Chapter 3--The Childhood Origins of Terrorism
washes my body around my genitals should wear gloves so that I
am not touched there."
of Mohammed Atta
Because so much of the world outside the West has
for historical reasons fallen behind in the evolution of their childrearing
modes, the resulting vast differences between national personality
types has recently turned into a global battle of terrorism against
liberal Western values. In order to understand this new battle, it
would be useful to know what makes a terrorist—what developmental
life histories they share that can help us see why they want to kill
"American infidels" and themselves—so we can apply our efforts to
removing the sources of their violence and preventing terrorism in
the future. The roots of current terrorist attacks lie, I believe,
not in this or that American foreign policy error but in the extremely
abusive families of the terrorists. Children who grow up to be Islamic
terrorists are products of a misogynist fundamentalist system that
often segregates the family into two separate areas: the men's area
and the woman's area, where the children are brought up and which
the father rarely visits.1 Even in countries like Saudi
Arabia today, women by law cannot mix with unrelated men, and public
places still have separate women's areas in restaurants and work places,
because, as one Muslim sociologist put it bluntly: "In our society
there is no relationship of friendship between a man and a woman."2
Families that produce the most terrorists are the most violently misogynist;
in Afghanistan, for instance, girls cannot attend schools and women
who try to hold jobs or who seem to "walk with pride" are shot.3
Young girls are treated abominably in most fundamentalist
families. When a boy is born, the family rejoices; when a girl is
born, the whole family mourns.4 The girl's sexuality is
so hated that when she is five or so the women grab her, pin her down,
and chop off her clitoris and often her labia with a razor blade or
piece of glass, ignoring her agony and screams for help, because,
they say, her clitoris is "dirty," "ugly," "poisonous," "can cause
a voracious appetite for promiscuous sex," and "might render men impotent."5
The area is then often sewed up to prevent intercourse, leaving only
a tiny hole for urination. The genital mutilation is excruciatingly
painful. Up to a third die from infections, mutilated women must "shuffle
slowly and painfully" and usually are unable to orgasm.6
Over 130 million genitally mutilated women are estimated to live today
in Islamic nations, from Somali, Nigeria and Sudan to Egypt, Ethiopia,
and Pakistan. A recent survey of Egyptian girls and women, for instance,
showed 97 percent of uneducated families and 66 percent of educated
families still practicing female genital mutilation.7 Although
some areas have mostly given up the practice, in others—like Sudan
and Uganda—it is increasing, with 90% of the women surveyed saying
they planned to circumcise all of their daughters.8
The mutilation is not required by the Qu´an; Mohammad,
in fact, said girls should be treated even better than boys.9
Yet the women have inflicted upon their daughters for millennia the
horrors done to them, re-enacting the abuse men inflict on them as
they mutilate their daughters while joyfully chanting songs such as
"We used to be friends, but today I am the
master, for I am a man. Look—I have the knife in my hand…Your clitoris,
I will cut it off and throw it away for today I am a man."10
As the girls grow up in these fundamentalist families,
they are usually treated as though they were polluted beings, veiled,
and sometimes gang-raped when men outside the family wish to settle
scores with men in her family.11 Studies such as a recent
survey of Palestinian students show that the sexual abuse of girls
is far higher in Islamic societies than elsewhere, with a large majority
of all girls reporting that they had been sexually molested as children.12
Even marriage can be considered rape, since the family often chooses
the partner and the girl is as young as eight.13 The girl
is often blamed for her rape, since it is assumed that "those who
don't ask to be raped will never be raped."14 Wife-beating
is common and divorce by wives rare—in fact, women have been killed
by their families simply because they asked for a divorce.15
It is no wonder that Physicians for Human Rights found, for instance,
that "97 percent of Afghan women they surveyed suffered from severe
It is not surprising that these mutilated, battered
women make less than ideal mothers, reinflicting their own miseries
upon their children. Visitors to families throughout fundamentalist
Muslim societies report on the "slapping, striking, whipping and thrashing"
of children, with constant shaming and humiliation, often being told
by their mothers that they are "cowards" if they don't hit others.17
Physical abuse of children is continuous; as the Pakistani Conference
on Child Abuse reports:
A large number of children face some form
of physical abuse, from infanticide and abandonment of babies, to
beating, shaking, burning, cutting, poisoning, holding under water
or giving drugs or alcohol, or violent acts like punching, kicking,
biting, choking, beating, shooting or stabbing…18
Islamic schools regularly practice corporal punishment—particularly
the religious schools from which terrorist volunteers so often come—chaining
up their students for days "in dark rooms with little food and hardly
any sanitation."19 Sexual abuse—described as including
"fondling of genitals, coercing a child to fondle the abuser's genitals,
masturbation with the child as either participant or observer, oral
sex, anal or vaginal penetration by penis, finger or any other object
and [child] prostitution"—is extensive, though impossible to quantify.20
Even mothers have been reported as often "rubbing the penis [of their
boys] long and energetically to increase its size."21 According
to the recent survey of Palestinian students, boys report having been
used sexually even more often than girls—men choosing to rape little
boys anally to avoid what they consider the "voracious vaginas" of
women.22 In some areas, children are reported to have marks
all over their bodies from being burned by their parents with red-hot
irons or pins as punishment or to cure being possessed by demons.23
Children are taught strict obedience to all parental commands, stand
when their parents enter the room, kiss their hands, don't laugh "excessively,"
fear them immensely, and learn that giving in to any of their own
needs or desires is horribly sinful.24 All these childrearing
practices are very much like those that were routinely inflicted upon
children in the medieval West.25
The ascetic results of such punitive upbringings are
predictable. When these abused children grow up, they feel that every
time they try to self-activate, every time they do something independently
for themselves, they will lose the approval of the parents in their
heads—mainly their mothers and grandmothers in the women's quarters.
When their cities were flooded with oil money and Western popular
culture in recent decades, fundamentalist men were first attracted
to the new freedoms and pleasures, but soon retreated, feeling they
would lose their mommy's approval and be "Bad Boys." Westerners came
to represent their own "Bad Boy" self in projection, and had to be
killed off, as they felt they themselves deserved, for such unforgivable
sins as listening to music, flying kites and enjoying sex.26
As one fundamentalist put it, "America is Godless. Western influence
here is not a good thing, our people can see CNN, MTV, kissing…"27
Another described his motives thusly: "We will destroy American cities
piece by piece because your life style is so objectionable to us,
your pornographic movies and TV."28 Many agree with the
Iranian Ministry of Culture that all American television programs
"are part of an extensive plot to wipe out our religious and sacred
values,"29 and for this reason feel they must kill Americans.
Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual father of Islamic terrorism, describes
how he turned against the West as he once watched a church dance while
"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! The room became a confusion of feet and legs: arms twisted
around hips; lips met lips; chests pressed together."30
Osama bin Laden himself "while in college frequented
flashy nightclubs, casinos and bars [and] was a drinker and womanizer,"
but soon felt extreme guilt for his sins and began preaching killing
Westerners for their freedoms and their sinful enticements of Muslims.31
Most of the Taliban leaders, in fact, are wealthy, like bin Laden,
have had contact with the West, and were shocked into their terrorist
violence by "the personal freedoms and affluence of the average citizen,
by the promiscuity, and by the alcohol and drug use of Western youth
…only an absolute and unconditional return to the fold of conservative
Islamism could protect the Muslim world from the inherent dangers
and sins of the West."32 Bin Laden left his life of pleasures,
and has lived with his four wives and fifteen children in a small
cave with no running water, waging a holy war against all those who
enjoy sinful activities and freedoms that he cannot allow in himself.
From childhood, then, Islamist terrorists have been
taught to kill the part of themselves—and, by projection, others—that
is selfish and wants personal pleasures and freedoms. It is in the
terror-filled homes—not just later in the terrorist training camps—that
they first learn to be martyrs and to "die for Allah." When the terrorist
suicidal bombers who were prevented from carrying out their acts were
interviewed on TV, they said they felt "ecstatic" as they pushed the
button.33 They denied being motivated by the virgins and
other enticements supposedly awaiting them in Paradise. Instead, they
said they wanted to die to join Allah—to get the love they never got.
Mothers of martyrs are reported as happy that they die. One mother
of a Palestinian suicide bomber who had blown himself to bits said
"with a resolutely cheerful countenance,
"I was very happy when I heard. To be a martyr,
that's something. Very few people can do it. I prayed to thank God.
I know my son is close to me."34
Like serial killers—who are also sexually and physically
abused as children—terrorists grow up filled with a rage that must
be inflicted upon others. Many even preach violence against other
Middle Eastern nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia "for not being
sufficiently fervent in the campaign against materialism and Western
values."35 If prevention rather than revenge is our goal,
rather than pursuing a lengthy military war against terrorists and
killing many innocent people while increasing the number of future
terrorists, it might be better for the U.S. to back a U.N.-sponsored
Marshall Plan for them—one that could include Community Parenting
Centers run by local people who could teach more humane childrearing
practices36—in order to give them the chance to evolve
beyond the abusive family system that has produced the terrorism,
just as we provided a Marshall Plan for Germans after WWII for the
families that had produced Nazism.37
1. Soraya Altorki, Women in Saudi Arabia: Ideology
and Behavior Among the Elite. New York: Columbia University Press,
1986, p. 30; Mazharul Haq Khari, Purdah and Polygamy: A Study in
the Social Pathology of the Muslim Society. Peshawar Cantt., Nashiran-e-Ilm-o-Taraqiyet,
1972, p. 91.
2. Mona AlMunajjed, Women in Saudi Arabia Today.
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997, p. 45.
3. The New York Times October 19, 20001, p.
4. Jan Goodwin, Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift
the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World. Boston: Little, Brown,
1994, p. 43.
5. Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, Prisoners of Ritual:
An Odyssey Into Female Genital Circumcision in Africa. New York:
Harrington Park Pres, 1989, pp. 9, 38, 39.
6. Ibid, p. 81.
7. Nawal El Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Even: Women
in the Arab World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1980, p. 34; for additional
references, see Lloyd deMause, "The Universality of Incest." The
Journal of Psychohistory 19(1991): 157-164.
8. Cathy Joseph, "Compassionate Accountability: An
Embodied Consideration of Female Genital Mutilation." The Journal
of Psychohistory 24(1996): 5. Lindy Williams and Teresa Sobieszczyk,
"Attitudes Surrounding the Continuation of Female Circumcision in
the Sudan: Passing the Tradition to the Next Generation." Journal
of Marriage and the Family 59(1997): 996; Jean P. Sasson, Princess:
A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. New York:
Morrow, 1992, p. 137; http://www.path.org/Files/FGM-The-Facts.htm.
9. Mona AlMunajjed, Women in Saudi Arabia Today,
10. Ibid, p. 13.
11. Eleanor Abdella Doumato, Getting God’s Ear:
Women, Islam and Healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. New York:
Columbia University Press, 2000, pp. 23, 85; Peter Parkes, "Kalasha
Domestic Society." In Hastings Donnan and Frits Selier, Eds., Family
and Gender in Pakistan: Domestic Organization in a Muslim Society.
New Delhi: Hindustan Publishing Corp., 1997, p. 46; Jan Goodwin,Price
of Honor, p. 52.
12. Muhammad M. Haj-Yahia and Safa Tamish, "The Rates
of Child Sexual Abuse and Its Psychological Consequences as Revealed
by a Study Among Palestinian University Students." Child Abuse
and Neglect 25(2001): 1303-1327, the results of which must be
compared to comparable written responses for other areas, with allowance
given for the extreme reluctance to reveal abuse that may put their
lives in serious danger (p. 1305); for problems of interpretation
of sexual abuse figures, see Lloyd deMause, "The Universality of Incest."
The Journal of Psychohistory 19(1991): 123-165 (also on www.psychohistory.com in full).
13. Deborah Ellis, Women of the Afghan War. London:
Praeger, 2000, p. 141.
14. S. Tamish, Misconceptions About Sexuality and
Sexual Behavior in Palestinian Society. Ramallah: The Tamer Institute
for Community Education, 1996.
15. "Women’s Woes," The Economist August 14,
1999, p. 32.
16. MSNBC, October 4, 2001.
17. Mazharul Haq Khari, Purdah and Polygamy,
18. Samra Fayyazuddin, Anees Jillani, Zarina Jillani,
The State of Pakistan’s Children 1997. Islamabad Pakistan:
Sparc, 1998, p. 46.
19. Ibid, p. 47.
20. Samra Fayyazuddin et al, The State of Pakistan’s
Children 1997, p. 51.
21. Allen Edwardes, The Cradle of Erotica. New
York: The Julian Press, 1963, p. 40.
22. Muhammad M. Haj-Yahia and Safa Tamish, "The Rates
of Child Sexual Abuse…," p. 1320; Fatna A. Sabbah, Woman in the
Muslim Unconscious. New York: Pergamon Press, 1984, p. 28.
23. Samuel M. Zwemer, Childhood in the Moslem World,
p. 104; Hilma Natalia Granqvist, Child Problems Among the Arabs:
Studies in a Muhammadan Village in Palestine. Helsingfors: Soderstrom,
1950, pp. 102-107.
24. Soraya Altorki, Women in Saudi Arabia: Ideology
and Behavior Among the Elite. New York: Columbia University Press,
1986, pp. 72-76.
25. Lloyd deMause, "The Evolution of Childrearing."
The Journal of Psychohistory 28(2001): 362-451.
26. Time, October 22, 2001, p. 56.
27. Jan Goodwin, Price of Honor, p. 64.
28. MSNBC October 1, 2001.
29. Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad vx. McWorld.
New York: Ballantine Books, 1995, p. 207.
30. The New York Times, October 13, 2001, p.
31. Yossef Bodansky, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared
War on America. Rocklin: Forum, 1999, p. 3.
32. Ibid, p. 4.
33. "60 Minutes," September 23, 2001.
34. Joseph Lelyveld, "All Suicide Bombers Are Not
Alike." New York Times Magazine, October 28, 2001, p. 50.
35. The New York Times, October 22, 2001, p.
36. Robert B. McFarland and John Fanton, "Moving Towards
Utopia: Prevention of Child Abuse." The Journal of Psychohistory
37. Lloyd deMause, "War as Righteous Rape and Purification."
The Journal of Psychohistory 27(2000): 407-438.