Sex and Islamophobia

It’s not just Western liberals who lambast the Arab, and broader Islamic, world, for sexual intolerance; many political conservatives also have this in their sights, particularly in relation to women’s rights. Take, for example a recent piece of trenchant geopolitical analysis from former US presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.


Similar music to American conservative ears is pundit Pamela Geller, who regularly inveighs on the dangers of Islam: “Frankly, given the choices a woman has in Islam, homicide bomber might very well be the most attractive choice. Clitorectomies, honor killing, forced marriage, 97-year-old husbands or homicide bomber …..decisions, decisions,” she notes in her blog, Atlas Shrugs. There is no shortage of websites pushing this line; for a glossy repackaging of the “sexed-up, fucked-up” school of Islamophobia, see FrontPage Magazine.


An even more graphic illustration comes from right-wing Dutch politican Geert Wilders. In 2008, he released is Fitna, a 15-minute visual essay, which prompted a furious international response. Fitna (Arabic for “disorder”) makes no bones about its message: “Islam wants to rule, submit and seeks to destroy our Western civilization…Now the Islamic ideology has to be defeated.” Fitna’s arguments are, in the main, a cover version of medieval attacks, remixed for the YouTube generation. In addition to the old indictments of Islam as a religion of violence, updated with graphic footage of recent terrorist attacks and televised calls for jihad, is a new spin—the sexual intolerance of Muslims, at home and abroad. Headlines flash across the screen: “Explosive increase honor killings in Amsterdam”, “Moroccans throw gay in water”, “Imam legalizes violence against gays”. “If my mother or my sister have sex with someone else, then I will kill them too,” intones a (presumably) Muslim man, followed by the question “The Netherlands in the future?!” and Wilders’s answer for the country’s homosexual population: photos of two young men being hanged, presumably for same-sex relations and presumably somewhere in the Muslim world.


You don’t have to trawl the darker recesses of the web to find views like this. Just watch Sex and the City 2, which follows the adventures of the four fashionable New York friends in Abu Dhabi—or rather Morocco, since the producers couldn’t get permission to screen the film, let alone shoot it, in the UAE, and Marrakech had to serve as a stand-in. The plot, such as it is, contrasts the sexual openness of the visitors with the closed-mindedness of their destination. Advice from guidebooks, “Women are required to dress in a way that does not attract sexual attention”, “Men and women don’t embrace in public in the Middle East” is brushed aside by Samantha, the most sexually-assertive of the women.“Oh please, we’re going to the new Middle East,” she scoffs.


Too right. In the movie, Samantha is arrested for kissing a fellow foreigner on the beach, reported to authorities by an outraged Emirati. In a later scene, her handbag flies open in the souq, its contents scattering to the ground. Surrounded by men shouting insults, she bends over in tight shorts to pick up her belongings, and lets loose on the locals: “Condoms! Condoms, yes! Condoms! I have sex! Yes! Yes! I have condoms! Here they are! Bite me! Bite me! Oh, bite me!” The quartet is all but run out of town—to Samantha’s relief. “New Middle East, my ass,” is her verdict. Or as her beach partner puts it, “Abu Dhabi is so cutting-edge in so many ways and so backward when it comes to sex. And the paradox is I find myself to be most aroused on my trips here.” New tune, same old turn-on.