Fundamentalists can't roll back the years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am


One should not mock the sexual obsessions of Islamic fundamentalists; it's like shooting fish in a barrel. When a senior academic in Saudi Arabia declares in a report for the kingdom's legislative assembly that allowing women to drive would spell the end of virginity in the kingdom, it doesn't really require further comment. But let's offer a few anyway.

In the report, Kamal Subhi describes sitting in a coffee shop in an Arab state where 'the women were looking at me. One made a gesture that made it clear that she was available. This is what happens when women are allowed to drive.' I regret to report that this doesn't happen to me, or any of my male friends, although most of us live in the decadent West, where women drive all the time. Maybe it's just that none of us are as good-looking as Subhi, or maybe Arab women are incredibly lascivious. But it seems more likely that he was just imagining it all.

Perhaps he has a mentality so sex-obsessed and so fearful of women that these feverish imaginings seem normal to him. And they are quite normal among Islamic fundamentalists, like the al-Nour party in Egypt that demands prohibitions against mixed bathing and the appointment of women to leadership roles - and got a quarter of the votes in recent elections.

All the Abrahamic religions have traditionally been sex-obsessed and terrified of women, and the fundamentalists among them still are. Take the increasingly influential Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews of Israel.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently said she was shocked by the growing discrimination against Israeli women. And she compared the behaviour of some Israeli soldiers who walked out on a performance by female singers to the attitude towards women in Iran.

As for Christian fundamentalist attitudes towards women, here's the Reverend Pat Robertson, an influential US television evangelist: '[The feminist agenda] is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practise witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.'

Where does all this come from? It doesn't matter, really. You can't unpick the history; you have to start from where you are. And the fact is that people can overcome their history: most Jews, Christians and Muslims today do not have extreme anti-female attitudes.

Fundamentalists are a big minority in countries like the US, Israel, Egypt and Iran, but a much smaller minority in countries like France, Turkey and Russia. The long-term trend is sharply down. By today's standards, all Jews, Christians and Muslims were fundamentalists 500 years ago.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist