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Oh no! "Licentiousness breeds extremism"

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has a worrying column in The Independent. It is not worrying because of the concerns she raises about "licentiousness", "social nihilism", "debauchery", etc., but because it is another example of blaming the victims. Somehow the blame for Islamist terrorism is to be sheeted home to the relative sexual permissiveness of Western (in this case, British) society. It is also worrying because Alibhai-Brown is supposed to be an example of a moderate Muslim, but when you see someone writing so emotively about the evils of sexual freedom you have to ask the usual question where "moderate religion" is concerned, "Moderate about what?"

Her supposed moderation does not extend to acceptance that teenagers and young adults are (quite rationally) largely focused on sexual pleasures, and will inevitably engage in various forms of sexual display - such as wearing revealing clothing - if they are allowed to. Moderate she may be about some things, but she still writes in the way you'd expect of someone who has been socialised into a prudish kind of moral vision that irrationally condemns sexual expression and understands the naked human body as shameful.

Let's be clear about this. Alibhai-Brown does not merely offer the descriptive sociological conjecture that there's a causal nexus between the relative sexual permissiveness of Western societies and some Islamist extremism. She could have said something like the following: "In contemporary Western societies, many young women engage in a great deal of sexual display, in particular by wearing clothing that reveals much of their bodies. Some young men from Muslim backgrounds find this frustrating because it arouses them sexually, yet they are taught not to engage in sex outside of marriage. Some of these young men may react by becoming religious extremists."

If she'd just said that, we could guess that at least some young men, such as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, really do match this description. We could then consider whether the alleged causal connnection applies to more than a small number of isolated cases. Is that claim supported by any sociological data, and if so what policy response, if any, is required?

However, that is not how Alibhai-Brown presents her thesis. Instead, she uses highly emotive language to condemn the degree of sexual permissiveness that she finds in the UK. She obviously considers it repugnant and morally outrageous.
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