What are the root causes of terrorism? Poverty (problem: most terrorists seem to come from middle class or upper middle class Middle Eastern families). U.S. hegemony (at least in part). Embarrassment and rage at the decline of Islamic civilization (almost certainly). Another recent candidate has emerged: Chastity.
Bernard Lewis, a noted Arabist at Princeton, recently gave a briefing to senior policy makers in Washington, D.C. Among other things he pointed out that the most violent elements in the Middle East are â€“ surprise! surprise! â€“ unmarried, young men. He pointed out that these men frequently find themselves in rather hopeless situations, even if they have some education, and are attracted to radical Islam as a way of working out frustrations and bringing about radical change.
According to Lewis, however, most young men in the Middle East suffer from sexual frustration as well. They live in a society that places a very high value on chastity (or at least female chastity). Outside of marriage, the only viable route to sex is prostitution. Most young men in the Arab world, however, cannot afford either marriage or prostitution. The result is pent up sexual frustration. The seventy virgins promised to martyrs start looking much better.
Or so says Lewis. The whole argument does seem to smack of what Edward Said called â€œorientalism,â€? namely the sexualization of Muslim culture by Western intellectuals. (Think, nineteenth century proto-anthropologists obsessing over the lechery of the harem). On the other hand, just because there is a glib, lit-crit phrase that allows one to dismiss the argument doesnâ€™t necessarily mean that it is wrong. I really donâ€™t know. Certainly, one can get terrorists out of social milieus with very lax sexual morality. Think of the student radicals of the 1960s.
Let us imagine that Lewis is correct, however. Strong norms of chastity coupled with the unavailability of marriage leads to sexual frustration that is channeled into violence. Does this constitute and argument against chastity? Might a modest tolerance for fornication lead to a more stable and less violent world? Discuss.
[Note: Should anyone attempt to turn this thread into a discussion of homosexuality or SSM, I promise that I will hunt you down and punish you if it is the last thing that I ever do!]