Fundamentalism in Syria and Male-Heterosexist Supremacy Everywhere
According to an article in the international section of the New York Times, two men belonging to a group called “Jihadists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” made this comment in a YouTube video last week after they had killed and beheaded a severely injured Syrian man in a hospital. They had misidentified him as a Shiite Muslim because he had muttered names of Shiite saints in his half-conscious state. The New York Times explained that the murdered man, Mohamed Fares Marroush, had belonged to another Islamist group called Ahrar al-Sham that was allied with his murderers’ group. By now the latter group released a wanted poster for the two murderers with the goal to conduct a trial in a Shariah court.
A case of mistaken identity in the chaotic, sectarian context of today’s Syria indeed.
But I was struck by the quote above. First, what do the two jihadist murderers mean by it and, second, why does the New York Times article quote it without any further comment?
The two jihadists characterize “infidels” as those who rape men prior to raping women, and they ask for Allah’s support in their battle against these enemies. In other words, these jihadists’ horror does not consist in the fact that their enemies rape in general or that they rape women. Rather, they are outraged because these men rape men.
To them, this is more outrageous than the rape of women because this kind of rape violates the cornerstone of a theology built upon male-heterosexist supremacy. A theology built on male-heterosexist supremacy instructs that men rule over women and are not to be treated like women. It tolerates that women are sometimes raped, especially during war, although it certainly evaluates such events as extremely unfortunate. But it does not view the rape of women as a challenge to male-heterosexist supremacy in society. On the contrary, the rape of women reinforces it, perhaps more so than many other events in the world and certainly more so than the rape of men. Thus, I assume that the two jihadists uphold social and religious mores that aim to prevent rape from happening to “their” women. They probably demand their women to be veiled, to stay at home, and to be dependent on their care and support. If their sisters, aunts, daughters, or wives were raped, these jihadists would probably recommend shunning the women for the rest of their lives or even killing them to restore male honor. But they would not call the rapists “infidels.”
They only call those men infidels who rape men. These men have to be killed because they violate the male-heterosexist supremacy, in their view, sanctioned by Allah.
Male-heterosexist supremacy has ruled many societies for centuries, probably several millennia by now, not only in Syria but practically everywhere, although a few exceptions exist such as among the Mosuo people living at Lake Luku in China.
In short, many societies are organized according to male-heterosexist supremacy that is usually endorsed religiously, although not everywhere do its adherents decapitate their opponents, as in the particular case in Syria.
Hence I wonder if it is not valid to say that the jihadist comment, quoted above, articulates a position upheld by a great majority of past and present people anywhere even though most did not make such statements. After all, only very few people have opposed socio-political and religious hierarchies of gender. Instead, they go along with women’s violations day after day, year after year, even taking them for granted.
Only very few people demand that religious and secular organizations take a stand against male-heterosexist supremacy and very few people actively support a gender justice-oriented vision of human society, whether it is religious or secular. Just think of the one billion Catholics who more or less accept exclusive male leadership despite articulations of important feminist Catholic alternatives. Or consider the relentlessly sexist advertisement that keeps gender stereotypes current! And how about our political and economic institutions populated in great majorities by those performing as males?
And what with the legions of women willing to conform and to participate in the various systems of male-heterosexist supremacy? For sure, it is a complicated world and male-heterosexist supremacy is well and alive even when some women enjoy considerable public power. This is true for female presidents, such as Angela Merkel in Germany or Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, to name just two.
In this sense, then, the jihadist statement is extreme but far from unique when one looks at its underlying assumptions about gender and God.
And this is really very, very scary for Syrian women, girls, boys, and men, as well as for the rest of us. Male-heterosexist supremacy, linked with many other structures of domination, is strong not only in Syria where it even leads to mistaken beheadings during a bloody civil war, but also in many other places with less immediately visible consequences.
So what shall those of us do who recognize the pervasiveness of contemporary rape culture? I suggest that we keep talking about the depth of the problem. It is really everywhere, not only in Syria although it looks particularly grim there right now.
Yet the work of transformation has just begun and an end is not in sight. So let’s keep being outraged about the various manifestations of past and present rape culture. Our outrage tells the world that we have enough already. In the meantime, our purpose is clear. We need to make a fuss because it is so necessary at all times and wherever we live.