Monday, August 11, 2008

The Best Way to Undermine the Jihadists Is to Trigger a Rebellion of Muslim Women

[Don Beck and Elza Maalouf]

This was posted over at Richard Dawkins' blog, under the original title, "The best way to undermine the jihadists is to trigger a rebellion of Muslim women - and establish energy independence." It originally appeared at Johann Hari's blog. The title is mostly correct, but one half is easier than the other to achieve. And NO, energy independence is not the easy part, although it should be -- but politics and stupidity will prevent it from happening any time soon.

But we can empower Muslim women to change their culture in significant ways. The rhetoric in this passage is a bit naive, since it is not Islamic feminism that will make a difference, but Islamic matriarchy. I'll explain below.
The best way to undermine the confidence and beliefs of jihadists is to trigger a rebellion of Muslim women, their mothers and sisters and daughters. Where Muslim women are free to fight back against jihadists, they are already showing incredible tenacity and intellectual force. In Iraq, mass protests by women stopped the governing council from introducing sharia law in 2003. In Europe and America, from Irshad Manji to my colleague Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Muslim women are offering the most effective critiques of Islamism.

The jihadists themselves know that Islamic feminism is the greatest threat to their future - that's why, in Iraq, the "resistance" has been systematically hunting down and killing the leaders of Muslim women's rights organisations. No ideology can survive on terrorising half the population indefinitely. When it comes, the Islamic Reformation will be drenched in oestrogen.

There are dozens of practical measures that could be taken tomorrow to advance this cause. Positive discrimination for Muslim women in the West would be a start. Irshad Manji has proposed massive programmes of micro-loans at very low interest rates for women across the Middle East to launch their own businesses or farms. Similar funds are already transforming the gender politics of Bangladesh by giving women financial independence and the freedom to reinterpret their religious texts on their own terms. In time - over decades - they pass this moderation on to their sons, and some of the murderous tension fades. This is a plan for a long-term war on jihadism based on hope, not only on more bombs.
OK, so aside from agreeing that we need to empower Islamic women, I don't too much agree with this, but the author is thinking in the correct direction.

When I attended the SDi training in 2005 Elza Maalouf, of Human Emergence in the Middle East (she has been working with Don Beck quite closely in the Middle East for years), gave a presentation on the work she had been doing to empower Arab women, which may be the best way we have to change the culture of violence in the Middle East.

What we fail to understand in the West is that women, specifically mothers and grandmothers, ARE the center of the Arab family, no matter how much they appear to be subjugated from a Western perspective. If we want to change the culture of violence, the best way in is through the women.

Elza has been doing a lot of work in Palestine, where the women have been frustrated by the West's "female empowerment" efforts, which are based in a higher stage worldview than is appropriate to the region.
SDi Training for Palestinian Women from Jericho, Nablus, Ramallah,Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Khalil Jan 25-26, 2008

Dr. Don Beck and Elza Maalouf, CEO of the Center for Human Emergence – Middle East presented a 2-day Spiral Dynamics Integral training for Palestinian women January 25 and 26, 2008. Participant came from Jericho, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Khalil and many other areas of the West Bank. They were all taking part in what is now becoming known as The Future Movement of Palestine 21.

The group was invited by Dr. Nehma Assad, a gynecologist from Bethlehem who introduced the training as a 'true' empowerment for women's roles and capacities in the Palestinian society. The attendees were educators, students, directors of NGOs and mothers who are working on the development of their communities in Palestine.

After learning the colors/codes of the Spiral, the participants used the memetic language to explain how organizations like USAID, UN or EU NGOs who operate from the orange/Green value-systems try to impose unrealistic conditions on programs they fund in Palestine, that do not fit the culture or the value-systems in their communities. Butheina who is leading a local organization said, “We are tired of them pushing their women empowerment training on us without providing opportunities to create sustainable jobs and solid careers. The abstract concepts are fine, but they are not helping us create businesses, or helping our children learn computer skills. They force us to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on restaurants, hotels and seminars and refuse to give us part of the money to build a small center to train women and children on how to use the computer!”

Two young girls who hold degrees in education and computer science have been looking for a job for the last 7 months to no avail. They just want to work and make a living… Not learn about Democracy and Governance in seminars while not having a job or a place to exercise ‘Governance’. (Most seminars offered by Western organizations focus on Democracy, Governance and Empowerment of Women…).
We can make serious changes in the Middle East, but it requires that we meet the people of that region where they are, and not where we want them to be. Understanding their current life conditions and their existing worldviews is essential to creating the conditions that will allow change to occur.

Perspectives such as those expressed by Johann Hari are a move in the right direction, but until people like her understand the women they want to help, the efforts will be wasted.


Anonymous said...

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is perhaps the last person who can contribute anything to battling Muslim extremism. She openly offends the sentiments of Muslims of all sects and genders by her extreme pronouncements on a variety of issues. She has also become a darling of the neo-Conservatives who hardly have any interest in feminism or in reforming Muslim societies.

Hirsi Ali has also been caught out making extreme statements on a variety of issues.

Elza S. Maalouf said...


Thanks for starting this conversation. What we fail to understand in the West is that the term Jihadists has different meaning in different contexts. For the West Jihadists are 'terrorists' period. With such limited lenses we miss the many colors of so-called Jihadists and WHY are they doing that. In our research we found that there is Jihad against the 'close enemy' usually the corrupt leaders and totalitarian regimes, and there is Jihad against the 'far enemy' in this case the US and Israel. It is the 1st type of Jihad that most of these groups are after. However it is easier to rally young males who are looking for a sense of Purpose in life against what appears as a Western aggressor that is imposing foreign values on the Umma. Such sense of purpose is usually created in service to Nation or Patriotism. Most developing countries, including many Muslim countries are still ruled by clans, tribes and power-driven feudal systems, and are not yet true Nations with strong institutions where people are treated equally under the law and respected as human beings. Jihadists group, unfortunately, fill that vacuum and provide a utopian (fake) sense of purpose. In such utopian set up, young men feel they have something to live for, or to die for in this case. Also, when we say Jihadists, we have to look closer into each culture and its life conditions, and address the specific context of the problem. Pakistan's problem with the Taliban is based on tribal loyalties in most cases. Hamas in Palestine was the answer to a failed Fatah and PLO. Hezbollah was the creation of Syria that knew how to 'save' the undermined Shia in Lebanon. Al-Qaeda is a loose definition of a terrorist organization, not a franchise as it has been portrayed in our media...etc...
Now, the role of women is of utmost importance in the region and the developing world. I believe that similar to the Industrial age, and the Information age, this is the age of Muslim women who will play a major role in the emergence of their cultures. Microlending, education, small businesses and more will no doubt help these women. Most importantly the West has to believe in the Intelligences in these cultures, support men and women who want to facilitate change, but step back and not be in the forefront to get the acclaims. The 1st world has to realize that by listening to indigenous intelligences, and helping them design systems that suit them best (not the West's idea of liberation or freedom), these same people will create the 'habitat' that will allow them to move to the next stage of development.
Unless we look at the Large Scale system in that part of the world, and help them design for each part we are missing the point talking about ad-hoc and fragmented solutions. All such solutions will only achieve the desired developmental goal when they are placed in a large scale understanding and design for emergence, by Muslims, for Muslims, to Muslims...