SWR, a commenter on Eschaton, posed this question today:
1.) Islamic extremism. Is it an expression of the "have nots" against the haves? If it were, then wouldn't the elmination of Islamism merely mean that the "have nots" would turn to other extremist ideologies (eg Maoism).
2.) Or is Islamic extremism the movement of a minority within Islam, a kind of elite that represents some kind of male backlash, wounded masculine pride against the west.
3.) Or is it (as the "terror experts" and Franklin Grahams say) Islam itself. Is Islam itself an extremist religion?
Or is it
4.) Islamic extremism is one manifestation of a right-wing, male backlash, a militaristic ideology that also includes Christian Dominionism and Likudnic Jewish nationalism?
I believe that the correct answer is a combination of 1. and 4.. All the extreme conservative interpretations of religions are misogynistic and militaristic, or at least I can't think of a single one which isn't. Their relative popularity today shows that the appeal of a violent and woman-hating religious angle has grown, and one reason for it surely is that women are not quite as oppressed and silent as they have been in the past. Here I have to make a detour into amateur psychology of the worst kind, but I do believe that many with poor self-knowledge and not much self-esteem feel their value only in a relative sense: how am I better than all those other schmucks and schlemiels? And one way to get instant reassurance is to label the majority of the others as unalterably beneath you, in all and every possible permutation. Your servant, in fact. And look! the Holy Book says so, too. Whew! What a relief! Now you only have to worry about the remaining minority.
Poverty, lack of jobs and the colonial history of areas such as Middle East all contribute to these feelings. The West has stomped over those countries for decades in a quest for resources to exploit and that can't make the people in the area happy. That this comes out partly as general misogyny links to my psycho-babble theory. It seems that whenever the political and economic circumstances exhibit volatility and deterioration certain men turn to checking that the kitchen door was locked behind their wives. This happened in the Eastern Europe and Russia after the Berlin Wall fell and it's happening in a milder form in the United States where good blue-collar jobs are disappearing and dual-earner couples confuse simple gender schemas of the past. That the so-called dittoheads find Limbaugh's arguments against feminazis and affirmative action attractive is part and parcel of the same phenomenom.
None of this is to deny the real injustices of the war in Iraq or the difficult dilemma of the Palestinians, both causes that the terrorists tend to offer as reasons for their attacks, and Bush's policies in the Middle East in general are certainly not helping things. But the specific misogynistic ideology of the bin Laden types requires something more to be explained, especially as at least the wingnuts on the other side share a "kinder, gentler" form of the very same ideology. I'd say that it's the good old patriarchy rearing its ugly head, once again. Sadly, I have no idea how the situation could be made better, but it would require that we somehow manage to give everybody a certain type of healthy self-esteem; one which doesn't depend on putting others down.