Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Devil's Bargain

I Could Scream: Examining the plight of women under Islam
Fjordman has sent along a newspaper article, unfortunately in Swedish, whose subject is the thesis of Madeleine Sultán Sjöqvist, a doctoral candidate at Uppsala University. The whole thesis is available in Swedish, but the précis has been translated.

Fjordman snips and translates part of the news article before sending us on to look at the précis on the thesis page:

They convert to protest against the fixation with looks in our modern society. The tougher living conditions for women, who are supposed to both have a career and do the housekeeping, play a part, too. Many of the women feel that their lives lack a sense of purpose, but that Christianity does not seem like a relevant alternative to them.

Then they experience some special moment and meet an angel, or some equivalent religious vision, and they realize that they have actually been Muslims all their lives. After a while they do experience that somebody tries to lure them away from the true religion, and abandon Islam. This could be mom or Satan.

The attraction of the Islamic family life seems to be a common feature among women converts. Several of them state that in Islam, the man is more rational and logical, while the woman is more emotional and caring. This means that the woman should be the one to take care of the children and do the housekeeping, while the man should be the one to work and provide for the family.

Leaving any analysis of this newspaper clip, let’s look at the thesis page itself itself. The title, again only in Swedish, looks typically and universally doctoral-sounding and dense:

"Vi blev muslimer" Svenska kvinnor berättar: En religionssociologisk studie av konversionsberättelser. Your guess is as good as mine. It seems to begin with a quote about Muslim belief from one of her interviews and then continues with a sociological-religious studies theme of conversion. In this case, conversion of Swedish women to Islam.

Theses from Uppsala University
Department of Theology, Sociology of Religions
"Vi blev muslimer"
by , Madeleine Sultán Sjöqvist

Abstract [in English] :

The material of the thesis consists of interviews of Swedish women who have converted to Islam, with the aim of gaining knowledge as to how the informants create meaning around their religiosity. Questions have been asked about how the women understand their conversion and their religious involvement as well as what it means to live as a convert in a secularised western society.

In the interpretation and description of their religious engagement, the informants’ conceptions about Muslim family life are closely linked to their understanding of what the religious belonging means. The informants particularly stress that Islam represents equality between people in general and between men and women in particular, that Islam represents the good patriarchal family life and that women should obey their husbands. The informants’ narratives contain both more open and reflexive interpretations of what Muslim engagement involves and a fundamental striving towards the “right” answers, a determination of what sex, family, society and religion “are”. There is, in addition a tension between being a part of what is understood to be “correct” Muslim tradition and religious involvement understood as a gender equality project. In addition there is a tension between being a part of “correct” Muslim tradition and the establishment of a religiosity on “womanly” premises.

I would love to know what interview questions she formulated, and how she went about choosing the women for her interviews. When you look at her own name — Madeleine Sultán Sjöqvist — it would appear she has some Muslim background herself; Sultan does not seem a Swedish name. While this would not preclude the “objectivity” that sociologists long for in order to define their discipline as science, it would call into question her agenda. But then perhaps she does state her disclaimers in her introduction. However, finding a Swede willing to translate a doctoral thesis seems a bit far-fetched. Life is hard enough.

It would also be of interest, sociologically and religiously, to interview and compare the Swedish female victims of Muslim male rape and physical assault to these women who have found refuge in Islam. In fact, it would make for a far more interesting thesis, but somehow I doubt such a project, fraught as it is with the possibility for stepping unwittingly into politically incorrect potholes, would be a good idea. At least not for someone hoping to be on the tenure track in academia – in Sweden or anywhere else.

Let’s look at what the newspaper article says about the women. First, the dissatisfactions:

  • They convert to protest against the fixation with looks in our modern society.
  • The tougher living conditions for women, who are supposed to both have a career and do the housekeeping, play a part, too.
  • Many of the women feel that their lives lack a sense of purpose, but that Christianity does not seem like a relevant alternative to them.

Does the first reason not strike you as strange, given what we know about the strictures re Muslim women’s dress and demeanor? There are indeed “fixations” with women’s looks in modern society…as there has been in every culture. Only in Islam is this part of man’s nature so repressed and his desire therefore so hypertrophied, that he feels impelled to cover up his women.

Women have “tougher living conditions” than men? Who makes these career/homemaking decisions for women anyway? Is converting to Islam a comfortable excuse to stay home because your religion forbids you to go out alone? Depending on the age of these women – if they are in their twenties, let’s say – this is nothing more than a fearful foreclosure on having to make adult decisions.

As for Christianity not seeming relevant to them, C.S. Lewis said of the western world that we are inoculated with such a mild version of Christianity that we are immune to the real thing. I wonder how much Muslim theology, or Christian theology, these women really know. And how much history, for that matter.

Read the rest of the article. See it as a swing of the pendulum for a post-modern culture that demands freedom and refuses the obligations that go with it. One which is imbued with irony, detachment, and ultimately a grotesquerie of dress, mode, and manners. These women are looking for transcendent meaning, for family life, and for rules by which to live. Looking around, they don’t see any of this in everyday life in Sweden, but they do see it – on the surface at least – in Islam.

But you could twist this a bit and come up with the description of Jewish family life, only there would be equality between the partners and women would expect (okay, “demand”) that men contribute to family life. But Judaism doesn’t proselytize and we know what Swedes think of Jews.

Hijab BabyTheodore Dalrymple noted that in his work with British male prisoners, Islam was an attractive alternative for them because a Muslim man dominates women. He saw the degraded position of repeat offenders who used the mantle of Islam to cover a deep sense of inadequacy and rage.

Now we have this thesis on the phenomenon of Swedish women converting to Islam. God pity them when they start having children and discover that under Islam, children belong to the father. Only then will they know the devil’s bargain they have made for themselves and their babies.


David Foster said...

I believe it was Erich Fromm who quoted a young Nazi, just before WWII, as saying:

"We Germans are so happy. We are free of freedom."

Pastorius said...

Great post. The mid-twenties in postmodern culture is a kind of second teenage years.

The first teenage years (13-19) are, of course, the time when one rebels, and learns about one's will.

But, in postmodern culture, where rebellion is celebrated not just a rite of passage, but as a permanent spiritual state, we experience our second teenhood. In our twenties, we come to understand that whereas we are still rebelling, we are actually rebelling against nothing. In our anger, most of us tear down all convention, all morality, and find ourselves left with nothing and no one to fall back on.

Then, we discover that it is just the I, alone.

This time in the mid to late twenties is, in my opinion, the most difficult and dangerous time. I have watched as many of my friends searched frantically for something or someone on whom to throw away their free will.

It does not at all surprise me that disaffected Europeans going through their second teenage years, are converting to Islam.

It is perfect for them. They will never have to make another decision again in their pathetic lives.

Rev. Huatou said...

Some of your points I've been making for years. It seems to me that people really do like to "dress up" and take on the interesting "costume" of Islam. Also, the lack of basic knowledge of what Christianity really teaches or what the Bible and New Testament actually say means that no one raises any questions about the very different Islamic version of basic Bible narratives (e.g., in Islam, it is Esau, not Isaac who is nearly sacrificed).
Add to all that the extremely easy conversion procedure to Islam, and it's only later that the convert finds out there are as many rules and regulations as any Orthodox Jew has to obey.
It seems to me that many Westerners are converting without really being aware of what they've taken on. Perhaps Islam needs a program of preparation for conversion similar to what Catholics do (RCIA).
The other question I've often wondered about is the "cultural" aspect of life after conversion: do Muslim families really accept the European women converts, or is there the kind of deep-seated prejudice that, say, that converts to Judaism experience in the Orthodox Jewish world?
And how often is it the case that the people who consider themselves to be "radicals" (social activists) eventually, when they get religion, take on a "radical" religion -- not necessarily radical Islam, but any religion that is demanding and has a neat "costume" component?

X said...

Zaius finally lost it.

Anyway, I have personal experience - explained in a moment - of this and I can confirm the idea that these women are, as the rev huatou and pastorius pointed out, essentially and existentially lost and alone. Colectively Sweden has rebelled against it's lutheran past, and the church has adopted a softer role in an attempt to win them back. In the process they've lost sight of the meaning of God's love and God's discipline.

This is the great irony of the church today. People see our god as a distant and cold figure who smites people without care, but thorughout the bible he's portrayed as a close and loving god who disciplines because he loves. In contrast, the islamic god allah is cold and distant, and apparently very angry all the time. That god seems to hate people for no reason. The irony that I just spoke of is that these women are running from the "bad parent" who loves them in to the arms of a slightly creepy uncle who wants to abuse them.

Now the personal experience. A few years ago, before we were married, my wife was determined to become a muslim. She seemed to think that she was dirty and impure and needed to be covered up, and I suspect it's from reading too much early greek literature that she's got this idea (the atheniens were as misogyninistic as the muslims in a lot of ways and it comes through very subtly in all their writings). If it had simply been a want to dress modestly I wouldn't have minded, but she had it in her head that nothing less than a full bhurka would do. Screwed up...

Anyway, here's the kicker. She kept pushing at me. She'd do and say things that were designed to provoke me in to acting like an "evil" male, because she'd managed to absorb a lot of post-feminist feminist clap-trap as well. These two things combined to create something of a monster, psychologically speaking. When I didn't treat her like a woman - according to what she knew of islam and greek poetry - she got angry and tried to force me to by treating me like crap. I kept pointing out to her that this wasn't a healthy way to act and that women in islam are subjugated and treated like dirt; her reply was always "they should be!".

We've since managed to sort it out and now everything's almost hunky dory, as it were. My undestanding of events is that she's just an extreme version of how a lot of swedes think. They're screwed up. They're infantile in so many ways, because theyr government treats them as spoiled infants. And so they rebel, and rebel, and never grow up properly.

The thing about children is, ultimately, they need an authority figure in their lives. They know this, instinctively, and seek it out all the time. Infantilised adults will act no differently, except they'll be able to rationalise this need away as a need for security and companionship. Ultimately it's a need for someone to set boundaries. Children need boundaries, as they give them a secure environment in which to learn and grow. Without boundaries, a child (adult or otherwise) will become lost in a wilderness and never mature.

al fin said...

In psychiatry they call such a radically infantilised adult a "borderline personality." If a child is not raised by responsible parents, but instead by his childhood peers--as a large proportion of government school educated children are--maturity is delayed. If you throw in adolescent drug and alcohol use, pregnancies + abortions with deeply buried guilt, petty crime, childish rebellions (dress, piercings, tatoos), and other habitual alienation from larger society, and "the healthy socialisation" of peer group neotenisation, and there is little difference between psychopathology and the normal result of average childhood.

In other words, the end product of social democracies is a population of borderline personalities. Social democrats: say hello to your new overlords and masters, the representatives of the caliphate.

bioqubit said...

Spiritual longing needs much more attention both here and in Europe.

It is a real force felt by millions, yet it gets swept under the rug by elites and those who are uncomfortable with it.

While many enjoy compiling screeds that characterize spiritual longing as dysfunctional in every possible way you can conceive, at their own peril, they miss the point.

The diffusion and dimunition of spiritual and religious urges in Europe is a vacuum that will be filled by Islam unless good Christians everywhere stand up and fight back.

Socialism is essential anti-religious. This has helped create the state of spiritual darkness that is Europe today. Unless individuals arm themselves by reading, discussing and otherwise becoming more knowledgable about religions in general, there will be more depressing stories like the one you posted about the young Swedish woman - and worse.

Anonymous said...

If these women are living in Sweden, how would they know what Christianity is like? As far as I've been able to tell, nobody has practiced it there for years.

X said...

Try visiting some time. Christianity still has a strong presence but it's like most other post-modern western democracies in that the core of the faith is diluted and rendered impotent by leaders who have no faith, nor belief, in the very scriptures they claim to follow. More people would attend church if the leaders believed what they were preaching and stuck to the actual texts of the bible rather than branching out in to anti-americanism, or whatever the latest trend is. And if they had the passion and the belief in what they were preaching, linking those words to the now, rather than spouting anodyne nothings.

Dan M said...

That is one of the most creepy photographs I've ever seen.

That little child, progressively moving deeper and deeper into the dark folds of islam.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, archonix. You can only blame the clergy up to a point. Sooner or later, people have to take responsibility for their own behavior. The Swedes don't need the clergy to tell them what the Bible says any more than Americans. The fact that they don't has more to do with the retreat of Christianity in their country than the failures of their religious leaders.

ljm said...

Good posts. I would love to converse at length. I will add one thought: antisemitism. A college convert I knew, converted because all the nice young Arab men she knew hated Israel. That would probably be very common in

Nancy Reyes said...

I know several US women who married and converted. The ones who married sophisticated educated Muslims did fine. The rest were women who (dare I say it?) were fat.
They probably felt unwanted by American men, and they married a foreigner.
Not all Muslim men are nutcases. Many are liberal. As for the women, in the USA they would become Baptist or Mormon...but since Scandanavia has few Baptists or LDS churches for women seeking "Traditional" families, the Muslim way is not the worst way to marry...

Anonymous said...

Y'know, boinky, I'd have to agree that "the Muslim way is not the worst way to marry..."

Based on the principle that, no matter how bad you think things are, there is always something that's even worse, yes, there are worse things for an American woman than to marry a Muslim man, although, Lord knows that's bad enough.

pharmacology said...

I stumbled on this dribble this afternoon while looking over Middle Eastern sites. It's an opinion piece by someone that purports to be an American women convert to Islam, and if the writer is as proclaimed, it offers some insight into the logic and mindset of some of the women that leave their native culture for Islam.

American Convert: Muslims must reject democracy!

Jabba the Tutt said...

Seems to me, this is a "religious" market opportunity to start re-introducing Christianity into Sweden via some Evangelicals.