weak and unmanly and they pine for real men who are willing to kill and die for what they believe in.

Why? Europe’s got great health care, welfare, and lots of attractive young men and attractive women who, unlike the vast majority of women in the Middle East outside of Israel, are sexually available. So, why given a choice between a comfortable, if somewhat boring, life as a pharmacist in Hamburg, or fighting and dying in the desert, are thousands of Western Muslims opting for the latter?

Because, for all the awesome social services and consumer goods it can offer, Europe has become incapable of endowing the lives of its citizens, Muslim or not, with meaning. A generation of young European Muslims are giving up their relatively easy lives in Malmö, Marseilles, and Manchester for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, because Europe is devoid of values worth living—or dying—for. They are leaving for the same reason that Europe’s Jews are moving to Israel: Strength and a sense of purpose can be found elsewhere, whether it’s ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khameni, or the IDF.

Karim Pakzad, of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said some young women had “an almost romantic idea of war and warriors.  I think this has been true in many if not most places throughout the world and many if not most times throughout history…but today’s West, in many if not most of its subcultures, does not honor its own warriors very much these days.

The motivations of the women referenced in these articles are similar though not identical to the motivations of Arthur Koestler’s protagonist Hydie Anderson, in the 1950 novel The Age of Longing.  (My review of the book is here.)  Hydie is a young American woman living in Paris, a former Catholic who has lost her faith.  She is not attracted to any of the American or European men she knows, but falls hard for a committed Russian Communist. Koestler makes it clear that Fedya’s sexual appeal to Hydie is due in large part to his cultural self-confidence:

“Listen, please,” (Fedya) said. “We have talked about these matters often before. You don’t like that we make scientific studies of human nature like Professor Pavlov. You don’t like revolutionary vigilance and lists on the social reliability of people, and discipline and re-education camps. You think I am brutal and ridiculous and uncultured. Then why did you like making love with me? I will tell you why and you will understand…”

“I am not a tall and handsome man…There are no tall and handsome men who come from the Black Town in Baku, because there were few vitamins in the food around the oilfields. So it was not for this that you liked to make love with me…It was because I believe in the future and am not afraid of it, and because to know what he lives for makes a man strong…I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and that we are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end…”

In my review, which was originally posted almost 5 years ago, I linked a British Muslim woman who said that ““Since 9/11, vast numbers of educated, privileged middle-class white women have converted to Islam”…she identified these converts as including women at “investment banks, TV stations, universities and in the NHS.” Her concern was not that they are converting to Islam…something I’d presume she would applaud…but that they were converting to “the most restricted forms” of the religion.

In the review, I said:

I don’t think Koestler’s protagonist would have been attracted to a fundamentalist Muslim in the way that she was drawn to the communist Fedya. The gap in values would have been far wider: while Communism is a bastard child of the Enlightenment, radical Islam is counter-Enlightenment, and does not make the kind of universalist, humanitarian, and secular promises that the Communists made–the cruelty is closer to the surface.But the loss of Western self-confidence has greatly accelerated since Koestler wrote, and today’s Hydies are unlikely to share the educational and religious depth of the woman Koestler imagined.

24 thoughts on “Women, Islam, and the West’s Loss of Cultural Self-Confidence”

  1. Consider how George Eliot’s Dorothea wants to be absorbed by the work, the life, the goal of Causabon. It is a youthful desire – to serve, to be part of something larger, to lose the self. Misguided, yes, but it is not a desire of the base or stupid as much as the naïve and idealistic.
    Neither our cynical politics nor the dead Mainline churches offer much to counter that; the evangelical churches, under siege as they may be, may offer that absorption but they are also often without clear purpose or theology. Some of my husband’s best students have been Mormons – they clearly remain purposeful; some of our friends have become much more observant Jews. But I also see drifting all around me.

  2. There is drift, but the failure is largely one of education rather than of western civilization per se. There has always been much to admire, and to devote oneself to, in our western cultures. But it’s not natural to appreciate those things; one must be taught to appreciate them. We no longer effectively teach most young people to do so.

  3. A lot of it is the old cliche of the girls liking the bad boys, no doubt because they are seen as sexually more virile.

    The “Strong Horse” again. Obama seemed genuinely bewildered in his short press appearance today. This isn’t what he expected.

    I wonder how long before someone shouting “Allahu Akbar” runs into the White House right past the female guard who passed the reduced physical standards.

    My daughter was in the FBI academy with this other woman applicant who intimidated her. The woman spoke several languages and had a PhD whereas my daughter had an LLB. Toward the end of the course, they had a role playing exercise similar to what we do with medical students. The exercise was arresting a white collar criminal who suddenly and unexpectedly starts to resist. The other woman trainee suddenly collapsed in tears and curled up in a ball.

    Great post today by Popehat on “Gamergate.” I have no interest in video games but this is great.

    The blue team has made amazing progress over the last three hundred years. Occasionally by force of arms, but usually by a much more clever strategy: entryism.

    Entryism, for those not hip to the lingo, is “a political strategy in which an organization or state encourages its members or supporters to join another, usually larger organization in an attempt to expand influence and expand their ideas and program. In situations where the organization being ‘entered’ is hostile to entryism, the entryists may engage in a degree of subterfuge to hide the fact that they are an organization in their own right.”

    Since World War II the Blue team in the US has entered into the stodgy old universities (taking advantage of the GI Bill and the resulting explosion in size of secondary education institutions), and taken them over completely. It has taken over the media (now called the “mainstream media” or MSM by the red team), because of this.

    A variation of Robert Conquest’s rule. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left wing.

  4. I like Popehat’s analysis as well, although I am not in any way, shape or form a gamer. Liking Tetris or Solitaire a good few years ago does not count in the least … but I have friends who are, and are into the games in a very intense fashion. Friends who are both male and female – and my natural sympathies are with the nerdy brains, who make their own fun, and resent the overbearing presence of those judgmental “moon-faced assassins of joy.” (Yeah, my nerd credentials are wobbly, but I have all of Babylon-5 on VHS or DVD and can quote from the series.)

    Basically, the so-called feminist Social Justice Warriors come off like a bunch of neo-Puritan kill-joys determined to overrun the last bastion of people (both male and female and those who haven’t come out from behind a computer long enough to make a decision) who want to have fun. They want to have fun, and not be hectored and lectured to the point of tedium and made to feel guilty about their own selves and their amusements.

    Me, I stopped giving two sh*ts a long time ago about what people wanted to do for fun, as long as they weren’t doing it with unwilling co-conspirators, or in the road and frightening the horses. Frank Frazetta pin-ups of busty and improbably-armored females on the walls? G*d bless you my child – just don’t give me any grief about my collection of what I believe gives me aesthetic jollies. Or the massive collection of cookbooks and craft books. I do not want to be lectured, endlessly, therefore I will not lecture.

  5. I’m guessing that the Gamergate and “campus rape”/”yes means yes” controversies will fade away after the coming elections, as will the race baiting over Missouri.

  6. Orwell makes a similar point about the attraction of sacrifice and action in an essay in which he contrasts Hitler and his call for struggle, to the tepid promises of comfort offered by his English opponents. I don’t recall which essay that was, or its date, or other details, but I found his observations interesting.

    Along the same lines, Vera Brittain in Testament of Experience, IIRC, attended one of Hitler’s rallies and notes that there was a strong spiritual aspect to his appeal.

  7. Unity Mitford sure went for Hitler and Diana married Oswald Mosely. Those women probably liked the fascist image of masculinity and virility even though many Nazis were gay (Can I say queer ?)

  8. I can remember young women at the local university walking around with those peaked, wide brimmed hats worn by the Viet-Cong, and personally knew one that went to Cuba to cut sugarcane. I suppose there were those that wandered off to slave for the Apache back in the day. There’s a rotten streak a mile wide in leftist communities, as I experienced it first-hand growing up “progressive”. They’ve always been amongst us, I imagine. I’m guessing it depends on who occupies the top office. What that individual is made of. These jihad janes can head off to their fantasy because the gamer-in-chief telegraphs that such a thing is acceptable. In the sixties and seventies it was a bit dicier and you ran the risk of hassling with the FBI. Some of them badass Panthers are still eating rice and beans with their Russian Spam, secretly wishing for a Lexus and all that goes with the life. In the fifties, not so much fun, high stakes got Julius and Ethel a hot seat and Sacco and Venzetti? guys outside the Bridgewater courthouse had shotguns and axes, local legend has it. At some point, hopefully sooner than later, someone is going to have to make the right call.

  9. David P. Goldman (a/k/a Spengler) has been making these cultural points for many years. He blogs at PJMedia.com and has had a regular column at Atimes.com since early in this millennium.

    I suppose the good news is that the Arab world is about to be overrun by the four horsemen. The question is whether we will be able to keep the overflow contained.

  10. “So we went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too. We burned down Pusan—an accident, but we burned it down anyway…. Over a period of three years or so, we killed off—what—twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure. Over a period of three years, this seemed to be acceptable to everybody, but to kill a few people at the start right away, no, we can’t seem to stomach that.” — Curtis LeMay

    This seems to me to be appropriate for the War on Terror, which began under Carter, was half-heartedly prosecuted by Reagan until real violence (a suicide bombing, IHMO) frightened him, more seriously prosecuted by Bush, treated as a PR opportunity by Clinton, seriously prosecuted by Bush, and treated as a PR opportunity by Obama.

  11. We had a choice between stability in the ‘Middle East’ and upheaval. We choose stability. We will have upheaval.

  12. Great post today by Popehat on “Gamergate.

    Popehat is a self described independent. Interesting that he sees the latest battle in the culture war as essentially over, with only a smokey haze over the battlefield and only a few of the wounded of the right left to be skewered quietly or publicly tortured for effect. The banners of the Left flutter in the breeze, completely victorious.

    He also sees the two primary citadels they have have conquered, the schools and the media, as the critical victories. From there, their position is almost unassailable. He may be right.

    I’ve wondered many times why there has been so little effort from the GOP towards promoting school choice. Or for that matter, why they let so many broken things, like healthcare, hobble along instead of taking the offensive and attempting to address the problems. Instead, they allow the rot to continue until people are so fed up they accept something like Obamacare, train wreck that it is. Just one example of many.

    I guess it really is the graft. Must be irresistible.

  13. “why they let so many broken things, like healthcare, hobble along instead of taking the offensive and attempting to address the problems. ”

    They are politicians, a common error in discussing why things don’t get done. They have a big job. GETTING ELECTED ! Once that is done, the rest is up to the lobbyists who write legislation. Having been on the legislative commission for the medical association in California for years, I saw the sausage being made. We mostly worked with Democrats who seemed more interested in medical matters, and because the quality of GOP state legislators was pretty low.

    National politicians are not much better, as we see with Hagel’s confirmation hearings. We worked with Dave Durenberger, then a Senator from Minnesota, who told us that he was the only one in the Senate who knew anything about healthcare and the others would ask him what to do if something came up in legislation. Lobbyists write most legislation. The only difference is if it’s our lobbyists or their’s.

  14. “http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/10/medieval-golden-age-modern-barbarism”

    A lot of this is myth. The “Translation Movement” of the “Golden Age of Islam” was most done by Christian Greeks or recent “converts” who read and spoke Greek and Syriac.

    “as Europe struggled to emerge from barbarism, science, philosophy, and education were thriving in the Middle East”

    This may be true but it was not the Muslims who were doing the work. They were in charge of fighting and killing. The intellectual work was done by the previously Christian peoples who had been conquered. When I was in Istanbul a few years ago, they were removing the large panels of Arabic calligraphy from the walls of Hagia Sophia which was being converted from a mosque to a museum. Under those panels, they found that the workmen after the fall of Constantinople who had undoubtedly converted to Islam, carefully protected the mosaics being covered with clay and straw. I suspect they were hoping Byzantium would take the city and the church back one day.

  15. Yes the Golden age of Islam is somewhat myth, and in any case the battle for a balance between faith and reason decisively lost a thousand years ago.

    It’s a Quest for the Muslim Prester John, proposed by Sir John Mandeville, PhD, Columbia University.

    “What went wrong?”. Nothing. Faith triumphed over the entirely conquered and later rejected Hellenistic concepts of reason. Faith won, conquered Hellenes lost. End.Of.Line.

    Now we could make them see reason, but we’d have to conquer and level them utterly first. As they made reason bow to faith, by conquest.

  16. “’What went wrong?’ Nothing. Faith triumphed over the entirely conquered and later rejected Hellenistic concepts of reason.”

    “Now we could make them see reason, but we’d have to conquer and level them utterly first”

    We cannot make them see reason when we cannot find it ourselves. Unfortunately our people have abandoned reason for Socialism/Leftism/madness.

  17. “neo-Puritan.”

    I’ve read some Puritans and I’ve read some Feminists. Believe me, not all Puritans were killjoys, but most Feminists are no fun at all.

  18. Eris,

    Then what is the lesson regarding the Enlightenment as it stands?

    And what can Islam teach us?

    Maybe a swing right or to God?

    Maybe Swing the Sword?

    Where is the Islamic World? Well we can certainly find it’s borders.

    But where’s Christendom? How many would stare at you? It would be more accurate to ask When, as in when did Christendom end.

    Enough of Reason. It’s been so oversold. It’s a tool, like our hands or our speech and that’s all.

    Stop trying to beat them and imitate their successes instead.

  19. ErisGuy – I’m baffled by your statement “We choose stability”. The US engaged in military operations to overthrow Hussein in Iraq and Gaddafi in Libya. The US also has supported the violent overthrow of Assad in Syria. All this is the exact opposite of choosing stability. Our violent interventions in the Middle East have created chaos which has spun totally beyond our control. We are now in the position of the Sorcerer’s Apprentive having no idea how to deal with the forces we have unleashed.

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