Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!


“A nation is never really beaten until it sells its women,” I wrote in a 2006 “Spengler” essay about Iranian prostitution. “The French sold their women to the German occupiers in 1940, and the Germans and Japanese sold their women to the Americans after World War II. The women of the former Soviet Union are still selling themselves in huge numbers. Hundreds of thousands of female Ukrainian “tourists” entered Germany after the then-foreign minister Joschka Fischer loosened visa standards in 1999.”

It is a cultural marker of inestimable importance that the one Arab whose name every American knows is Rima Fakih, the new Miss America, pictures of whom wearing a bra stuffed with dollar bills stare out from computer screens at half the men in the United States. Miss Fakih, to be sure, hardly represents Muslim women; she is the child of a secularized family of Lebanese immigrants, with Christian as well as Muslim antecedants. But that is not how her victory in the Miss America pageant was received in the Arab world, where the press celebrated the Arab-American celebration over this landmark.

However un-Islamic it was for Miss Fakih to appear on a bikini, let alone to pole-dance for a 2007 contest at a Detroit radio station, the Arab press seems more worried about the possibility that she may lose her title over the earlier incident. A few hours after the victory of Rima beauty contest, published pictures of her on internet sites during the dance competition is dramatically on the stage and around the promoters. The London-based Arab-language electronic newspaper Elaph defended the contestant’s behavior this morning, observing, “Rima was not obliged to take off her clothes during the competition, she won numerous prizes including jewelry, cards, financial, and sexual games for adults.” I should explain that this rendering is provided by Google Translate and may vary slightly from the intent of the original.

A Google search of the Arabic press, however, finds not a single report of an Islamic authority denouncing Miss Fakih for public indecency, although Elaph mentions in passing that conservative Arabs in America were not pleased with the spectacle. One way or another, Miss Fakih has become an Arab role model, a person of note who has succeeded by Western standards. And therein lies a lesson.

The strictures of traditional society are a flimsy defense against modernity. The moment that members of traditional society cease to live under a regime of compulsion, they tend to adopt the habits of the ambient culture. The most dramatic expression of this trend is the collapse of Muslim birth rates, especially among Muslims who have emigrated to the West. As Martin Walker wrote in the Woodrow Wilson Center Quarterly in 1999, “the birthrates of Muslim women in Europe—and around the world—have been falling significantly for some time. Data on birthrates among different religious groups in Europe are scarce, but they point in a clear direction. Between 1990 and 2005, for example, the fertility rate in the Netherlands for Moroccan-born women fell from 4.9 to 2.9, and for ­Turkish-­born women from 3.2 to 1.9. In 1970, ­Turkish-­born women in Germany had on average two children more than ­German-­born women. By 1996, the difference had fallen to one child, and it has now dropped to half that number.”

There is a straight-line correlation between literacy and birth rates in the Muslim world, as I documented here, which suggests that the moment that Muslims enter modernity, for example, through reading, the habits of traditional society die quickly. Islam is fragile, and that helps explain why radical Islam is so aggressive.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles