WASHINGTON -- On Sept. 11, America awoke to the great jihad, wondering: What is this about? We have come to agree on the obvious answers: religion, ideology, political power and territory. But there is one fundamental issue at stake that dares not speak its name. This war is also about -- deeply about -- sex.
For the jihadists, at stake in the war against the infidels is the control of women. Western freedom means the end of women's mastery by men, and the end of dictatorial clerical control over all aspects of sexuality -- in dress, behavior, education, the arts.
Taliban rule in Afghanistan was the model of what the jihadists want to impose upon the world. The case the jihadists make against freedom is that wherever it goes, especially America and Europe, it brings sexual license and corruption, decadence and depravity.
The appeal of this fear can be seen in the Arab world's closest encounter with modernity: Israel. Israeli women are by far the most liberated of any in that part of the world. For decades, the Arab press has responded with lurid stories of Israeli sexual corruption.
The most famous example occurred in the late 1990s when Egyptian newspapers claimed that chewing gum Israel was selling in Egypt was laced with sexual hormones that aroused insatiable lust in young Arab women. Palestinian officials later followed with charges that Israeli chewing gum was a Zionist plot for turning Palestinian women into prostitutes, and ``completely destroying the genetic system of young boys'' to boot.
Which is why the torture pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib prison could not have hit a more neuralgic point. We think of torture as the kind that Saddam practiced: pain, mutilation, maiming and ultimately death. We think of it as having a political purpose: intimidation, political control, confession and subjugation. What happened at Abu Ghraib was entirely different. It was gratuitous sexual abuse, perversion for its own sake.
That is what made it, ironically and disastrously, a pictorial representation of precisely the lunatic fantasies that the jihadists believe -- and that cynical secular regimes such as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority peddle to pacify their populations and deflect their anger and frustrations. Through this lens, Abu Ghraib is an ``I told you so'' played out in an Arab capital, recorded on film.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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