The feminist revolution is failing

Girls are riding high, getting better exam results and better jobs than the boys. But Jackie Ashley

Does Cherie Blair ever have one of those mornings? One of those mornings when it all just gets too much and she breaks down and weeps - because she's trying to prepare for her day in court; one of the children still needs help with the maths homework; and her husband - well, he's up and out the door because he has a full-time career. I don't know if mornings get to her, but I'd be prepared to bet on it.

Even the most efficient jugglers admit that having it all only seems to be possible if you can get by on four hours' sleep a night. The majority of woman who try to hold down a job and bring up a family admit to feeling permanently tired, guilty and stressed. What kind of example are we setting our daughters?

Girls, according to the common myth today, have no problems. The ones to worry about are the boys. Girls are doing better at school, are less likely to kill themselves as adolescents, are scaling career ladders with a sturdy self-confidence, are more naturally adapted to an economy of services and brain-work.

So, our well-educated, well-adjusted daughters are heading for the top. Until they have children, that is. Will our daughters' generation find a better solution to the questions besetting all working mothers today - or will tomorrow's women increasingly decide not to have children at all?

The evidence suggests more and more women have made that choice: the birth rate is falling fast across Europe, particularly among the professional classes. This is partly masked in Britain by the higher birth rates of some newer communities, mainly Asian. Even so, by the year 2010, government forecasts suggest a third of all women here will be childless. Some will have been unable to start a family, others will consider themselves not in the right relationship. But a huge number of women will be saying no to having children.

They'll find themselves on a rising career path, suddenly exercising a bit of power; and they'll realise that if they stop, to give birth and nurture, they will not be forgiven.

For those of our daughters who do decide to have children, will they have to return to the hearth? Barely a week goes by without huge press coverage of another high- profile mother chucking it all to be at home. Recently my four year old announced that she was not going to be a ballerina after all. She was, she said with a knowing look, going to have children and stay at home to look after them. That will be music to the ears of the growing anti-feminist backlash - from social commentators like Melanie Phillips and campaigning organisations such as Full-Time Mothers.

According to Ruth Lilley, a spokeswoman for Full-Time Mothers, women can have it all, "as long as it's over time, not all at once. Once the kids have left home, it's much easier to work, but of course ageism in the workplace needs to be fought."

Yes, well . . . there's little prospect for the foreseeable future of women being able to kick-start their careers along with the menopause. If men at 50 are over the hill, there's even less chance for female wrinklies.

We are the experimental generation: for the first time the majority of mothers with children under five are now going out to work - 70 per cent, compared with 28 per cent ten years ago, according to government figures. Yet for many of us, disillusionment has set in. Take Katie Lander, a television executive for the BBC in Glasgow and mother of two children under ten. She calls us the "lost generation", caught between the traditional roles our mothers expected and fulfilled, and the next generation, who, Lander believes, won't have such high expectations.

"We were sold a pup," she says. "We grew up thinking you could be on the fast track and have 'normal' children. Well, you can't."

Is it inevitable that the next generation will see a return to more traditional roles for women? I desperately hope not, yet I fear the feminist revolution has failed. The male patterns of working have proved too resilient. There are New Men, but very few. Male culture, male hierarchies, have made the feminist dream impossible. In most households in the land, it's mum who has primary responsibility for the children, and until that changes, women will face this constant dilemma.

Harriet Harman, the former minister for women and a declared feminist, sees little prospect of fundamental change: "You can't legislate to change men's attitudes," she says. "There's no government policy that will change 21st-Century Man into New Man. But there are government policies that will help 21st-Century Woman cope with the responsibilities of home and work." Harman suggests practical policies such as better parental leave and more rights for part-time workers. Yet even campaigners for parental leave expect no more than 2 per cent of dads to take it up.

Margaret Jay, the part-time minister for women, (not because of childcare responsibilities, but because she has a much bigger job as leader of the Lords), does not sound as if she is on a crusade: "The choices people make about how they want to live their lives are highly personal, and not something the government would seek to interfere with.

"But I want to ensure there are policies in place that give women real choice in their lives."

Real choice? Today we educate women better and better. We raise their expectations. Then we squander that education, and dash those expectations. We force terrible choices on women - no children or no real career. I wouldn't want my girls to assume that they are going to marry a chap and "settle down". I want them to experience the fun and interest of the wider, wealth-creating world.

Returning to a fake-1950s Britain of quiet, biddable, home-making women, all beehive hairdos and sensible cardigans, would not just be intolerable; it would be crazy in a modern world economy of services and brainpower, and after four decades of good education for the majority of girls. Yet, apart perhaps from the beehive hairdos, that is where the lack of policy and political direction seems to be heading us.

Thinking about women's place in the next century is a challenge for any government that spouts on about newness and modernity. So far, the women's agenda is like women themselves - confused, frazzled, caught between family traditionalists and careerists. Bundling up some childcare initiatives and organising a photo-call of "Blair's babes" is not a vision. If anything in government calls for impassioned and serious leadership, this is it.

I don't say there are easy answers. Women need a further revolution in social attitudes, in work patterns, in male assumptions. What do I want for my daughters? I want them to grow up as stroppy, determined women who want children of their own but aren't prepared to accept the limited choices offered in millennial Britain. More anger, less guilt.

Next time he's in confessional mood, perhaps the Prime Minister could admit that bringing up children properly when both parents work is tough, very tough. And then direct some thought to making work more family-friendly.

He could start by replacing some of those bright young kids just out of university in his Policy Unit with some mothers - and let them work part time. Perhaps then we'd have some ideas that will really help the millions of mothers who are trying to do their best for their children while continuing to work. We need them - for all our daughters' sakes.

This article first appeared in the 15 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Guns and the Dome

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Inside the minds of the Isis murderers

As pressure on the terror group who claimed responsiblity for the Manchester attack intensifies, the threat to Britain will only become more acute.

The police and security services had consistently warned that a significant terrorist attack in Britain was inevitable. Yet no warning could have prepared us for the horror of the suicide attack on the Manchester Arena on Monday night. Twenty-two people were killed and at least 60 were wounded as they were leaving a concert by Ariana Grande in what was the most deadly attack in Britain since the London bombings of 7 July 2005, in which 56 people died.

Like the London bombers, the Manchester suicide attacker, Salman Ramadan Abedi, was British. He was 22, lived in Manchester and studied business management at Salford University before dropping out. He worshipped at Didsbury Mosque. The son of Libyans, Abedi is said to have returned recently from a visit to the North African country, where Islamic State has a foothold.

Ariana Grande is a former children’s TV star who made her name on channels such as Nickelodeon. Her fan base is overwhelmingly young and female, and many of those killed or wounded were children, including Saffie Rose Roussos, an eight-year-old girl from Leyland, Lancashire.

Islamic State inevitably claimed responsibility for the massacre, dismissing the victims as “crusaders”, “polytheists” and “worshippers of the cross”. This is not the first time Islamist terrorists have targeted children.

A Chechen jihadist group calling itself ­Riyad-us Saliheen (meaning “Gardens of the Righteous”) took more than 1,100 hostages, including 777 children, in a school siege in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004. In the event, more than 330 were massacred, including 186 children. Gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban also stormed a school in 2014, killing 148.

For terrorist actors, these are neither whimsical nor irrational acts. Contemporary jihadist movements have curated a broad and expansive intellectual ecosystem that rationalises and directs their actions. What they want is to create an asymmetry of fear by employing indiscriminate barbarism to intimidate and subdue their opponents into submission.

We have grown accustomed to a wave of terrorist attacks being carried out in the name of the self-styled Islamic State ever since the group’s official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani began prioritising them in 2014. (He was killed in an American air strike on Aleppo province in Syria in August last year.)

The US-led coalition against Islamic State has weakened the terror group in its former strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. In response, IS has been forced to concentrate more on what it calls “external operations” – by which it means inspiring its sympathisers and operatives to carry out attacks on Western countries. Indeed, al-Adnani encouraged the group’s supporters not to migrate towards IS-held territory but rather to focus their efforts on attacks in their home countries.

“The tiniest action you do in the heart of their [Western] land is dearer to us than the biggest action by us,” he said in an audio statement released last year. “There are no innocents in the heart of the lands of the crusaders.”

Islamic State refers to its strategy as “just terror”. Its framing places culpability for attacks on Western states on these nations themselves by claiming that IS actions are a response to aggression or assault. That much has been outlined in the group’s literature. “When will the crusaders end their hostilities towards Islam and the Muslims? . . . When will they recognise that the solution to their pathetic turmoil is right before their blinded eyes?” the militants ask in the IS magazine Dabiq. “Until then, the just terror will continue to strike them to the core of their deadened hearts.”

IS offered a rationale of this sort as justification for its bombing of a Russian commercial aircraft – Metrojet Flight 9268, travelling from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt to St Petersburg. That attack in October 2015 killed 224. Similar reasoning was offered for the attacks in Paris the following month in which 137 people were killed, in a series of co-ordinated, commando-style gun and bomb outrages across the city.

“Revenge was exacted upon those who felt safe,” IS declared in Dabiq. “Let the world know that we are living today in a new era. Whoever was heedless must now be alert. Whoever was sleeping must now awaken . . . The [caliphate] will take revenge for any aggression against its religion and people, sooner rather than later. Let the ­arrogant know that the skies and the lands are Allah’s.”

***

Through my academic research at King’s College London, I have ­interviewed scores of Westerners who became foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq to quiz them about their motives. Last year, one man from High Wycombe who had joined IS told me that it wanted to attack British targets in response to the vote in the House of Commons to extend British air strikes against IS targets to include sites in Syria (the British had only been targeting the group in Iraq until that point). “Do they [the British government] expect us to sit back and do nothing? ­Idiots,” he said.

In this respect, IS frames its attacks as acts of “revenge” and predicates its response on the Islamic principle of qisas, which is comparable to lex talionis or the doctrine of “an eye for an eye”. Qisas was always intended to be a tool of private redress for an individual or his/her family to seek justice in matters relating to bodily harm. Typically, it relates to cases of murder and manslaughter, or acts involving physical mutilation (say, leading to loss of limbs). The principle creates a framework for retributive justice.

The contemporary Salafi-jihadi movement has adopted a particularly innovative approach to the concept of qisas in two ways. First, groups such as IS have taken the idea and construed it in a way that justifies indiscriminate terrorism, such as the attack in Manchester. They argue that qisas has a political dimension and that it can be applied to international affairs in a way that holds civilians responsible for the perceived crimes of their governments.

Second, qisas is normally applied only in cases where the aggressor is known. IS, by contrast, holds every citizen-stranger of an enemy state responsible for the actions of his or her government. Thus, when it released its statement claiming responsibility for the Manchester attack, it said that it had struck against a “gathering of the crusaders . . . in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims”.

It is this militaristic construction of qisas that allows IS to rationalise the bombing of a venue where large numbers of young girls had gathered to watch a pop concert, dismissing them as “crusaders”.

This is not new. In 1997, Osama Bin Laden told CBS News that “all Americans are our enemies, not just the ones who fight us directly, but also the ones who pay their ­taxes”. His rationale was that all Americans, by virtue of citizenship alone, are vicariously liable for the actions of their government.

Just a few years later, Bin Laden used the same idea to justify the 11 September 2001 attacks and also invoked it in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The blood pouring out of Palestine must be equally revenged,” he wrote. “You must know that the Palestinians do not cry alone; their women are not widowed alone; their sons are not orphaned alone.”

IS used the concept most dramatically in January 2015, when it burned alive a Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot, Muath al-Kasasbeh, whose plane had crashed in its territory. A video of the killing was circulated on the internet and social media. The group claimed his bombing raids had killed civilians and that it wanted to punish him with “equal retaliation”, in keeping with qisas.

What is well known about al-Kasasbeh’s murder is that he was burned alive inside a cage – but that is not the whole story. To understand how IS tethered this to the principle of qisas, it is the end of the gruesome video that is invested with most significance. After al-Kasasbeh has died, a truck emerges and dumps rubble over the cage. It was claimed this was debris from a site he had bombed, thus completing the “equal retaliation” of returning like for like. The idea was that IS had retaliated using the two principal forms in which a missile attack kills – by fire or debris.

***

The Manchester attack came on the fourth anniversary of the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south London. Rigby was killed by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale in the middle of the afternoon on a street outside a military barracks. That attack was in keeping with a pattern we have become increasingly accustomed to in Europe: an unsophisticated plot that employs ordinary, everyday items – a car, say, or a knife.

The consequences of such attacks have been seen across Europe, most notably in Nice on 14 July 2016, when 86 people were killed during Bastille Day celebrations after a jihadist drove a truck into crowds on the promenade. Similar attacks followed in Berlin, Westminster and Stockholm.

The security services find that these murderous attacks are extremely hard to disrupt because they typically involve lone actors who can mobilise quickly and with discretion. The Manchester attack was different. Explosives were used, which means the plot was inherently more sophisticated, requiring careful planning and preparation.

We know that two of the 7/7 bombers had previously trained in Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions, where they honed their skills. In other plots, such as the connected attacks in London and Glasgow Airport of 2007, the explosive devices failed mainly because the bomb-makers had found it difficult to travel abroad and develop their skills in safe environments. Whatever Abedi’s connections, the long war in Syria and Iraq has once again created a permissive environment for terrorist training and attack planning.

The devastating impact of this has already been felt across Europe. Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, more than 800 Britons are believed to have travelled there to fight. From Europe as a whole, the figure is over 5,000, of which a significant number are believed to have joined IS. Of the British contingent, the security services estimate that about half have returned or become disengaged from the conflict. Of those who remained, a hundred are believed to be active, the rest having been killed.

It is improbable that Abedi acted alone in Manchester or that this plot had no international component. Indeed, he was already known to the authorities (and had returned recently from Libya). As pressure on IS intensifies across Syria and Iraq, the threat to Britain will only become more acute as the group’s sympathisers prepare for what they consider to be a fightback.

This speaks to the scale of the threat facing Britain, and Europe more generally. Our police and security services have been stretched and continuously tested in recent years. Just recently, in March, the Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley told Radio 4’s Today programme that 13 plots had been thwarted since Lee Rigby’s murder in 2013. Put another way, the police have disrupted terrorist plots every four months for the past four years.

Naturally, Islamic State is not the only threat. On 13 May, one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons, Hamza, released a video, titled “Advice for martyrdom-seekers in the West”, on behalf of al-Qaeda. Hamza, 27, who was his father’s favoured successor to lead the group, called on its supporters to concentrate on attacks in the West rather than migrating to conflict zones in the Middle East and beyond. Scenes of previous ­terrorist attacks in Britain played throughout the video.

The central leadership of al-Qaeda is increasingly looking for opportunities to reassert itself after being eclipsed by Islamic State and losing control of its affiliates in Syria. It needs attacks and a cause in the West with which to revive itself. Hamza therefore cited the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris as a critical example, calling for the assassination of anyone deemed to have “insulted” Islam.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was especially important for al-Qaeda because it enabled the group to transcend the fratricidal conflicts that frequently define relations between the various jihadist groups. In Syria, for instance, al-Qaeda’s affiliates (when it had better control over them) and Islamic State have been in open war with each other.

Yet, the Charlie Hebdo attack brought warm praise from the group’s Islamist rivals because none of them wanted to appear ­unsupportive of an atrocity that had, as the terrorists proclaimed, “avenged” the Prophet Muhammad’s honour.

The British man from High Wycombe who joined IS told me the group had welcomed the attack for precisely those reasons. It was something that, in his view, had confirmed the “nobility” of the attackers, even if they had not been members of IS.

Is it too late for the West to save itself, I asked him. What if the West simply accepted all of Islamic State’s demands: would that provide respite?

The answer was as emphatic as it was stark: “We primarily fight wars due to ppl [sic] being disbelievers. Their drones against us are a secondary issue.”

He went on: “Their kufr [disbelief] against Allah is sufficient of a reason for us to invade and kill them. Only if they stop their kufr will they no longer be a target.”

In other words, we are all guilty, and we are all legitimate targets.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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