Why the Manchester bomb targeted women who accounted for 17 out of the 22 dead.
‘Don’t need permission,” sings Ariana Grande. “Made my decision, to test my limits.” It is her spiritedness, as much as pussycat ears and glittery basques, that draws her young fans. Grande’s tour is called Dangerous Woman. No wonder flicking through What’s On in Manchester it caught Salman Abedi’s eye: to Islamists there is nothing more dangerous than a liberated girl.
For Jeremy Corbyn, as outlined in his speech yesterday, terrorism and this particular atrocity, which targeted women — 17 out of the 22 dead — are products only of Britain’s foreign policy, its irresponsible wars. In the barren, blinkered thinking of the unreconstructed left, Islam is blameless: fault can only lie with the West. Conveniently Corbyn forgets an ideological movement predating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Salafism began in the 18th century but in the past 70 years has spread through Muslim populations, via mosques and madrassas funded by Saudi Arabia, crushing tolerance and diversity, proclaiming itself the one pure iteration of faith. Control of women is not a side issue, an unfortunate by-product, but the very heart of its mission.
Sayyid Qutb, the al-Qaeda philosopher, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who travelled the US in the 1950s to work out how the Arab world could rebuild after suffering colonial defeats. He noted female carnality at church dances: “The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs. She knows all this and does not hide it.”
Sexuality, he concluded, was western, ergo unIslamic. Women’s freedom, both in the bedroom and to work beyond the home, was a sign of society’s degradation. Islam must rebuild itself upon the family; women must return to codes of obedience, piety and (above all) modesty, rooted in the age of the Prophet. When Isis or the Taliban roll into a town, shrouding women is their first act.
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about women living under the totalitarian Christian right. But watching the TV version (which starts tomorrow on Channel 4) it feels more like conservative Islam. Women are kept indoors, forbidden to think or express sexual desire, and owned by men. Dissidents are tortured or hanged.
Islam has many diverse strands: joyful, liberal, tolerant, scholarly, even licentious. Salafism — a political credo — uses shame, threats and even violence to extinguish them all. You see its influence in every veiled woman in Tower Hamlets, or every Brummie girl shoved into a hijab aged five. Women from countries that never covered now feel compelled to hide.
For men, conservative Islam has huge attractions: it enshrines male dominance, at home or in the world, as God’s will. Jihad, its most extreme manifestation, is an exaltation of twisted, toxic, violent hyper-masculinity, like those too-frequent cases of divorced fathers who kill themselves with all their kids.
Before he drove a car into a crowd on Westminster Bridge Khalid Masood coerced his wife, Farzana, until she fled. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the Nice lorry driver who killed 86, beat up his girlfriends. Omar Mateen, who shot dead 49 in a Florida nightclub, would attack his wife if she hadn’t done the laundry.
“Why doesn’t the left ever realise,” a young British Muslim asked me in frustration, “that these people are our far right?” Why indeed? The reeling citizens of Manchester may wonder why the Labour candidate for its Gorton constituency, Afzal Khan, attended a celebration of the 38th anniversary of the Iranian revolution. The same revolution that enslaved a nation’s women and had its gay men hanged from cranes. Women at this “celebration” were seated at the back.
Instead of making common cause with progressive, secular voices, the left denounces them as Islamophobes with axes to grind. Partly from self-interest: Labour candidates attend gender-segregated meetings rather than challenge the patriarchal political machine which delivers the Muslim bloc vote. But it is also through an abiding cultural relativism. I was describing a private Islamic girls’ school in Nottingham, which teaches pupils little more than the Koran and prepares them for no future beyond motherhood when a white liberal friend chided me: “But isn’t it their culture?” His own daughters warranted well-protected rights to learn and fulfil their potential, but not brown girls.
The left shrugs when the atheist and human rights campaigner Maryam Namazie is banned from universities or heckled by Muslim men. It contrives to defend the niqab as “empowering”, ignoring its purpose: the protection of male property, the erasure of the female self. Speak out as a white feminist and you will be told to stay in your lane, that you have a saviour complex. Although not “imposing our western values” — for which read universal human rights — is the reason why FGM, honour killings and forced marriage went unpunished for so long.
Even now the left is silent when a brave Labour candidate, Naz Shah, was branded a slut for a photograph taken on a night out: “Do you want your daughters to be like her?” It ignores Sharia courts which dispense grotesquely unequal justice.
The social and political battles of women in Muslim communities — whether in Britain, Saudi Arabia or Iran — are identical to those fought by western women in the last century. Why would we stand by? As Amina Lone, a Labour councillor, pointed out this week, Muslim women won’t speak out against radicalisation for fear of being vilified. In the age of terrorism, we need more dangerous women.