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Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2001 / 22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Norman Doidge

Norman Doidge
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Consumer Reports

The terrorists and their last-night temptresses

Fanatics throughout history have had a hypocritical attitude toward sex. The men who crashed two planes into the World Trade Center claimed to be pious but spent the night before the attacks with prostitutes -- Here's a contradiction. Many of the mass murderers who destroyed the World Trade Center went to prostitutes and lap dancers just before the attacks. That might seem unimportant, except for the fact that they claimed to be pious and, in part, justified their attacks by accusing the West of being a hotbed of sexual licentiousness. This behaviour reveals the ambivalent sexual undercurrent that is part of Islamic extremism with its view of woman as sin-evoking temptress, best appreciated either totally veiled, or totally unveiled.

In the early 20th century, an Islamic movement called salafiyya swept through much of Islam, influencing the official Wahabi ideology of the Saudi state and the radical Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The movement aimed to revive medieval Islamic practices. By the 1930s, it portrayed Western culture as equivalent to jahiliyya, an Arabic term for the barbarousness that preceded Islam.

Osama bin Laden, originally a playboy and drinker, was influenced by this line of thought through Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb. In his book Signposts on the Road, Qutb wrote that the West was "the most dangerous jahiliyya which has ever menaced our faith." In one of his books about his 1948-50 trip to America, Qutb described a church dance in Greely, Colo.: "Every young man took the hand of a young woman. And these were the young men and women who had just been singing their hymns! Red and blue lights, with only a few white lamps, illuminated the dance floor. The room became a confusion of feet and legs: arms around hips; lips met lips; chests pressed together." Pretty tame stuff compared to the paid sex his murderous followers would indulge in.

The story of the terrorists' foray into American sexual hospitality came out when a Boston prostitute "freaked out" after seeing pictures of the Sept. 11 hijackers. She recognized one from her tryst with him Sept. 9 at the Park Inn, in Newton, Mass. Two of the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center, Waleed M. Alshehri and Wail M. Alshehri, spent the night in that hotel.

These were not isolated events. As reported by UPI on Oct. 10, the prostitute's driver took her to the Days Hotel in Boston's Brighton district, where she spent time with another hijacker. The same driver also routinely took prostitutes to a male relative of bin Laden. Terrorist ringleader Mohammed Atta and other hijackers reportedly spent US$200 to US$300 on lap dances in the Pink Pony Strip Club in Florida. Marwan Al-Shehhi, who, it is believed, piloted the plane that slammed into the south tower, frequently got lap dances in the Olympic Garden Topless Cabaret in Las Vegas, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The Boston Globe reported that four other alleged terrorists, Satam M.A. Al Suqami, Marwan Al-Shehhi, Fayez Rahsid Ahmed Hasan Al Qadi Banihammad and Mohand Alshehri, who were staying at the Milner Hotel in Boston, called escort services on Sept. 10. The last three are believed to have helped hijack United Airlines Flight 175, while Satam M.A. Al Suqami joined those who hijacked American Airlines Flight 11.

Some have wondered whether the hijackers were nervous, knowing they were about to lose their lives, and dealing with their anxiety through a sexual release. Others have speculated that perhaps they wanted "a good look at the enemy" to see how "degraded" America was, to motivate them.

But fanatics throughout history have had a markedly hypocritical attitude toward sex. Most fanatical sects have an obsession with sexual purity, alongside extraordinary lapses of restraint. Most divide the world into the pure and the impure, the sacred and the profane, clean and unclean, pure ascetic man and female temptress. Mohammed Atta wrote that at his funeral, "he who washes my body around my genitals should wear gloves so that I am not touched there." He didn't want women at his funeral either.

Fanatical leaders frequently demand their members subordinate all desires to the cause. The Russian nihilist and anarchist terrorist Sergey Nechaev wrote in his Catechism of the Revolutionist, "The revolutionary ... has no interest of his own, no affairs, no feelings, no attachments, no belongings, not even a name. Everything in him is absorbed by a single exclusive interest, a single thought, a single passion -- the revolution." Of course, the body has its own rhythms and demands, not so easily obliterated, even by ideology.

Islamic extremism doesn't master sexuality -- it exploits it by linking it to politics. In order to train Islamic suicide bombers, teenage boys are isolated from television and any outside influence when they are at the height of their sexual drive, playing on the Koranic promise to "martyrs" that, within moments of their death, they will be greeted by the 72 houris of heaven -- virgins with whom they will have sex for eternity. Sex in this earthly world is devalued, but the promise of sex in the world to come is used to heat up the imaginations of these isolated, inexperienced loners. (The Thuggee cult of terrorist assassins -- from which we get the English word "thug" -- wandered around India strangling their victims. But they also had orgies in religious temples with temple prostitutes, to give them a glimmer of the pleasures they would have when they would unite, in death, with the Great and Terrible Mother, a divinity they worshipped.)

Sexual hypocrisy has been seen in fanatic cults throughout history. Shoko Asahara, leader of the Aum sect -- which released sarin, a deadly nerve gas, in Tokyo's subway system in March, 1995, killing 11 and injuring 5,000 -- preached celibacy for his followers but, though married, took many long-term mistresses, and offered Tantric sexual initiations to "transfer" his "energy" to female followers.

Such cults frustrate everyday erotic longing for other people, so that the devotees will turn that longing toward the cult leader and the cause. Becoming overheated "lovers of the cause," they, like lovers everywhere, become willing to sacrifice for their beloved. At the same time, their leaders manipulate the guilt followers feel about sexual desire, saying, "If you still have sexual feelings, you obviously are not devoted enough, and must sacrifice more."

People who deny themselves erotic outlets soon see any normal expression of eros as the devil incarnate. That is what Qutb saw in the innocent church dance he witnessed. The fanatic is a narcissist who resents and dehumanizes anything that pulls him outside of himself. Yet, so consumed is he with his own specialness in all things, he grants himself a sexual licence as required. After all, those who underestimate the power of the world outside themselves become the first to be overwhelmed by it. They are the first slaves of passion, driven by a subterranean attraction to that which they claim to abhor.

JWR contributor Dr. Norman Doidge is a research psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Comment by clicking here.


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©2001, Dr. Norman Doidge