Since the American female elected to hop off her pedestal to seek "equality" with males, Valentine's Day has been seen as a ritualistic throwback to the days when men would routinely strew the ground beneath the pedestal with candy hearts, red roses and assorted chocolates -- at least, metaphorically speaking. That is, ideally, he would do so metaphorically speaking.
But it's the ideal that counts. Valentine's Day, now driven as much by Hallmark as by the shadow of the pedestal, follows from a societal ideal deriving from the chivalric code -- a signal influence on Western civilization -- which celebrated women for nobility and strength of character.
Such origins, however remote in a post-feminist world, put the holiday in the middle of that clash we read about between the West and Islam. Distinctly non-Islamic (St. Valentine was a Christian martyr from pre-Islamic times), it embodies an old-fashioned salute to La Femme that helps distinguish the West from Islam. Where the West dreamed up the pedestal, Islam bought the burqa.
Where the West gave liberty and justice a female face, Islam depicted womanhood as a lowly state of fearful passion. Where in the West sexual equality evolved, in Islam sexual inequality remains.
Such inequality makes it all the more astonishing that many of the most fearlessly outspoken dissidents to have emerged from the Islamic world are, in fact, women. I have five favorites, most of whom now live in the United States. Rather than simply enjoy Western freedom, however, they have each elected to bear witness, at great personal risk, to what they know. And for all their differences of experience, religion, culture and temperament, a common theme emerges: terrorism and the attendant dangers to liberal democracy come out of the founding texts and living traditions of Islam.
Nonie Darwish, daughter of an Egyptian intelligence officer charged with carrying out Nasser's vows to destroy Israel, saw life in Egypt from the Muslim perspective. But she never quite accepted it -- not even after her father became a "shahid," or Muslim martyr, when he was assassinated by Israel. Now a Christian, she has explained her skepticism in "Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror," (Sentinel, 2006).
Her answer is must reading.
So is the cautionary tale Brigitte Gabriel tells in "Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Jihad Warns America," (St. Martin's Press, 2006). Ms. Gabriel, a Maronite Christian, was 10 years old when civil war broke out in 1975 in Lebanon -- a war she explains as an Islamic jihad against Lebanon's ancient Christian community. She spent the next seven years living in a bomb shelter subject to frequent shelling. After her mother was wounded and ministered to in an Israeli hospital, Ms. Gabriel saw Jews in a light her government's propaganda had shut out. Another eye-opener.
Finally, there is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Mogadishu-born, former Dutch parliamentarian who is probably the only ex-Muslim critic of Islam to be profiled in Vogue. ("Ali seems like a calm, reasonable woman in an Escada jacket, not at all like the kind of person who would call Muhammad a pervert or a tyrant.") With her autobiography, "Infidel," just out, Ms. Ali continues, calmly and reasonably, to press home politically incorrect points including the notion that rather than hijacking his religion, Osama bin Laden is following it. Pedestals may be out, but these ladies deserve more than a box of candy. They deserve a podium.