A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Monday, January 02, 2006

King Lear and Islamic Men


King Lear, undermined and insulted by his two faithless daughters, to whom he has prematurely bequeathed his kingdom, starts to reveal some issues he has about women and sexuality in general. Here he is approached by his friend Gloucester, whose eyes have been plucked out by his other daughter Regan's husband Cornwall (further proof that the girls didn't turn out the way Lear would've hoped):

Glo: "The trick of that voice I do well remember,
Is 't not the king?"

Lear: "Ay, every inch a king.
When I do stare, see how the subject quakes.
I pardon that man's life. What was thy cause?
Thou shalt not die. Die for adultery? No.
The wren goes to 't, and the small gilded fly
Does lecher in my sight.
Let copulation thrive; for Gloucester's bastard son
Was kinder to his father than my daughters
Got 'tween lawful sheets.

Lear suggests with bitter sarcasm that any sexuality is permissible, seeing as how his own legitimate issue have so disappointed him. His unwitting endorsement of free love anticipates the sexual liberation movement of the 1960's, a movement which is continuing among certain secular modernists today, for whom free sexual expression has become a form of worship.

But when sexual license becomes a cultural expectation, it can become almost as oppressive as its opposite; the repression of social relations between the sexes, famously visible today in the Islamic world. Lear, in his fury, expresses the fear of feminine desire that lies at the heart of today's Islamic culture:

Lear: "Down from the waist they're centaurs,
Though women all above."

So what happens to men in a culture made up entirely of Lears - a culture whose men segregate themselves from women out of a fear of contamination? The Islamic world shows the result. In the sexually segregated societies of the Middle East, unmarried men are denied the civilizing influence of social intercourse with women.

Required to spend nearly all their time among their own sex, adult men will coerce younger men into exploitative sexual relationships based not on mutual attraction (the men are not homosexual in orientation) but on availability. This issue of coerced homosexual sex among heterosexually-oriented men, something practiced broadly in the Middle East, is carefully ignored in the west.

The psychological effects of this practice are profound. And since this behavior has been extended over generations, it has become a cultural norm. Such sexually wounded men are not likely to see in women the valuable, transforming beings that the men of western cultures have learned to see.

If we wish to imagine what the mind of a man who has come to fear, loathe and devalue women feels like, Shakespeare is again our guide (but means only; the rest means from the waist down; civit is musk scent, used as perfume; apothecary means pharmacist):

Lear: "But to the girdle do the gods inherit;
The rest is all the fiends'.
There's hell, there's darkness, there is the sulfurous pit,
burning, scalding, stench, consumption. Fie, fie, fie!
Pah, pah! Give me an ounce of civit, good apothecary,
sweeten my imagination. There's money for thee."

The reason sexual exploitation of younger men by adult men in Islamic societies goes unremarked in the west is part disbelief, part unwillingness to judge and in part a distorted desire to exhibit respect for gay rights. But this is hardly an issue involving consensual behavior among men of homosexual orientation.

It may be that to recognize and oppose the continuation of this behavior is to set ourselves hegemonically against a key aspect of an entire culture. But Bardseye has to think that the young Arab men being so exploited, before their abuse forges the terrible distortions of personality they exhibit as adults, would endorse the intervention.

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