In investigating the relationship between economics and sex in Muslim societies we want to identify and make intelligible the probable sexual strategies that the Muslim countries might adopt in the coming decades. This study will try to answer a precise question: How is »political power« in the dependent Muslim societies, given their cultural and economic determinants, going to exploit sexuality as a strategic area in carrying out a chosen social blueprint?
The majority of the Muslim states have officially opted for a democratic, egalitarian society. Nevertheless, there is a flagrant contradiction between what they advocate in the economic field and the decisions they make in the sexual field. While the principle of democracy and equality is proclaimed as the ideal in the economic field, it is totally rejected when sex enters the equation, and this is true no matter what the political orientation of the state may be. Two Muslim national leaders, as opposed and as different in their vision of development as the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini and the Algerian Boumedian, are in agreement on the fact that inequality must be maintained as the organizing principle of relations in the sexual sphere.
Ayatollah Khomeini's ideal, philosophy, inspiration, and source of laws for the modem renascent Muslim society is Islam. He has required Iranian women to put on the chador again, to veil themselves. The veil has a very precise meaning: It represents the denial of the economic dimension of women, who, according to the tenets of Muslim orthodoxy, are exclusively sexual beings.
Boumedian was the leader of one of the most daring movements in Muslim political life, the socialist movement. Boumedian's ideal, philosophy, and source of laws for the renascent Muslim society was socialism. Socialism, despite attempts to reconcile it with Islam, has a vision of the world essentially contradictory to the Muslim vision. Nevertheless, Boumedian took a position similar to that of Khomeini concerning the claims of Algerian women in the economic sphere. On May 8, 1966, in a speech on the occasion of International Women's Day, he revealed one of the problems that preoccupied the Algerian government: »There exists the problem of unemployment. When a job is available, should it go to a man or a woman? Should the man be left at home, while the woman is permitted to work? This is the problem!«
For Boumedian, who had devoted his life to the ideals of democracy and equality, these ideals were not meant to penetrate the sexual sphere. What are the theoretical and ideological implications of the fragmentation of the struggle for democracy into specialized areas? What is the meaning of the exclusion of the sexual area from the struggles for equality and democracy? Can there be an effective struggle against the relations of inequality and exploitation in traditionally hierarchized societies with no questioning of the relations of inequality and exploitation that officially govern the sexual area?
What then are the relationships between economics and sex? Is the sexual area divorced from the struggles and transformations that people are trying to promote in the economic and political areas? Is the sexual area a miraculously neutral area?
The sexual Area as a Sphere
of economic and political Struggles
If you look only at contemporary history, you find that the sexual area, far from being neutral, mirrors with particular acuity the economic and ideological struggles of the period.
In his book, The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem Women and Strategies in Soviet Central Asia: 1919-1929, Gregory Massell describes how the Russian elite, in their program of transforming the social, economic, and political structures of Central Asia, tried to manipulate the sexual area, particularly to manipulate women. The book describes not only how the Muslim women were used as the instrument for Russian aims, but also how they were used by the local populations as a means of resistance, as pawns in counter-strategies.
Wilhelm Reich, in the second part of The Sexual Revolution, tried to elucidate another aspect of the Soviet experience, the ebb and flow that occur between sex and politics in all attempts at a radical overturn of the economic structures of society.
Writing from a more general perspective, Hilda Scott tries to describe how the socialist experiment in Eastern Europe has taken over the sexual area and used the female body in its economic strategies (female labor power) and military strategies (the issue of women's right to control their fertility versus the demographic growth considered necessary for the defense of the socialist societies).
Still in the socialist context, C. K. Yang in his book, Chinese Communist Society: The Family and the Village, describes the very tight links that connect economics and politics and sex in revolutionary strategies.
There have been many studies of the multiple and inseparable connections, networks, and interactions that link the economic, political, and sexual areas in capitalist strategies. I will merely call to mind a few that are particularly relevant to our subject because they reveal how the female body is used as the field and medium of political and economic programs, policies, and aims. In his analyses of the slave economy of the American South, Eugene Genovese shows the strategic place occupied by sex in the slave system of production and in the setting up of work and leisure relations between masters and slaves. The bodies of women — those belonging to the masters as well as those belonging to the slaves — emerge in this economy as a key device in the structuring of relationships of domination and exploitation.
It is always at moments of crisis that the links between economics and sex appear with the most clarity. There has been ample documentation of the manipulation of the sexual area by the fascist authorities in imposing their slogans and anxieties and in forcing individuals of both sexes to conform to the economic and political conduct that their philosophy dictated. And capitalism, whether at moments of grave crisis or during relatively less disturbed periods, has always been distinguished by a particularly sophisticated interlinkage between economics and sex, especially at the level of one of the most fundamental acts of its system: consumption. Michel Foucault, in the first volume of his history of sexuality, brilliantly demonstrates that the management of the sexual area is not only linked to the economic and political areas, but also constitutes the very basis of all the strategies in these two domains.
But if consumption seems to be the privileged domain where economic and sexual fields intersect and are mutually supportive in industrialized countries at the economic center, this intersection assumes other shapes and takes on other characteristics in the countries along the periphery, in the dependent societies that are the subject of this study.
Sex in the Context of peripheral Capitalism:
Prostitution in the dependent Muslim Countries as an economic phenomenon
and its ideological effect
The imperialist expansion of capitalism in the economic field in peripheral soci- eties is paralleled in the sexual field by some particularly striking results: first, the exploitation of female labor through the expedient of its statistical invisibility; and second, the spreading of prostitution, which is linked to the rural exodus and the exclusion of women from the education networks, occupational training, and permanent regulated jobs.
The prostitution of female bodies in Third World countries — that is, their commercial consumption as sex objects — is sufficiently widespread that it affects the Muslim world as well. The same phenomenon of the linkage of prostitution with rural exodus and the economic marginalization of women shows up in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The United Nations documents drawn up for the Copenhagen conference, whose purpose was to evaluate the progress made by the states in their policies for the improvement of the status of women, all concluded that the situation had in fact only deteriorated, especially in the countries of the Third World. Claude Meillassoux, in his book Femmes, greniers et capitaux, explores the various mechanisms by which imperialism appropriates a labor force that is cheap only if it is especially selected out from the huge »labor pools,« and he shows the strategic place of women in these manipulations.
Muslim societies, despite repeated official statements of their adherence to Islam, have not escaped the decay of the institutions that once utilized women's labor — the extended family and its economic substructure, the domestic economy. The destruction of the extended family and the collapse of the domestic economy, due to the takeover of land by the capitalist units of production, the expansion of agribusiness, and the export-orientation of the agricultural sector, have pushed the illiterate peasant women to the cities where jobs are rare, chancy, and underpaid.
The expansion of prostitution among the female population, who are looking for work and poorly equipped to find it when it is available, occurs not only in the cities, but also in the rural areas and the medium-size towns that serve as funnels of immigration to the cities. The wave of prostitution assumes international proportions between the Muslim countries (for example, the expansion of prostitution in postwar Lebanon, and to Casablanca and Cairo under the influence of Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti petrodollars), but also between these countries and Europe (especially in the case of countries that are exporters of labor to Europe). A defensive silence surrounds the phenomenon of prostitution in the dependent Muslim countries. Nevertheless, since it is linked to the rural exodus and to unemployment, it can be argued that even if its rate of increase has not been proportional to these two phenomena, it has at least followed a parallel course. In the Muslim context, the deterioration of women's economic situation and the expansion of prostitution will inevitably have very serious ideological repercussions, especially on the chances for the improvement of women's status in the coming decades, and will thus become determining factors in determining specific sexual strategies.
Sex and Ideologie in dependent muslim societies:
Absence of the economic dimension of Women
in the »Muslim cultural Heritage«
Two fundamental facts are likely to determine the sexual strategies of Muslim societies in the coming decades.
The first is their economic dependence, which makes the bourgeoisie of these countries unable to provide jobs for a population with one of the world's highest birthrates. The importing of sophisticated technology from the industrialized countries, the exporting of barely processed raw materials, and the export-orientation of the agricultural sector are all factors that inhibit the creation of jobs and exacerbate unemployment. Moreover, unemployment means a decline in men's purchasing power and in patriarchal authority, and thus brings about the collapse of the family as an institution that provides for the needs of women and children. The result is the emergence of millions of women and children as job seekers on the national employment market.
The second fact is that Muslim culture has a built-in ideological blindness to the economic dimension of women, who are ordinarily perceived, conceived, and defined as exclusively sexual objects. The female body has traditionally been the object of an enormous erotic investment, which has clouded (if not totally hidden) woman's economic dimension. In addition, the inflation of the erotic dimension of women has resulted in the eroticization of the male body, the general eroticization of relations between the sexes, and thus an exaggerated preoccupation with sex and the sexualization of problems belonging to other spheres of life. For example, given the exaggeration of the erotic dimension, certain economic problems are experienced as sexual problems. This is the case with a man's economic failure. The unequal distribution of wealth, widespread unemployment, and the chancy character of jobs and wages reduces the buying power of males (if they have any). And since virility in patriarchal Muslim society is defined in terms of economic power, economic failure is experienced by the male as castration, as a problem with virility, as impotence.
In the same way, the invasion by women of economic spaces such as factories and offices, which is an economic fact of development, is often experienced as erotic aggression in the Muslim context, where the female body, defined as 'urya (nudity), has been neutralized by the traditional structuring of space (seclusion of women and the wearing of the veil when moving through male space)
The female body as media:
decoding Muslim patriarchal writing through the erotic
ans legal discourses
One of the contributions of the social sciences, particularly anthropology, psychology, and sociology, has been to show how the human body is used to support power struggles, as a place where the dominant group inscribes its systems of domination, its taboos, and its punishments. But if this is true for the human body in general, it is all the more true for the female body, which seems to be the prime material for the symbolism of power and writing on hierarchy, domination, and exploitation. The female body as a field of writing, initiation, and discourse on power, domination, and exploitation seems to be a constant aspect of human societies, whatever the degree of development of their means of production.
In the pages that follow I propose to decode the messages programmed onto the female body by centuries of Muslim culture, using two discourses that form part of the heritage defined as authentic and not influenced by the West and its conquests. This decoding is a necessary preliminary exercise for identifying some elements of the answers to the following question: What sexual strategies are Muslim societies likely to adopt, given their economic and ideological determinants?
The difficulty that Muslim societies, including their politicians and scholars, have in perceiving the economic dimension of the female person in the twentieth century is all the more significant in that the economic discourse is a dominant one. The twentieth century is a period when nation-states, whatever their level of development, use statistical methods that play a decisive role in the evaluation of the contribution of each individual to the creation of national wealth. It is obvious that these methods and the theories about them, above and beyond their avowed aim of quantifying production and the distribution of wealth, function as ideological devices for legitimation, hierarchization, and manipulation. The fact is that these statistical methods have a problem in quantifying the productive potential and economic contribution of the Muslim woman.
This gives rise to our interest in discovering how power has coded female potentialities in our cultural heritage. And the orthodox discourse is precisely the discourse of power — rather, it is power.
One might ask what interest there can be in comparing two discourses so different as the erotic discourse and the orthodox discourse. The interest lies precisely in the relationship that the two discourses have to power. The erotic discourse is a reflection by a human being — the author — on a precise subject, which is specifically the female body, regarded as a source and instrument of pleasure.
The orthodox discourse, on the other hand, is the discourse of a god on power and its dispensation; it is the source and origin of a vision that takes total charge of the organization and management of the universe and everything in it, including pleasure. The orthodox discourse is power, the exercise of power, and the delegation of power, all in one.
The nature and scope of the two discourses and their resulting impact on the Muslim psyche are entirely different in kind. The erotic discourse is an individual reflection, the personal opinion and beliefs of Mr. X or Mr. Y on the female body as the seat and agent of sexual pleasure. The motivation of the authors is to throw light on an important but murky and inexplicit aspect of the life of the Muslim community—sexual desire. It is not their intention to impose on readers their own vision of the female body and its purpose. Moreover, they take all the methodological precautions necessary to maintain the uncertainty that characterizes their approach. They rely on Allah to put them onto the right track, because the believers are the audience for their books. The authors' relationship to power is totally negative; they do not claim to possess the truth nor to dispense it. What they claim to do is share information on a very mysterious subject—the female body as a source of pleasure.
The orthodox discourse, on the other hand, speaks in a completely different voice — one of power. It is not the work of a person; it is a work of divine inspiration, which imposes itself as the collective, global, total, and totalitarian vision of the universe. With the erotic discourse one is in the realm of individual reflection, of the profane — in short, of the human. With the orthodox discourse, one moves to the diametrically opposed realm of the sacred, which is in essence collective and divine.
The effect of these two discourses is totally opposite. The erotic discourse is an optional discourse, with each believer able to decide for himself or herself to read or not to read this literature. The orthodox discourse is a compulsory, omnipresent, omniscient discourse. One cannot escape it as a member of the Muslim community; it is time and space, it is the air that one breathes, the relationships that one has, the food that one eats—it is life itself. The orthodox discourse is diffused into the flesh and nerves of a person from the first moments of existence, and even before, because at the moment of copulation the believer utters a ritual prayer. At birth a whole series of prayers and invocations combined with an animal sacrifice create a social niche for the newborn. The latter will be bathed throughout childhood in the orthodox discourse, which constitutes the matter and method of Koranic teaching. Circumcision, as a rite of passage and admission to the status of conscious being, tattoos the collective prohibitions onto the body of the male child through a bath of blood.
The consciousness of the circumcised child is the consciousness of having become a member of the Muslim community, which fetes him and takes charge of him. Beginning at that moment, the life task of the young adolescent is to learn how to live up to the expectations of the orthodox discourse, how to be a good Muslim. The orthodox discourse is the determining influence on the Muslim individual's personality, which it shapes, molds, and directs at the preconscious level as much as at the conscious level. It is this that lends importance to the analysis of this discourse as it relates to the totality of life — to the natural as well as the human environment.