A very interesting piece in this morning’s Age by James Button, Fairfax’s man in Europe, on Martin Amis’s recent reflections on Islamic terrorism, notably his short story “The Last Hours of Mohamed Atta”.

There’s nothing new, of course, about right-wingers who doggedly oppose women’s rights at home seizing on the oppression of women in Muslim countries as an excuse for demonising or invading them. But Amis is neither a typical right-winger nor a typical anti-Muslim, and, as Button says, “I reckon he’s on to something about the women”:

“The suppression of women is not only breeding jihadis, it is caging Muslims in ignorance and backwardness. His answer: get girls into school, spark a women’s revolution, spend some of the $300 billion spent on Iraq on raising consciousness in the Islamic world.”

Button endorses Amis’s message about the misogynistic roots of terrorism, but he worries that his words “have a note of contempt”:

“I think the West has things to teach the rest about the position of women. But the consciousness-raising Amis advocates would have to be done with humility or it would fail. Why should you listen to me if I am not also alive to the possibility that I might learn something from you?”

This is good advice. But the main problem about such consciousness-raising with the Muslim world is that the US government is itself such a determined opponent of women’s rights. The Bush administration owes its existence to the support of Christian fundamentalists, and it has seconded their misogyny on a host of issues, making denial of reproductive rights one of the planks of its foreign policy.

Some commentators, in the eagerness to inflate the claims of “war on terror”, say that the west is engaged in a war on Islamic fundamentalism. But that is to conflate two different things.

Firstly, there is a conflict (I would not call it a “war”) against a terrorist network, led by bin Laden’s al-Qa’eda. That network is admittedly inspired by Islamic fundamentalism, but the conflict is not primarily ideological, and most Islamic fundamentalists do not become terrorists.

Secondly, there is a global ideological conflict between the forces of science and humanism, and religious fundamentalism. In different forms it has been going on for centuries. But in that conflict, Osama bin Laden and George W Bush are on the same side.

Peter Fray

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