The Middle East's dirty little secret

But just as Prohibition didn’t stop people from drinking, warning people of masturbation’s alleged risks doesn’t make them turn off the porn. While Islamic law is “actually incredibly affirming of the positive aspects of sexuality as they pertain to marriage,” there is a tide in extremist Islam that encourages pornography consumption by “dehumanizing” women and men, says Omid Safi, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the author of “Memories of Muhammad,” an analysis of the prophet Muhammad’s teachings and how people like bin Laden are misrepresenting them.

“Interestingly and ironically,” says Safi, “some of the Muslim societies that are the most repressive towards women or that have the strictest gender segregations also have some of the highest rates of pornography usage in the world. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt rank as among the highest consumers of pornography worldwide. I think what is true of bin Laden, the Taliban, and many of these extremist movements is that there seems to be a link between the dehumanizing of women and the dehumanizing of the entire block of humanity, Muslims and non-Muslims included.”