Adult Sexuality

Thus far, I have concerned myself primarily with Arab child rearing habits and tendencies and their effect on childhood development, especially in the realm of sexual development.  An additional point that I have not emphasized is the prevalence of child sexual abuse within the Arab world

Such abuse, which I have alluded to, tends to powerfully reinforce the regressive tendencies already noted, and increase the sexual anxieties that fuel the regression.

In this segment of The Arab Mind, I rely on Raphael Patai's descriptions to offer a more complete picture of adult Arab sexuality.  As with all of these posts, various caveats are in order. 

  • First of all, the Arab Mind is a distillation and therefore, a generalization.  Describing the Arab Mind requires using a somewhat poorly defined definition of "Arab," which can be thought of as involving concentric circles centered on the Saudi Peninsula and adhering more closely to the archetype the closer to the center one travels. 
  • Finally, to a far greater degree than other aspects of The Arab Mind, sexual attitudes and behavior, especially toward children, are difficult to measure in the best of circumstances, and in cultures which are by their nature secretive (based on the Honor-Shame dynamic), we are usually left with poor data from which to draw our inferences.  All that being taken into account, there are still features of adult Arab sexuality that can be examined and usefully understood.

What follows are a few rather extensive excerpts from Raphael Patai's The Arab Mind, with some comments interspersed, which will be followed by further discussion:

(pps. 147-149)  Enough has been said of the sexual mores instilled into Arab children and adolescents, and about the atmosphere which surrounds the realm of sex, to make us suspect that the typical Arab attitude toward sex must be ambivalent.  And this, indeed, is the case. 

The constant reminders of the sinfulness of sex are at one and the same time constant reminders of its desirability.  The enculturation of both boys and girls consists of an incessant sequence of admonitions against sex, until awareness is instilled into them that no transgression they could commit would be a calamity of such magnitude for their entire family as one in the sexual area. 

As they grow up, they find that almost all the social arrangements which circumscribe the life of their community are centered on the single issue of preventing the possibility of a sexual transgression.  All this cannot fail to create a definite image of themselves in the minds of both men and women, as well as a definitive image of the opposite sex. 

The youths grow up believing that were it not for the segregation of the sexes and the capital punishment that would be meted out to him if caught in a sex offense, all the prohibitions hammered into him would be unable to inhibit him from having intercourse with the first woman he encounters. 

And he comes to consider his own sex drive so strong that only the physical impossibility of making love to the women of his social circle (because of their segregation, supervision, etc.) prevents him from consummating his desire.  The image the youth has of girls and women complements this self-image.  Their sexual drive is equally strong, and should he but manage to corner one of them alone, she might put up a wild show of resistance at first, but once he as much as kissed her, her "eye would be broken" and she would readily become his.  In fact, as the popular view has it, a woman's lust is greater than that of a man.

The self-image of the woman is practically identical with this.  She is brought up to believe that once she found herself alone with a man, she would be unable to resist his advances; therefore. she must never allow herself to be found in such a situation. 

She has been taught to believe from childhood that the mere sight of a woman is sufficient to arouse a man sexually, and only external circumstances can prevent him from having his will on her.  These views and expectations are, of course, self-fulfilling.  In a society in which everybody believes that, unless prevented by circumstances, a man and a woman will inevitably make love, both of them will behave accordingly. 

Notice the way in which this reinforces those aspects of child rearing that have already established for the youngster that he has little or no control over his own sexual excitement.  Further, for both boys and girls, the possibility of a girl saying "No!' and meaning it, has been circumscribed.  In such a setting, honor killings justified because a young woman has been seen in the presence of a non-related male make sense; the assumption is that the two had no choice but to have sex.

Thus sex is both prohibited, and therefore feared, and desired, therefore sought after.  Both emotions are experienced with considerable intensity, which can be taken as an indication of the intensity of the childhood repression of the sexual interest. 

After adolescence this repression creates a strong sense of frustration

If, [1] however, the social controls break down, or are eliminated,

the repressed aggression engendered by the frustrated sex drive breaks through to the surface and seeks its expression in sexual as well as other aggression.  In one such situation, anger produces strongly aggressive verbal sexual abusiveness. 

Another [2] occurs with an individual's removal to a new social milieu, such [as?] a big city. 
In an environment where he is unknown, the individual feels that the old taboos with their built-in threat of punishment can be infringed with impunity. 

A third type [3] of occasion

in which inhibition ceases to function is at the accidental encounter between a man (or several men) and a woman in a place where there are no witnesses.  In such a situation, and especially if the woman is not a member of the ingroup, or is a member of a hostile group, her sexual abuse is quite likely to occur.  And if there is a possibility that she can identify her attackers, they may proceed to kill her in order to protect their own lives. 

The experience in European cities with large unassimilated Muslim immigrant populations, essentially rape epidemics (see Fjordman, 2005), reflects these tendencies in Arab men acculturated to Arab norms and sanctioned by their religious authorities. 

The dislocations specific to the Arab immigrant experiences

  • (especially the highly charged erotic environments in the West, where women's liberation and the bombardment of sexual imagery in the media, advertising, movies, etc)

accentuate the worst, most regressive aspects of Arab sexuality.  Patai closes his section on adult sexuality with some discussion of the tensions that contact with Western mores have produced in traditional Arab culture:

(pps. 150-151) At least one influential modern Arab thinker, 'Ali Hasan al-Wardi, has come out with a condemnation of traditional Arab (or Muslim) sexual ethics.  He even goes so far as to ascribe the ruin of Muslim society and the sapping of the vitality of the younger generation to the elaborate sex taboos which have had the effect of creating inhibitions and suppressed drives, forcing Arab youth to find outlets in homosexuality and other unnatural sex practices. 

He urges a total acceptance of Western sexual behavior (of the pre-1960 type) by Arab society:  Let the women discard the veil, the two sexes intermingle freely, engage in social dancing and even in flirting. 

(Incidentally, for flirting he uses the Arabic noun mughazala, literally, "love talk," derived from the Arabic verb which means to court a woman, or to talk sweetly to her.) 

Needless to say, Wardi's advocacy of sexual liberation has provoked strong condemnation from various quarters and a rejection of his proposals, often with a sweeping opposition to Westernism in general.

The tenor of the arguments on both sides reminds one of the tone that characterized the discussions on the sexual emancipation of women that preceded the sexual revolution of the West in the 1960s. ...

Since traditional sexual mores are a focal concern in Arab culture, one can anticipate protracted struggles around the issue.  The innovators will be accused, as Wardi already has been, of trying to introduce into the Arab world fallacious notions and vices from the Western lands of moral darkness. 

A point will probably be reached where the West will be accused of an entirely new type of "sexual" imperialism, which will denote to opponents of innovation perhaps the most vicious, because most insidious, attempt of the West to impose itself upon the Arab East. 

However, just as all the protests against Western cultural imperialism are of no avail ... one can expect that ultimately the Arab mind will have no choice but to accept Western sex mores; and its innate ingenuity will find a way to modify and mold them until it will create, after the example of "Arab socialism," a special Arab subvariety of the new sexuality.

Several points that are noteworthy include the fact that Patai's quotes from al-Wardi apparently occur first Patai's 1967 book, Golden River to Golden Road: Society, culture, and change in the Middle East

It should also be clear that Patai's optimism was unwarranted.  In the struggle over sexuality, the forces of repression and reaction has clearly won a resounding victory in the Muslim world.  It is clear that Arab sexual liberation has been even less successful than "Arab socialism."  Note as well, the clear connection between the chronic sexual frustration engendered by the severely conflicted view of sex and heightened aggression, and an explosive combustion product ensues.

Sayyid Qutb, widely considered "the leading intellectual of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 60s," and the progenitor of al Qaeda, became radicalized after his visit to America in the 1950s.  He was deeply affected by the unrepressed sexuality and licentiousness he saw and imagined all around him:


In an article published in Egypt after his travels, he noted with disapproval the sexuality of Americans:

... the American girl is well acquainted with her body's seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs — and she shows all this and does not hide it. [14]

And their taste in music:

Jazz is his preferred music, and it is created by Negroes to satisfy their love of noise and to whet their sexual desires...

In my applied psychoanalysis of Ayman al-Zawahiri, I described his discomfort with sexuality from an early age and his adoption of the most ascetic version of Islam in response:

Ayman was noted to be a bookworm, uncomfortable with physical exploits. He hated sports and described them as "inhumane" according to his uncle Mahfouz. Here we overtly see the tendency to devalue that which stirs up feelings of inadequacy.

There is evidence of a common resort to religiosity that is often seen in insecure young men and boys, especially those who are insecure about their sexuality.

Zawahiri was devout from an early age. As so often happens with such young men, the strength of their religious fervor tends to reflect the intensity of their inner conflicts. Adolescents typically adopt highly ascetic versions of religion in order to control unconscious forbidden desires; Zawahiri did just that.

Further, such adolescents often display their unconsciously driven and defended against homo-erotic drives by idolizing and idealizing men who appear to have surmounted their own inner conflicts and achieved greatness. ...

Zawahiri became devoted to the vision of Sayyid Qutb, the scholar of Jihad who spent two years amidst the temptations of America and returned to Egypt in 1950 (the year before Zawahiri’s birth) disgusted and filled with righteous rage against the infidels who had so tempted him.

The journey from conflicted sexuality, with unacceptable homoerotic undertones to misogynistic and violent Jihad can be easily made by those who are most conflicted and most easily taken under the sway of older, more charismatic teachers. 

Among many Arabs to whom women are unavailable, the use of boys as feminine replacements is widespread.  Such men who reach adulthood then may identify with the aggressor and work through their feelings of shame and self-loathing by passing on the abuse to the next generation.  A man who is the active penetrator is considered to be emphasizing his masculinity while the passive member is considered feminized and devalued. 

Although there is no direct evidence that Qutb or Zawahiri were sexually abused, their later behavior is suggestive. Certainly, Zawahiri's torture while in an Egyptian jail, torture under which he broke and gave up his colleague and mentor, al-Qamari, would have almost certainly included sexual humiliation and homosexual abuse. 

In either case, the intolerance of weakness, i.e. the arousal that the sight of an unclad woman and/or conflicted homosexual impulses, would have been more than enough to compel the journey toward greater devotion to ascetic Islam and ultimately to radical Jihad.