Sex and the Suicide Bomber?

James Lewis
Pierre Rehov's new movie, Suicide Killers: Paradise is Hell features in-depth interviews with young would-be suicide bombers.  Rehov is a French Jew who grew up in Algeria and knows Muslim culture in depth. His film sums up the "terrifying serenity" of the teenage suiciders, who have found their personal solution to "sexual frustration plus a constant sense of shame and humiliation." That is certainly consistent with what we know about Mohammed Atta, the leader of the Twin Towers suicide bombers, who spent the night before his mass murder at a girlie show. In his will Atta insisted that no woman should be allowed to touch his body after death. He is iconic of overwhelming attraction to women combined with deep revulsion.

Muslim orthodoxy is sexually repressive, rigorously separating boys and girls before and after puberty, until men gain enough power in the clan to select a sexual partner. At the same time the Koran glorifies sexual delights. In the patriarchal desert tribes of Arabia, powerful men had multiple wives, and powerless ones were deprived and humiliated. Raiding other peoples was a way to obtain sexual slaves, one that was considered glorious. Islamist radicalism is a throwback to that ancient tribal culture.

In a shame culture, public "face" is everything. Humiliations are rehearsed from generation to generation, in much the way that Balkan Christians still teach their children about the humiliations inflicted upon them by the Ottoman Empire. Vengeance is held out as the solution. The suicide-bomber is at the extreme end of socio-sexual shame and humiliation, achieving vengeance and resolution by his death in one final act. This is how the "heavenly wind" of kamikaze fighters went to their deaths in WWII Japan.

Western culture has lost much of its sense of shame about sexuality in the last half century. Yet it is hard to see that the West has solved Civilization and its Discontents, as Freud called it. We have traded one set of discontents against another. Our abortion and divorce rates, our proportion of children growing up without fathers, are nothing to boast about.

Muslims are constantly reminded by the media and the web of how the West has managed to tear the veil from sexuality, both publicizing and trivializing sex and shame. Islamism can be seen as a mass revulsion from the strip tease industry of movies and ads. But of course the supermarket of sexual hyper-stimulation only makes things worse for those who are shut in. The West glorifies the orgiastic life and incites envy, and from envy to hatred is only a small step.

Mohammed himself used his power to marry and enslave multiple women, creating a kind of enviable model for the Islamic imagination. Yet there are times when he worried about his sexual potency. He, too, internalized the whiplash of ambivalence between attraction and repulsion, desire and shame. 

Will the Western cult of free sex soften Islamic culture? Or will the shame culture of Islam carry out its revenge on the West? Suicide-bombings like 9/11 are only the visible headlines. Underneath, in literally billions of human minds, a witches' cauldron is brewing between sexuality, shame, envy and vengeance, all amplified by the media, by the imams and their demagogic sermons, and by opportunistic politicians. 

That turbulent cauldron will end up shaping the future. Toss nuclear weapons into the mix, and human civilization itself is at grave risk.
Pierre Rehov's new movie, Suicide Killers: Paradise is Hell features in-depth interviews with young would-be suicide bombers.  Rehov is a French Jew who grew up in Algeria and knows Muslim culture in depth. His film sums up the "terrifying serenity" of the teenage suiciders, who have found their personal solution to "sexual frustration plus a constant sense of shame and humiliation." That is certainly consistent with what we know about Mohammed Atta, the leader of the Twin Towers suicide bombers, who spent the night before his mass murder at a girlie show. In his will Atta insisted that no woman should be allowed to touch his body after death. He is iconic of overwhelming attraction to women combined with deep revulsion.

Muslim orthodoxy is sexually repressive, rigorously separating boys and girls before and after puberty, until men gain enough power in the clan to select a sexual partner. At the same time the Koran glorifies sexual delights. In the patriarchal desert tribes of Arabia, powerful men had multiple wives, and powerless ones were deprived and humiliated. Raiding other peoples was a way to obtain sexual slaves, one that was considered glorious. Islamist radicalism is a throwback to that ancient tribal culture.

In a shame culture, public "face" is everything. Humiliations are rehearsed from generation to generation, in much the way that Balkan Christians still teach their children about the humiliations inflicted upon them by the Ottoman Empire. Vengeance is held out as the solution. The suicide-bomber is at the extreme end of socio-sexual shame and humiliation, achieving vengeance and resolution by his death in one final act. This is how the "heavenly wind" of kamikaze fighters went to their deaths in WWII Japan.

Western culture has lost much of its sense of shame about sexuality in the last half century. Yet it is hard to see that the West has solved Civilization and its Discontents, as Freud called it. We have traded one set of discontents against another. Our abortion and divorce rates, our proportion of children growing up without fathers, are nothing to boast about.

Muslims are constantly reminded by the media and the web of how the West has managed to tear the veil from sexuality, both publicizing and trivializing sex and shame. Islamism can be seen as a mass revulsion from the strip tease industry of movies and ads. But of course the supermarket of sexual hyper-stimulation only makes things worse for those who are shut in. The West glorifies the orgiastic life and incites envy, and from envy to hatred is only a small step.

Mohammed himself used his power to marry and enslave multiple women, creating a kind of enviable model for the Islamic imagination. Yet there are times when he worried about his sexual potency. He, too, internalized the whiplash of ambivalence between attraction and repulsion, desire and shame. 

Will the Western cult of free sex soften Islamic culture? Or will the shame culture of Islam carry out its revenge on the West? Suicide-bombings like 9/11 are only the visible headlines. Underneath, in literally billions of human minds, a witches' cauldron is brewing between sexuality, shame, envy and vengeance, all amplified by the media, by the imams and their demagogic sermons, and by opportunistic politicians. 

That turbulent cauldron will end up shaping the future. Toss nuclear weapons into the mix, and human civilization itself is at grave risk.