Style is a state of mind.
The rush of hormones when you hit puberty is extraordinary. Emotions spill, but at the same time a sense of power surges through your body. Getting your period is at once shocking, a reminder of death, but also a powerful symbol of responsibility and the giving of life.
By the age of 15, a teenage girl may have already looked after her period for up to 48 months. A meticulous ritual of hygiene and responsibility. Sex is on the mind – the ultimate act of adulthood. As if overnight schoolmates, teachers, sportsmen, your best friend’s dad, your own dad, all suddenly become visible. The bad-boy craze documented in glossy magazines is read with a fervour bordering on worship.
For a muslim girl drilled to stay celibate until marriage, these senses are even more heightened. Where so much as a walk down the road with a boy her age might result in a flogging back home, and for whom a private thought of sex fills her with shame, there is nowhere to dampen this flood of sexual tension – not even in her own thoughts.
She may be a grade-A student, eloquent, rational, thoughtful, perhaps even a touch rebellious like any teenager. But “western” morality excludes her, and she begins to believe it is the other way around. She cannot have a a male friend, a fling, a boyfriend or “god forbid” experiment with herself. She will wait. She will only offer up her body to a fellow muslim in an act of faith. She believes in her righteousness. Her abstinence is strength. For her – this young, thoughtful, innocent 15 year old girl – the Jihadi fighter’s rhetoric starts to creep in. He is a saviour, and this slowly takes on a personal twist: he is her saviour… offering up fantasy and respite in one fell swoop.
Earlier this month BBC’s Newsnight reported a muslim girl saying: “As a teenager I wanted to get my piece of eye candy and I’d take a good look, and all the YouTube videos, for some reason, [the militants] were all really, really attractive. It was glamorous in the sense it was like ‘oh wow, I can get someone who practises the same religion as me, who’s not necessarily from my ethnicity and that’s exciting’.”
Life is suffocating when play, fun and creative thought are prohibited in any culture. For the muslim girl, she is even censored by herself. Being a jihadi bride becomes an ultimate act of faith that commensurates her religious and cultural values with her brain-fogging flush of hormones. Channeling her thoughts into a funnel of Islam, she tries to unpick the sacred text, and other literature, to find answers to her dilemma. Death does not scare her. For one, she is young and morbidly fascinated by it. She is reminded of it, each month, in the clammy trickle in her underwear. Death feeds her angst. But more importantly for her, death feels like a fair price to pay, just to be able to live a little.
It is no wonder IS has been so successful at recruiting young girls and boys across Europe. Jihad appeals at once to human nature, angst, politics and faith. Facets of the human psyche that may not always be governed by reason, but are mistaken for it because they give reasons.
Since the terrifying attacks in Paris this year, so many muslims have felt ashamed and yet tried to redeem themselves by pleading this is not a fight against Islam. It is a fight against those who pervert it, they rallied. But isn’t the application of Islamic teaching in itself perverse? The fight against Jihad today is, in fact, intrinsically a fight against Islam. And so it should be.
I say this, and yet this does not mean that I have condemned the entire religion, rather its side-effects. Like the common side effects of aspirin or antibiotics to turn your stomach. Or of the early contraceptive pill to cause foetal deformity. Sometimes the side-effects are not worth the pill. The pill needs a review, an upgrade and a relaunch.
Islam’s side effects begin with its teachings, its early applications which quickly develop into trauma. A trauma that shakes the inside of the homes, hearts and very thoughts of our young muslim citizens of the “West”. They are plagued by their hybrid lives, with no safe place to call home, no parent-figure to confide in for fear of being misunderstood and mistreated. Constantly questioning their own values and desires, they are lost and confused but fighting for meaning and direction. These are the perfect targets for ideological indoctrination.
We should not fight Islam, but reform it. We need a rereading of the Quran to liberate innocent teenagers of self-chastising thoughts and, by example also free the rest of the faith-based communities across the world.
I am not the first to say this. Nor is Ayaan Hirsi Ali who has just this month published Heretic: Why Islam Needs A Reformation Now. Back in 2011, author of Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji wrote an article and posted a video in the Wall Street Journal where she came to the same conclusion as she examined the meaning of “love” and “respect” within the Quran. In the same year, and less than a month after 9/11, lawyer and best-selling author of “EXTREMIST” Quasim Rashid took issue with Manji’s arguments in an article posted on Huffington Post which re-examined and refined her position. But not before conceding to her ultimate conclusion for the need for reform. The day the Paris attacks riddled the world with shock, fear, deep sadness and profound shame, The Economist published an article on the possibility for the equivalent of a Protestant Reformation in Islam. And countless others, including Usama Hasan who wrote a piece in Prospect magazine that revisited the notions of peace, sanctity and violence in Islam. But Hasan’s was an article which crucially made a plea to work together to overcome a psychology of victimhood and anti-Western hate which “often develops in conditions of racism, discrimination and marginalisation” in the first instance.
The root causes run deep.
Casual, thoughtless racism on both sides of the coin need addressing before any lasting and meaningful reform can begin. This is essential for our safety across the eurocentric world, but especially for the safety, integrity and legitimacy of all our innocent teenagers of any faith growing up in an increasingly polarised world.
We have a responsibility – by this I mean you and I and everyone around us, irrespective of age, colour, class or faith – to review Islam. Not with political scrutiny, but with the respect and diplomacy of an academic’s eye.
Islam, like other major world religions and philosophies, has been a major contributor to civilising the world for the past 14 centuries. There is much to be valued in its emergence and spread as well as within its main text: the Quran itself advocates constant review and reform, commanding muslims to conduct a thorough investigation of its meaning (4:95) and to repeatedly reflect (2:220) and meditate (4:83).
Reform is integral to its very own survival. And reform does not have to mean that we must lose faith in it.
But there is an even deeper issue here than racisim and war. I’d like to return to periods, menstruation, female monthly bleed, the comic “time of the month”, whatever your preference. These have become the muse concepts of many contemporary artists, such as Hannah Altman who was recently covered by I-D magazine for glitter bombing the standards of beauty with graphic photographs depicting bloodied-looking knickers, gums and wounds – achieved through the strategic sprinkling of red glitter.
We need more artists, thinkers and feminists to force a spotlight on the politics of shame. Shame was sexist before it was racist. And this is a root cause we aren’t yanking at enough.
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