Gender-Based Explosions: The Nexus between Muslim Masculinities, Jihadist Islamism and Terrorism


Sample Chapter
  • Maleeha Aslam

    Gender Based
    ISBN-10: 92-808-1208-4,
    ISBN-13: 978-92-808-1208-4
    United Nations University Press
    April 2012

    First colonized and now living under political oppression, experiencing peripatetic marginalization, feeling dejected, intimidated and humiliated, many Muslim men (in and outside Muslim countries) have no opportunities to prove themselves as “honourable” and/or practice “masculinity” in culturally-prescribed ways. Troubled and troublesome, many Muslim men use militant jihadist networks as outlets to achieve self-actualization and heroism. Terrorist networks, acting as surrogates to national liberation and anti authoritarian/occupation movements, complicate these dynamics further.

    Maleeha Aslam argues that “gender” is a fundamental battleground on which Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their types have to be defeated. Issues of regressive radicalism, literalism, militancy and terrorism can only be solved through people-centred interventions. Therefore, relevant governments and civil society should promote an alternative culture of growth, self-expression and actualization for Muslim men. To achieve sustainable counterterrorism results, Aslam recommends underlining masculinities in Muslim contexts and expanding the scope of required interventions beyond those confined to Islam(ism), the opposing sects and ideological movements of which rarely agree. This book also includes empirical data from a pilot study conducted on Pakistani Muslim masculinities.

    “Maleeha Aslam shines a clear and steady light on the murky, post-9/11 world of violent extremism. She helps us to penetrate the troubled and unsure existence of young Muslim males, who, at a loss for guidance, too often take refuge in the message of radical clerics.

    Without understanding their context it will be virtually impossible to check the acts of terror that stem from their desperation and indoctrination. Aslam’s book is essential reading for all who seek to comprehend the morass from which terrorists emerge and the very nature of our world.”

    —Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, School of International Service, American University, Washington D.C.

    “This well-researched and morally engaged book is an important contribution to gender studies and to understanding the contemporary Muslim world. Maleeha Aslam has conducted careful and imaginative research, and has a powerful argument on the relevance of masculinity dynamics to Islamist militancy. Some of the findings are troubling; but by moving beyond the cliches of both Western ‘security’ thinking and conventional militancy, to a concern with the making of masculinities and the possibilities of change, this book offers a message of hope.”

    Raewyn Connell, author of Masculinities and Gender: In World Perspective

    “This is a powerful and disturbing study of global jihadism that maintains that the roots of violence lie not in religious ideologies but in gender-based codes of honour that pre-date Islam. Focusing on Pakistan, it argues that ordinary Pakistanis are predisposed to terrorism by political and economic oppression that lead to expressions of outraged masculinity. In depicting men as victims of patriarchy, it suggests that only by providing Muslim men with alternative cultures of self-actualisation will we combat Islamist violence.”

    —John Hutchinson, Reader in Nationalism, Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science

    “This ground-breaking book presents new research which will undoubtedly stimulate much controversy. It opens up issues regarding men, gender and sexuality in Islamic societies and draws connections between how young men are raised and their recruitment into terrorist organizations. Focusing on Pakistan, the book is of relevance to Middle East studies, gender studies and issues of war and peace. A work of courage approached with integrity and solid research.”

    —Amira Sonbol, Professor of Islamic History, Law and Society, Georgetown University, Doha Qatar campus

    “From the vantage point of policy, it seems rare in these times that a feminist scholar can take on a subject as daunting and diverse as ‘Muslim Masculinities’ and treat that subject in such a thorough, generous and sympathetic manner. Maleeha Aslam’s Gender-based Explosions combines a detailed understanding of the motivations that lead men to join terrorist movements, the Islamic texts that are so often used to justify terrorist violence, and the feminist theory that has yet to find an appropriate foothold in much of the Muslim world. But it is her sensitive and probing interviews with Muslim men in Pakistan that separates this book from others. Aslam investigates the diverse ‘performativities’ of Muslim men, the ‘honor’ codes that drive some to commit grave violence, and the means – more and less legitimate – by which men seek to justify violent response based on external threats to their cultures, families and communities. But it is her trusting engagement with Pakistani men that both complicates stereotypes about who these men are and what actually motivates their action in the world, and portraits humane and nuanced faces to those who see ‘counter-terrorism’ as merely a strategy to pacify and/or nullify ‘the other’. While interrogating her own theoretical categories, Aslam reminds readers that a focus on how masculinities are constructed in the Muslim world can give us important clues on how to reach potential terrorists with new models for the Muslim man; but she also reminds us of the ways in which the policies of the non-Muslim world must dramatically shift to reduce incentives to violence among the men whose families and neighborhoods seem forever under siege.”

    —Robert Zuber, Director, Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict (UN Plaza) New York

    About the Author

    Maleeha Aslam is JSPS-UNU Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Peace and Security Programme at the United Nations University’s Institute for Sustainability and Peace), Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholar, and member of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.

    Table of contents:


    Part I: Framing the global chaos: An overview
    The Global Jihadist Movement
    Terrorism and counterterrorism: An overview of current official strategies

    Part II: Islam, masculinities and performance
    Gender theory
    Islamic masculinities
    Muslim masculinities

    Part III: Pakistani masculinities and vulnerable social groups in the age of terror
    Research setting: Contextualizing the pilot study on Pakistani masculinities
    Self image, social expectations and pressures
    Pakistani Muslim masculinities in the age of terror
    Muslim masculinities, militant-jihadist Islamism and suicide terrorism
    Islamism, terrorism and “the vulnerable” in society
    Analysis of the pilot study