This article looks at an interesting development in the Middle East. Across the region, girls and young women do markedly better in school than boys and young men, even in the sciences.
- “In fact, across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States. In Saudi Arabia alone, women earn half of all science degrees. And yet, most of those women are unlikely to put their degrees to paid use for very long.”
The conclusion the article reaches is surprising. It questions the common assumption that Middle Eastern women succeed in education because their lives are controlled and distractions are minimized. Rather than argue women study harder because they have nothing else to do, this article argues the problem may be in the quality of education boys and young men receive and the dynamics created by gender-segregated class-rooms
- “…boys’ schools are more violent places, concluded the study, which was funded by USAID. Over half of the boys interviewed said they’d experienced some kind of bullying in school over the previous year. Only 11 percent of girls said the same thing. Two-thirds of male teachers said they’d witnessed physical violence among students in the past year—compared with less than a quarter of female teachers.”
- Boys also reported worse relationships with their male teachers. Only 40 percent of male students interviewed said they believed their teachers cared about how well they did in school—compared with 74 percent of girls.” “…male teachers in all-boys schools were more likely to belittle or punish students for getting the wrong answer. And boys were much more likely than girls to complain about their male teachers’ tendencies to beat students and shout at them.”
Their explanation for this pattern was a mix of political economy and cultural norms:
- “Teachers do not earn a lot of money in Jordan, but men are still expected to be the primary breadwinners in families. So male teachers are more likely to work second or third jobs as tutors or even taxi drivers in order to augment their small salaries. One Jordanian student told me about a male biology teacher he’d had who was so exhausted by his two other jobs that he used to close the blinds in first period and go to sleep.”
- “On average Jordan’s male teachers—who have mostly gone through the same educational system themselves—do worse on the national entry test for teaching, according to Ministry of Education data. This suggests in turn that boys might be encountering less-prepared teachers on average. “Male teachers are hard to come by, and good male teachers are even harder,””
- “The problem, Osman and his colleagues concluded, was not simply boys’ freedom or male teachers’ preparation. It was all that and more. Through surveys and other analysis, they identified a long list of factors that were interacting like a chemical equation, which is the unsexy secret about how education systems usually work. Not just teacher quality but students’ sense of safety, their study habits, and the subtleties of the boy and girl peer cultures all converge to create a healthy—or toxic—brew.”
Along the way, the article discusses the need to empower men: “We used to say, empowering women, and now we talk about empowering men,” Hamood Khalfan Al Harthi, the undersecretary for education and curriculum in Oman, says. In patriarchal societies this may seem a bit whiny, but it’s not:
- “Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.”
In the context of the Middle East, that disengagement one must wonder if it also leads to political radicalization…
This issue has already been discussed on this blog
However it is worth reiterating the point:
“The findings were stark: Not many Arabs sympathize with the Islamic State. The percent agreeing with the Islamic State’s goals range from 0.4 percent in Jordan to 6.4 percent in the Palestinian territories. The percent agreeing with the Islamic State’s use of violence range from 0.4 percent in Morocco to 5.4 percent in the Palestinian territories. The percent agreeing that the Islamic State’s tactics are compatible with Islam range from 1.0 percent in Jordan to 8.9 percent n the Palestinian territories.”
The Orlando night-club shooting has been taken by some as evidence that Islam is intolerant and incompatible with North American morality and social values. This article looks at survey research on attitudes toward Homosexuality, specifically same sex marriage. The key result is:
- “45 percent of American Muslims approve of homosexuality, and 42 percent of Muslims support same-sex marriage recognition. In both cases, a greater number disapprove of acceptance than approve. But then, so do Evangelical Christians in numbers greater than American Muslims. Only 36 percent of Evangelical Christians approve of homosexuality and only 28 percent of Evangelical Christians support same-sex marriage recognition.”
The surveys used in the article also suggest that there is a great deal of intolerance towards homosexuality in Muslim majority countries. However, given the responses by American Muslims, this suggests that social/moral attitudes are the product of a broader social context and cannot simply be reduced to Islam.
For more background on the history of Islam in the United States, see:
This article is is significant for two reasons:
First, it suggests there is dissatisfaction in the Alawi community with the Assad regime:
- “In a deeply unusual move, leaders of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect in Syria have released a document, obtained by the BBC, that distances themselves from his regime and outlines what kind of future they wish for the country after five years of civil war.”
It is not 100% clear who wrote this document, so it is difficult to judge how representative it is. However the Alawite community is the bedrock of the regime. Without that relationship the regime would be in big trouble. Having said that, even if there is dissatisfaction, the Alawi would likely find themselves in a very vulnerable position should the regime fall. They may be tied to the regime whether they like it or not -such is the logic and reality of sectarian conflicts.
Second, it sheds some light on a poorly understood community in the region. What is particularly interesting is the way the authors of the document differentiate themselves from Shi’ism. Although they are often considered a sect within Shi’sm, they portray themselves as a “a third model “of and within Islam”.
- “While acknowledging that they share some formal religious sources, the leaders stress that Alawism is distinct from Shia Islam, and decline previous legal rulings, or fatwas, by leading Shia clerics that seek to “appropriate the Alawites and consider Alawism an integral part of Shiism or a branch of the latter”.”
The document also acknowledges that the religion has incorporated beliefs from other monotheist belief systems but remains part of Islam. This too is important in that it is a defense against critics who claim the Alawi sect are not “legitimate” Muslims, and that it refers specifically to monotheist religious traditions, such as Judaism and Christianity which are considered part of the same religious tradition as Islam (i.e. people of the book). The critics have in the past accused the Alawi of non-monotheistic beliefs and practices which would make it harder for them to defend their traditions as being part of the Islamic spectrum.
VOX asks Peter Neumann, a professor at King’s College London and the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation why Brussels seems to be at the center of IS activity in Europe. His response is fairly standard:
- “First, the country has an especially longstanding and well-organized network of radical Islamist recruiters, making it easier for people to join up there than in other European countries.”
- “Second, its police and intelligence agencies are epically undersized, making them incapable of dealing with the past five years’ massive surge in jihadist recruiting. The Belgian state, according to Neumann, mostly turned a blind eye to these problems. So it was “just a question of time until something happened.”
In Belgium, like in France and other countries in Europe, you have these areas in cities that have over the past years, if not decades, become migrant ghettos. You had a lot of issues with social/economic deprivation — the best example of that is Molenbeek, the part of [Brussels] where all these jihadists seem to be coming from.”
- Third, “…parts of Europe that have been completely abandoned by the state, by the authorities, by even Muslim communities. And for a long time, people were happy with that. They would be leaving us alone, and we would be leaving them alone.
But over the years, this situation festered. Jihadist structures took advantage of that, and basically go about their business almost unhindered. What happened after 2011-’12 is that groups like Sharia4Belgium — a prominent group — went into these places and very systematically recruited large numbers of people.”
Newsweek has a somewhat different take. The article argues a new generation of Jihadists have emerged in Europe:
- “Their knowledge of Islam is quite limited; they are more like jihadi hipsters than dedicated Islamists, or what some experts in the intelligence community call “jihadist cool.” They celebrate what the Dutch coordinator for security and counterterrorism called “pop-jihad as a lifestyle.”
- “These shallow Islamists have proved to be a challenge for European countries that use a traditional de-radicalization program for Muslims lured into the world of radical fundamentalists: It’s hard to re-educate people about Islam when they knew almost nothing to begin with. In what may be the most representative event depicting the nature of these new Islamist extremists, two British Muslims, both 22, purchased copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies in August 2014 just before they boarded a plane on the first leg of their trip to join ISIS fighters in Syria.”
- “These are youths who gather in groups, such as the recently dismantled Sharia4Belgium. They know less about Osama bin Laden than they do about Tupac Shakur; Belgians who travel to Syria to fight often revere the deceased American rapper on social media, identifying themselves with his lyrics about life in the inner cities. But these attackers also have their own rap music, hip clothes popular with young Muslims that are sold by companies like Urban Ummah and slogans akin to what might be found on a bumper sticker (“Work Hard, Pray Hard.”) Their tweets often end with terms like #BeardLife and #HijabLife.”
- In some respects, the Newsweek analysis is similar to that of VOX:
“Based on interviews with European Muslims returning from fighting in Syria, foreign intelligence agencies estimate that about 20 percent of them were diagnosed with mental illnesses before they left for the Middle East. A large percentage of them have prior records for both petty and serious crimes. And the vast majority of them come out of urban neighborhoods torn apart by economic hardship.”
The big difference is that this article focuses on local culture, local social networks and “Rambo-envy.”:
- “For foreign fighters the religious component in recruitment and radicalization is being replaced by more social elements such as peer pressure and role modelling,’’ said a January 18 report by Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, which deals with militant networks. “Additionally the romantic prospect of being part of an important and exciting development, apart from more private considerations, may play a role.”
This account would fit in well with the Feminist literature on how the formation of particular dysfunctional types of masculine identity leads to violence.
Finally, the Economist’s Daily Chart provides some statistics on attitudes toward Muslims in Europe. The graphic tells a sad tale of Islamaphobia: “an Ipsos-Mori poll in 2014 found that on average Belgian respondents thought 29% of their compatriots were Muslim. The actual figure is closer to 6%.”
“A Pew Research Center survey conducted last year shows that the French held more favorable views of both Jews and Muslims than many other Europeans. Indeed, 89% of French adults held favorable views of Jews, while 72% felt similarly about Muslims.”
A nice clear chart of the various divisions within Islam. My thanks to Dr. Patricia Kelly Spurles for passing the link on.