By Nicolai Sennels
The constant threat of being disowned by their family, having their few privileges revoked, being locked up, beaten or even killed, prevents these Muslim girls and women from challenging the limitations set by Islamic Sharia Law and its male proponents. The condescending verses in the Islamic scriptures function the same way, as negative psychological propaganda about the enemy that is indoctrinated into a country’s soldiers during war: it demonizes the opponent and removes empathy that would otherwise stop one from harming it.
The vast majority of the 700 million Muslim girls and women worldwide live without basic human rights, such as the freedom to chose their own sexual partners, their clothes, their life style and of course their religion. The constant threat of being disowned by their family, having their few privileges revoked, being locked up, beaten or even killed prevents these Muslim from challenging the limitations set by Islamic Sharia Law and its male proponents. Regular, and often very bloody, examples makes sure that only the bravest and desperate women try to escape or break the rules.
On top of the threats from their own family and the horrible scare examples, come the stories about what happens to “bad girls” when they die.
The Qur’an’s descriptions of the Hells, and Muslim families’ tales about what strange men will do to loose women, form, for those who have been psychologically indoctrinated with the validity of such tales since they were born, an effective mental barrier, prompting even Muslim women who are more free to claim that they wear their veil and invisible chains voluntarily.
Research suggests that 91 percent of the between 7,000 and 20,000 honor killings each year are committed by Muslims. On top of this statistic come the countless cases of non-deadly honor crimes. In Britain alone, the police estimate that 17,000 cases of honor-based “forced marriages, kidnappings, sexual assaults, beatings and even murders take place every year. In Turkey; 42 percent of women are victims of physical or sexual abuse. In Morocco the share is 82 percent. The data goes on and on.
As a psychologist, from the people who I have treated over the years, it seems as if the manycondescending verses about women in the Qur’an and the Islamic scriptures have been the most significant contributing factor for domestic violence among Muslims. The Islamic scriptures function the same way as negative psychological propaganda about the enemy that is indoctrinated into a country’s soldiers during war: It demonizes the opponent and removes empathy that would otherwise stop one from harming the other person such as women or non-Muslims. The Qur’an thus legitimizes emotions that in more civilized cultures are seen as embarrassing and behavior that according to most non-Islamic laws are illegal. We have seen in Nazi Germany and several psychological experiments (such as the famous Milgram experiment) how a strong authority – in this case the Qur’an, their prophet and their present day proponents – are able to order people to do things that they basic nature under normal circumstanced would prevent them from doing.
The suppression of women in general, and female sexuality in particular, is a central pillar in Islamic culture, and thus seems to be a driving factor in a society that shapes the mental patterns and psychological development of one and a half billion people around the world.
What are, from a psychological perspective, the consequences of the wide spread suppression of women among Muslims?
Love and sexuality
Love is based on — among other emotions and types of behaviour — a mutual feeling of equality, as true love is only possible when one does not force or fear one’s partner. To experience true love men and women within the Muslim culture must break the rules about gender inequality commanded by the Qur’an, Reliance of the Traveller and other Islamic texts. Islam is obviously a serious obstacle that makes it difficult — and in many cases even impossible — to many Muslim men and women to experience the happiness-giving, psychologically healing, bodily healthy and important feeling of love.
The widespread domestic violence and use of forced marriages — often of girls who are not even old enough to be either emotionally or physically mature to marry or who have reached menarche (here, here, here, here) — indicates the Islamic culture’s disregard of love. Fragile honour, fear of ostracism and commitment to cultural traditions and religious laws — not love — become the binding factor between many Muslim partners.
Islam and Muslim culture impairs Muslim men’s openness to women by categorizing them as unclean, less worthy, stupid, more likely to end up, in one woman’s words, “burring in Hell for all eternity.” This not only harms their ability to love women as equal partners “” or love them at all “” but can also pervert their sexuality. According to psychoanalytic theory, sexual frustration and impaired ability to love and be loved, can easily result in extreme anger and aggression, among other dysfunctional social behavior. One obvious case is the infamous “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who attempted to blow up an airplane in midair at Christmas day in 2009. Abdulmutallab struggled with sexual fantasies that according to his Islamic belief were sinful. In order to mentally combat the sexual fantasies he tried to fantasize about jihad instead. In the end he decided to blow up the main cause of his frustrations by hiding the explosives in his underwear: his penis.
Sexual frustration leading to aggressive emotions and behavior of course happens in all cultures, in some cultures – especially the Muslim – more than others.
Muslim men’s negative view on women not only has unpleasant consequences for the women, but also for the men. The men’s sexual relationship to women can become disturbed — perhaps more easily than in societies where there are more outlets for this important drive, without which none of us would be here. Being told that women are inferior, combined with living segregated from women to a high degree, can cause the sexual drive to find other ways to release itself, and the thoughts that accompany it to find other, alternative objects of desire. Another example of this well known psychological mechanism is the overwhelming number of cases of sexual abuse of young boys committed by celibate Catholic monks.
Pakistan is apparently the World’s #1 nation when it comes to Google searches on “camel sex,” “donkey sex,” “dog sex” and other outlets. Try Google Trends. Western soldiers searching for enemies at night time using night vision equipment regularly see Iraqi men having sex with donkeys (here and here).
Research among Pakistani truck drivers, for instance, shows that 95 percent of them “indulge in sex with ‘boy’ helpers.” Although according to most psychological schools, homosexuality is not a disturbance of the person’s natural sexual drive — unless it is caused by cultural factors — the widespread use of bacha bareesh, or “dancing boys” within the Afghan culture, perhaps the world’s most segregated and women-suppressive, is just one sign of a culture that seems to lead to such behavior. A US military report from Afghanistan concludes that “homosexual behavior is unusually common among men in the large ethnic group known as Pashtuns. … Pashtun men commonly have sex with other men, admire other men physically, have sexual relationships with boys and shun women both socially and sexually.” The report also described how male Pashtun interpreters continuously infected each other with gonorrhea. When told by the doctors to be more careful they lied about their homosexual activities and claimed that it happened by mixing different kinds of tea. One US doctor working in Afghanistan had to explain to a local man how to get his wife pregnant: “When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked, ‘How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean? Surely this must be wrong.'”
Both men and women carry all psychological potentials inside but generally express them differently, depending on the culture within the family and society in which they are brought up. A part of psychological maturity is accepting qualities expressed by other people and inside oneself – and trying to live comfortably with them among others.
As the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, in a speech in Saudi Arabia, where he found himself facing a strictly segregated audience, answered when he was asked about Saudi Arabia’s chances of becoming one of the Top 10 countries in the world in technology — “Well, if you”re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you”re not going to get too close to the Top 10.” The small group of women in the audience erupted in cheers.
Setting Muslim women free and thereby decreasing the amount of frustration and making space for true love between the sexes and the human qualities expressed most convincingly by women, will apply to their societies the benefits that follow from giving free thinking women and men a chance to contribute with their full human potential. Just look at how our Western societies developed after introducing full equality of the sexes.
Muslim fundamentalists seems acutely aware of the power of this, which can explain why they insist on applying sharia laws on women where ever they live.
As Kristina Aamand, a Danish-Pakistani woman working for Muslim women’s sexual rights, pointed out in my interview of her in Jyllands-Posten a couple of years ago: “The aim of social control of the [Muslim] women is to preserve the essence of Muslim culture.”