The absence of women and wine in the daily life of many Muslim societies contributes enormously to violent male behaviour, says one philosopher, while an acclaimed lateral thinker says young men need to have yeast in their diet to curb their belligerence. Andrew L. Urban reports.
The possibility that the motivations of violent Jihad are based in biological drives and nutritional intakes seem at least plausible, in the face of a persistent failure of every other theory of understanding and reducing the appeal of such violence.
“Events in Afghanistan and the Middle East have awakened the Western world to the existence of an existential threat. We are not confronting a specific grievance that could be remedied by negotiation. We are not faced simply with rogue regimes and insurgent groups that can be dealt with through sanctions and reciprocal menaces. The threat is rooted in biological and cultural conditions that we cannot change by politics, and which have in any case pushed politics aside,” writes philosopher Roger Scruton in Forbes Magazine (26/9/2014).
“The Middle East is, as we are discovering, not one thing: on the contrary, it is a patchwork of communities whose peaceful coexistence depended on conditions that no longer exist. And many of those communities are in the habit of producing the two greatest scourges of the human race: young men without women, and puritanical rage. These same scourges have visited Afghanistan and North Africa, and they lie dormant throughout the Islamic world.
“It is true that in Turkey and large parts of the Levant women have obtained a kind of social equality with men: but it is a precarious equality. Thanks to Atatürk polygamy was abolished in Turkey and women were encouraged to enter public life. Their status as the unspeakable ‘secret’ was removed, their faces were revealed, their soothing presence was everywhere perceivable. Thanks also to Atatürk the other great solvent of social tension – alcohol – was permitted and, while drunkenness is rightly viewed with anger all across the Middle East, the example of Turkey has helped many of those ancient communities to let their hair down and relax together over a bottle.
“Remove wine and women, however, and the tension quickly escalates. This is especially so in societies where the women, although hidden away, are encouraged to have children, and where the quantity rather than the quality of children is the most important sign of status. Just to consider one of the many flashpoints, the median age in Gaza is 18, compared with a world-wide figure of 28 and a European average of 40. We see the result on our televisions. When conflict erupts in an Islamic country and people come out into the streets we witness vast crowds of young men.”
“I don’t think that evolutionary psychology tells us the whole truth about the human condition. But it tells us half the truth. It tells us that deep biological imperatives govern much of our conduct and are apt to erupt in ways that are not understood by those who are subject to them, or understood only through ideas that don’t admit of refutation. That is why Islam is so useful to young men in this condition. It rephrases their biological need in holy accents, telling them that in giving vent to their rage they are also doing God’s will, and that death in such a cause is their salvation. Of course, no such thing is authorised by their faith, and those Muslims who condemn the atrocities that we are witnessing will be the first to point out that the murder of the innocent is as much forbidden to a Muslim as it is to anyone else. But that is of no real effect when the absolutes of the religious mind-set are commandeered by the absolutes of the hormones.”
Somewhat earlier, famed lateral thinker Edward de Bono had made a suggestion that also seems to make irrelevent our usual notions of deradicalisation.
A lack of zinc makes men irritable and belligerent, explained de Bono. You get zinc in yeast, which is fine for your average lover of standard western leavened bread. But in the Middle East, the bread is unleavened. The lack of zinc propels belligerence. Try giving them Marmite, suggested de Bono, in a speech to the UK Foreign Office Middle East team, in December, 1999, in the context of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Only an indestructible optimist would expect that Muslim societies will follow the Turkish example to integrate women and sip some wine … or that leavened bread will be served. So if we accept that these are valid observations, it may inform our strategies and change our expectations about outcomes.