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Fri. July 19, 2024
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What is ISIL All About, and what are its Prospects?
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By Jack Pearce

At its fundamentals, ISIL, and its fellow travelers, embody an extreme institutionalization of male dominated mate guarding -- that is, institutionalized male control of female sexuality.

ISIL wraps itself in the clothing of an old religion. It uses extreme violence to enforce its system and to intimidate competing forms of human socialization. Drawing on basic sexual energy, fed by oil riches, and supported by Saudi Arabia based Wahhabbi clerics, it will be difficult to subdue in the Arab heartland.

And the institutionalization of forceful male dominance based in and bankrolled in Saudi Arabia, sacrificing all other and more modern forms of intellectual endeavor and social expression, presents a worldwide challenge to other forms of social organization.

These are sweeping statements. They can easily be taken as ‘anti Islamic’.  Let us take a step back for perspective. 

As David Buss and others have long ago documented, ‘mate guarding’ is found throughout the animal kingdom.  It occurs in both sexes.  https://hampedia.org/wiki/Mate_guarding ; http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/group/busslab/pdffiles/Human%20Mate%20Guarding.pdf

Male domination of females, at least outside the household and to an extent within it, is nothing new among humans. For example, extensive scholarship has suggested that the aggressive Indo-European culture which overwhelmed Europe (and much else) was clearly patriarchal and patrilineal. E. g. http://www.belili.org/marija/marler_article_02.html  (Some mixing of cultures followed the indo-european sweep, some suggest.)  Male domination of community affairs is of long standing in many agricultural societies. This includes the societies in the Middle East and North Africa regions.  The right of women to vote in Western democracies is only a little over a century old. 

Looking broader than humanity, any study of nature will reveal that the varieties of sexual roles in it are marvelously diverse. Reproduction is essential to life, obviously, and the governing rule as to how to go about sexual reproduction seems to be -- any way you can.

I would not here wish to undertake to predict all the varieties of human family structure and operation in the future of humankind. Or even one generation ahead.

I do see de facto differences in the roles generally played by men and women in advanced industrial economies.

For example, in my extended family, counting over the last four generations, in each generation women have gotten college level educations and acquired skills which would allow them to function effectively without a husband, or male companion, if need or inclination were to be. From what I see of the fifth generation coming up, that seems likely to be the pattern there.

But in each of those four generations, when children have been born, women have shouldered more than 50% of the day to day child raising functions, and sacrificed some career years to do so.

At the same time, it is obvious that in some other families with children, women have not sacrificed career years, and often seem to have done very well at what they have undertaken.

So in contemporary ‘Western’ cultures, there is a broad movement to loosen restrictions on and promote female participation in activities other than child rearing, with some experimentation and accommodation in the process. We appear to be evolving solutions, or adjustments, in gender roles. This is likely to be a ‘work in progress’.

As to the motivations for Al Quieda, ISIL, Boko Haram, and the 9/11 sponsors, sex is unlikely to be the only factor.  I am willing to assume that there was and is a considerable amount of ethnic pride and foreigner resentment involved, in at least some of the situations. 

Lastly, in the attempt to frame the issues here, I do not, in contrast to those in and attracted to ISIL, claim Divine Guidance as to human gender roles. I try to proceed within the framework of what seems to work well in current human societies having relatively high levels of education, health, economic output, and social organization.

All this assumed to be so, there is a striking contrast between the ‘western’ trajectory and the initiatives arising from elements of Middle East Islam. Liberalization of female roles in ‘western’ societies has proceeded with some substance and momentum, while in what was often called the ‘hermit kingdom’ of Saudi Arabia the segregation of the sexes, the limitations of female dress, and the limitations on female occupations and other forms of social participation, have become relatively  thorough, extensive, and rigid. This system is bolstered, and to a degree enforced, by religious authority. And the distinctive Saudi religious influence is exercised from the birthplace of Islam, the home of the ‘two mosques’.

These disparate tendencies have led to dramatic confrontations:

The recent guerrilla attacks on ‘Western’ civilization, notably the ‘9/11’ airplane demolition of New York City office buildings, have been claimed by various groups explicitly adopting and advocating the Wahhabbi form of social organization.

The breakdown of state structures in Iraq, and the struggles to reassemble such structures, has apparently provided opportunity for substantial numbers of men dedicated to rigid male dominance, to go beyond guerilla warfare and erect the -- rudimentary but currently effective -- form of an ad hoc State.  These men use the language of Islam, and advocate medieval forms of State organization inherited from Islamic lands.

So what are the prospects of ISIL, what are the prospects of the male domination program of which it is a manifestation, and what should a relatively developed country like the United States do about all of this?

The appeal to males of male domination of females is not limited to one geographic area.

ISIL visibly draws support from males from much of the Islamic area, and even from more developed countries. The combination of Islamic identity and Arabic identity also feed into its appeal to young males and their funders. So it draws upon a combination of animal instinct -- male mate guarding of females -- and local group identities. This is powerful stuff.

However, as a political entity, the ISIL venture has to deliver the goods.

ISIL is hostile to virtually all the nearby political identities. In return, they are visibly apprehensive about or hostile to it. More-developed countries are concerned about its apparent threat to energy supplies and long evolved commercial systems and relationships.

Also, though the movement has demonstrated skill in warfare, it will have to meet the test of ability to sustain productive endeavors, education, medical care, possibilities of travel, and productive international arrangements. One may be dubious of large and lasting success in these endeavors, given the emphasis on social controls and lack of emphasis on science, mathematics, technical skills, and a broad view of history and society. The intellectual base of ISIL is very narrow.

Militarily, ISIL has been potent, locally. But militarily, those most threatened are regional countries which have their own self defense obligations. Polities outside the region, such as the United States and Europe, seem likely to assist the regional entities rather than become de facto occupiers of Arabic land. Perhaps they can provide merchant armies, in effect, but that particular arrangement seems to have little current appeal.

However, ISIL control of Iraqi oil fields would present a problem to those dependent on the world oil market. That is almost everyone. Other countries might try to seal off ISIL/Iraq from world oil markets, which would diminish supply and raise prices. Alternatively, oil consumers might mount a serious international effort to take back control of the energy supplies -- presumably through a local political entity, possibly through international consortium.  Allowing ISIL to control 2-5 % of world oil supply would provide a regime apparently hostile to virtually all forms of modern social and commercial organization to do considerable damage to the Middle East’s political and economic structure, and aggressively press its social regime there and elsewhere in the world.

Also, ISIL presents an uncomfortable problem to the Royal Family which now controls a major United States ally, Saudi Arabia.

ISIL is an expression of the Wahhabbi religious movement. That religious establishment has been a strategic partner in maintaining the Saudi dynasty’s control of the Saudi land and population. The Wahhabbi offspring now visibly challenges the legitimacy of the Saudi royals.

The Saudi royals get their wealth from oil buyers around the world. They invest their claims on resources -- their money -- around the world. They educate their young in premier Western colleges. 

But for local political control -- enabling them to appropriate oil wealth -- they depend in part on the religious institutions whose product now politically undercuts them. 

In a prior editorial, I suggested that the Saudi Royal family might resolve this problem by making a deal with their population in which they methodically enfranchise the population in return for a long term annuity from oil returns. This would relieve the royals from dependence on the religious establishment, provide ‘Western’ entities some relief from determined spread of the male control agenda, and secure the financial fortunes of the House of Saud for some decades to come.

One would expect the royals to want to keep their money and their male dominance culture as well, if they could. But they are squeezed between modernity on the one hand, which gives them wealth, and on the other hand, their medieval past, which gives them position, 

Whether some such realignment of political arrangements in Saudi Arabia may evolve remains to be seen, of course.

Let us now shift the focus of attention from ISIL to the larger arena in which the vision of sexual and social arrangements which ISIL embodies is being played out.

ISIL brings into sharp focus a development in the making for decades. For at least a decade heretofore a number of publications have chronicled an extensive effort to export Wahhabbi style Islam in Eurasia and to a lesser extent in the Americas. See for example, http://www.amazon.com/Jihad-The-Trail-Political-Islam/dp/0674010906 ;


http://www.amazon.com/Jihad-Rise-Militant-Islam-Central/dp/0142002607/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1433095271&sr=1-1&keywords=jihad ; http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0300089023/$%7B0%7D (the same author on Pakistan)

See a recent take by a plainspoken Washington commentator, Colby King, in discussing Saudi Arabia, who adverts to what many seem to know, but few forcibly point out. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/saudi-arabia-is-no-friend-to-the-united-states/2015/05/29/64f24bac-0588-11e5-8bda-c7b4e9a8f7ac_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

A website founded by Muslims offers a collection of reports presenting a fragmented but informative collection of insights. A minority, but a noticeable minority, of mosques in the countries sampled outside Saudi Arabia had available materials advocating violence against non Muslims. http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Muslim_Statistics_-_Mosques#Arab_World . Freedom House published a more comprehensive report along the same lines. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/special-reports/saudi-publications-hate-ideology-invade-american-mosques&date=2012-12-01

Practices vary somewhat from mosque to mosque, it appears. The rather jumbled reports on the wikiislam site also suggest that the longer Muslim immigrants are in a ‘western’ culture, the less, on average, they attend religious services.

One gets a picture of two opposing tendencies -- active promotion of the rigid male dominance culture emanating from its core area, working against a process of some assimilation, with presumably meliorating effects, in Muslim communities around the world.

In the net, one cannot presume that the promotion of the male dominance, gender segregation agenda will have no effect in countries with significant Muslim populations. Anecdotal information from various venues suggest alteration of dress codes, and presumably conduct, in some African countries, and in other Islamic countries.

And of course Boko Haram has become a major, state-threatening movement near Nigeria, one of the most populous African nations.

Samuel Huntington, whose contributions in this area are summarized in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clash_of_Civilizations , was neither the first nor the latest to proclaim clashes of civilizations -- several civilizations, including the Islamic civilization and others. Huntington did this with a good measure of scope and clarity. Other accounts have been more particularized.

We do face a clash of cultures at a fundamental level -- the organization of sexual roles as between males and females. The clash plays out between the liberalized ‘western’ cultures which seek to take advantage of the intellects and energies of the female half of the population both inside and outside the residences of their citizens, and the institutionalized male control of female sexuality which has reached its most rigid type form in Saudi Arabia. 

The institutionalized male dominance of female sexuality is certainly not all of Islamic learning, practice and tradition. But it reaches its most developed form in Islamic lands.

Can we predict how this broad clash will play out over time?

Those identified with ‘Western’ secular cultures are likely to bet on superior population mass, economic mass, and intellectual, organizational, and physical capital eventually carrying the day, in any international culture clash of this  sort. That will be supplemented by material assistance to polities under assault by the ISIL/Boko Haram type of entity.  That is what I would hope for and bet on.

One can picture the internet and international personal and commercial intermixture eroding the most insular islamic venues, and ‘assimilation’ in Western venues offsetting Mosque leaderships antagonistic to ‘western values.’

But as events in Europe -- which is struggling with the integration of Muslim populations – as Turkey, Pakistan and Africa attest, oil generated wealth and cultural inertia facilitating the basic sexual control drives of males  makes for difficult times, and trying issues, in much of the 21st Century.

As for you, the reader, knowing that the history of the world has much violence in it, if you see the face of ISIL presented in this internet collage of ISIL images, do you feel the world of today needs this culture? 


Jack Pearce has served as Assistant Chief of United States Justice Department’s Antitrust Division's ‘Public Counsel and Legislative’ Section, Assistant General Counsel of Agency for International Development with responsibilities in Near East, South Asia sector, National Insititute of Public Affairs fellowship at Cornell, Deputy General Counsel, White House Office of Consumer Affairs, law practice relating to pro-competitive regulatory reform, and innovator of virtual office system for attorneys and others.

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