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The Sexual Revolution Meets the Iranian Revolution

The Sexual Revolution Meets the Iranian Revolution

Hanisham Salleh

William Kilpatrick - published on 10/30/13

Some Catholics have looked to fundamentalist Muslims as allies in their culture wars. They need to take a hard second look at who they are actually allying themselves with.

The toxic fallout from the sexual revolution is difficult to ignore. It turns out that “sex without consequences” really does have consequences; in the case of our society, they include single mothers struggling to raise families, generations of fatherless children, and blighted inner cities that resemble war zones.

It’s not surprising that in their desire to restore the moral order that was lost in the sexual revolution, Catholics should look for like-minded allies. Unfortunately, some Catholics are looking in all the wrong places – or, at least, in one wrong place. I’m referring to the belief held by some conservative Catholics that Islam can prove to be a reliable ally in the culture wars.

On the face of it, Catholics and Muslims share similar values about modesty and chastity and share a similar opposition to adultery, pornography, and homosexual behavior. Moreover, Catholics and Muslims have worked together in the past to oppose the imposition of secular agendas – most notably at the World Population Conference in Cairo in 1994.

Nevertheless, despite the surface similarities, there is a vast difference between Catholic sexual morality and Islamic sexual morality – differences that should make Catholics hesitant about aligning themselves with the more enthusiastic followers of the Prophet. One of the main differences is that while Catholic morality is voluntary, Islamic morality is not. For example, Muslim women who don’t observe the rules of chastity risk beatings, lashings, imprisonment, and death – including death at the hands of their own relatives.

In looking for allies to fight alongside them in the culture wars, some Catholics tend to overlook these differences. Worse still, by assuming the existence of a shared system of values, they risk misreading Islam entirely. And in these risky times, that is a big risk to take.

Take the Iranian Revolution of 1979. It is the model for all the disastrous “Arab Spring” revolutions of the past few years – revolutions that have resulted in increased instability in the Middle East and North Africa and increased persecution of Christians. Considering the centrality of the Iranian Revolution in recent history, it’s imperative to understand just what it was all about. Yet some Catholics seem to view the event through rose-colored glasses.

E. Michael Jones, the editor of Culture Wars (formerly Fidelity Magazine), has written extensively and sometimes quite perceptively over the years about the damage wrought by the sexual revolution. In recent years, however, his culture war battles have led him to forge some strange alliances – most notably and most recently with the government of Iran. This is significant because Jones has a large following in some traditionalist Catholic circles, many of which are already predisposed to believe that Catholics and Muslims are in the same moral camp.

Jones’s take on the Iranian Revolution is that it was essentially a good thing. In his latest book, Culture Jihad in Tehran, he goes so far as to say that “Iran is the leader of the free world,” by which he means free of the sexual revolution and its aftermath. When visiting Iran in 2013 to speak at a conference on “Hollywoodism,” Jones was asked by a reporter what struck him most about Iranian society. “Desexualization” was Jones’ answer: “The Iranians have desexualized the culture after Khomeini’s revolution. They have removed sex from the public sphere and put it back into the private sphere where it belongs.”

According to Jones, Iran had been sexualized as a result of the import of debased Hollywood values during the rule of the Shah. By Jones’ account, Khomeini’s revolution was, in essence, a counter-sexual revolution meant to restore moral order to the people of Iran. It was, he maintains, the revolution that should have been undertaken by Catholics in the West: “The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was the counter-revolution against modernity which should have been launched by Vatican II.”

Through its revolution, says Jones, Iran was able to avoid the fate of western Catholics, that is, “the destruction of a culture based on the family” and its replacement by “a culture of anomic, sexually frenzied individuals.”

It’s quite true, of course, that the Iranian Revolution had something to do with a rejection of Western moral decadence. This is a theme that can be found in the writings of the Ayatollah Khomeini, as well as in the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden. It’s also an important theme in the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the leading Islamic theorist of the 20th century.

What is missing from Jones’ analysis, however, is any indication that the revolution had to do with something else – namely, the Koranic command to subdue all people to the will of Allah, and by force, if necessary. Consider this exhortation by the Ayatollah Khomeini delivered in 1942:

"Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males… to prepare themselves for the conquest of countries so that the writ of Islam [sharia] is obeyed in every country in the world. … Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors!"

In another speech, delivered at a theological school in 1979, Khomeini does talk about the need to free Iranian youth from gambling casinos and other dens of corruption, but he seems less interested in freeing them up for the study of theology than in freeing them for the practice of war. For example, “We want to take our youth from the bars to the battlefield.” And, a few paragraphs later: “We want to release our youth from the opium pipe and place machine guns in their hands. We want to release our youths from the opium pipe and dispatch them to the battlefield.”

And dispatch them he did. During the Iran-Iraq War, tens of thousands of children between the ages of twelve and seventeen were encouraged by the government to engage in human wave attacks against the Iraqi lines. Thousands more “volunteered” to clear minefields with their bodies. As judged by the regime’s complicity in creating myriad child martyrs, the Ayatollah’s attitude toward human life bore more resemblance to that of the French revolutionaries than to that of the Catholic Church.

Something similar can be said for the revolutionary attitude toward sexual morality. Jones draws a comparison between conservative American Catholics in the thirties, forties, and fifties and the “conservative” Iranians who overthrew both the Shah and Western decadence. Just as the Catholic Legion of Decency with its threat of theater boycotts managed to restore some moral sanity to the movies between the mid-thirties and the early sixties, so also the Iranian people, on recognizing the dangers of sexual liberation, “burned down their own movie theaters.”

But the Iranian Revolution was not an attempt to restore the good old days of American Christian morality circa 1950; it was an attempt to restore the good old days of multiple wives and child brides in Arabia circa 622 A.D. If the sexual revolution of the 1960s legitimized a radical new sexual ethic, the Iranian Revolution reintroduced an old sexual ethic that was, in its own way, just as radical.

Under the rule of Khomeini, the marriageable age for girls was lowered to nine – not coincidentally, the same age as Aisha when she was married to Muhammad. Khomeini himself married a young girl (according to some reports she was ten at the time) and advised parents to give their daughters away before menstruation: “Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house.” After Khomeini’s death, the age of marriage was raised, but many Iranian lawmakers want to lower it again to nine. Muhammad Ali Isfenani, chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, called the current minimum age of thirteen “un-Islamic.” Most recently, Iranian lawmakers passed a measure that allows men to marry their adopted daughters.

Adult women fare little better. They are segregated, required to veil themselves, are subject to frequent beatings, have extremely limited custody rights and, in cases of polygamous marriages, are forced to share their husbands with other women.

How has this new yet old morality been working out for Iranians? A 2005 United Nations report found that Iran had the highest rate of drug addiction in the world. Prostitution is also a major problem, and so is suicide. According to Ibn Warraq:

"The rate of mental illness is very high among women, as is the rate of suicide. In Ilam, a Western province of Iran, for example, about 70 percent of those who commit suicide are reported to be women, most of them between seventeen and thirty-five years old. According to the World Heath Organization, Iran has the third highest rate of suicide in the world."

Many have suggested that this social deterioration is a direct result of enforced Islamic morality. In his book, How Civilizations Die, David P. Goldman notes that:

"Iran suffers from an eruption of social pathologies such as drug addiction and prostitution on a scale much worse than anything observed in the West. It appears that Islamic theocracy promotes rather than represses social decay."

Moreover, a number of Muslim and former Muslim writers including Tawfik Hamid, Wafa Sultan, Nonie Darwish, Ibn Warraq, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali contend that Islamic violence and terror are rooted in Islamic family dynamics. According to their accounts, the institutionalized pattern of harsh male dominance and female submission becomes for young men the template for wreaking havoc on the world at large.

Islamic sexual morality may appear on the surface to be like Catholic sexual morality, but on closer inspection, the former is in many ways the mirror image of the secular West’s mechanistic view of sex. In Iran, as Jones says, sex may have been put back in the private sphere, but what happens in that private sphere is tightly controlled by Islamic culture. In that culture, it is common to think of women as sexual objects to be confined and controlled. In that culture, there is no requirement for sexual exclusivity on the part of males; rather, institutions such as polygamy, easy divorce, and “temporary marriages” enshrine a man’s right to sexual variety. Moreover, in that culture, the sexual exploitation of children is arguably far worse than in ours. In our culture, such exploitation takes place largely on the level of advertising and entertainment; in Iran, it manifests itself in the soul-destroying institution of child marriage.

Jones is right about the destructive effects of the sexual revolution, but he is wrong to think that what is happening in Iran is any sort of antidote for it. His call to join with traditional Muslims in an “ecumenical jihad against Hollywood and the moral corruption which it spreads” may resonate with many conservative Catholics. Hopefully, once they have considered the matter more deeply, they will look for other ecumenical partners.

William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Psychological Seduction, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong and, most recently, Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Professor Kilpatrick’s articles on cultural and educational topics have appeared in First Things, Policy Review, American Enterprise, American Educator, the Los Angeles Times, and various scholarly journals. His articles on Islam have appeared in Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Investor’s Business Daily, FrontPage Magazine, and other publications. He is on the Board of Experts at

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