One of the defining characteristics of a culture or a nation is how men and women relate. Dictionary.com says that a nation is a group of people who are unified enough to have their own separate government. Nationhood does not require a common language, but it requires cultural unity.
The ways in which men and women relate are deeply embedded in every culture. It's difficult for groups of people to be unified if their mating habits are too far apart. Some cultures have the concept of "honor killing" which says that it is OK for a father or brother to kill a sister or daughter who gets involved with an unsuitable man. People who believe that "honor killing" is murder have little in common with men who believe that any civilized parent is required to kill a woman who dates the wrong guy.
In Saudi Arabia, the law forbids women to drive cars or to travel without being accompanied by a man. Osama Bin Laden is a Saudi who has demonstrated his hatred for America. One of the reasons he finds it difficult to live on the same planet with America is that we let our women run around loose. Not only may an American woman drive a car, she can get a job, earn her own money, buy her own car, and drive it without permission from a man! Imagine that.
A great deal of the disunity between Bin Laden and America is based on differing perceptions of how men and women ought to get along. It's difficult to reconcile his view of women with American customs.
During the middle ages, "knightly chivalry" was a code of conduct which was designed so that men would treat women decently. Women were supposed to be honored. The idea of slaying a dragon to win the hand of a young lady taught that women were treasures.
Women prefer to be treated as treasures, but our society teaches young ladies to act like toys. Boys play with toys and throw them away, bringing great grief to the women. Sexual liberation was supposed to bring freedom to women, but it hasn't turned out as well for women as predicted.
For example, USA Today published "A neo-feminist's view of abstinence" by Elizabeth Sandoval at http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2005-08-18-neo-feminist-edit_x.htm
She begins, "I don't want to have sex. Clarification: I do want to have sex, but only with my husband. And I don't have one of those yet." In concluding, "Women give it up as if it's nothing. When in fact, it is everything," she stated the issue well.
Her idea is supported by scholarly research. In http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6976588.stm the BBC News reports that men and women have different approaches to dating. The article concludes:
It is well known that men select women for fairly superficial reasons, whereas women think much more about the long-term and the qualities and resources needed to bring up children. Men will often find themselves falling into relationships by default after starting off looking for sexual adventure.
If a woman wants a long-term relationship that leads to marriage and a man wants sexual adventure without involvement, how does a woman get what she wants? Ms. Sandoval wants to get married before having sex; she has a realistic understanding of a man's value system.
When a man embarks on a sexual adventure with a particular woman, he tends to be possessive of her whether he marries her or not. In the Middle East, male possessiveness is expressed by requiring women to wear veils. In some cases, women are required to wear the burkha which covers everything but the eyes. Men claim religious reasons for enforcing their dress codes, but it has the smell of old-fashioned tyranny.
I have a friend who traveled in Iran just before the Shah was overthrown. Women wore modest western dress in Tehran and on the eastbound train but switched to burkhas before getting off in the more traditional towns near the Afghan border.
My friend was traveling with his wife and her sister. They paid 75 cents for two hotel rooms in Eastern Iran.
The next morning, a local dignitary offered my friend 5 camels for his wife's sister. The going bride price was 2 camels, this was a generous offer. The locals thought that my friend was rich because he had a matched set of wives; the resemblance between the two women was obvious. The younger wife was clearly out of favor, however, since she had been put in a separate hotel room. The local chieftain saw an opportunity to acquire an enticingly exotic woman.
They were a long way from the US Consul, so my friend had to be tactful. Could you pay in cash? We haven't sold the herds yet, no cash. Do you have vaccination certificates for the US government? The what? Camels can't come into the US without the right papers, do you have papers? Given that he didn't have papers, the chief reluctantly concluded that the deal wouldn't work.
My friend's sister in law listened to this conversation with disbelief. It took her a while to realize that if my friend had given her passport to the chief, it would have been illegal for her to leave his house without his permission.
In August of 1984, Betty Mahmoody, who had been a Michigan housewife, accompanied her husband to his native Iran for a two-week vacation. To her horror, she found herself and her four-year-old daughter virtual prisoners in a country where women are near slaves. This is precisely what would have happened to my friend's sister-in-law if he'd closed the deal with the chief. The book and subsequent movie Not Without My Daughter tells how Mrs. Mahmoody managed to escape Iran.
In historical terms, American women's greater freedom is recent. Although agitation to let women vote started around 1820, New Zealand women were not allowed to vote until 1893. Women were given the right to vote in Utah in 1870, but the US Congress took away their right to vote after they voted in favor of polygamy in 1887. Political correctness goes back a long way. American women finally got the national vote in 1920 - it took one hundred years.
Not being satisfied with voting rights, the women's liberation movement strove for changes in employment law and in divorce law.
In most states, it's easier for a woman to get out of a marriage than to get out of paying for a refrigerator. If a woman wants out, she usually gets the children and her ex-husband has to pay both alimony and child support. If a couple lives together, he may have to pay child support if she stops taking her pills to have his child, but he won't have to pay alimony if they aren't married. Is it any surprise that many men are reluctant to marry?
This degree of women's freedom is anathema to Bin Laden and to other conservative Saudis. In Saudi Arabia, women aren't even allowed to drive, can't own property, have no right to divorce, and their testimony in court counts for less than a man's testimony. In Pakistan, another Islamic country, a rape accusation requires two male witnesses.
Given the long struggle for the rights they now have, it's amazing that American women aren't more concerned about the political rise of Islam. The American example is potent indeed. Twenty years ago, a Japanese friend was musing on the effects of American women getting jobs. "Although Japan is a male-ruled country," he told me, "as a practical matter, if women want to stop being mothers and want to get jobs, there's not much we can do about it." Sure enough, the average number of children being born to Japanese 20-somethings is .9, less than one child per couple.
Bin Laden and other Islamic theocrats know what happens when women really see the freedoms American women have. Bin Laden would like nothing better than to impose Islamic law in the United States so that his women won't dare imitate Western women and seek the same freedoms. The last thing an Islamic theocrat wants is for women to get out from under his thumb. They're willing to kill anyone who threatens their power to kill women who date the wrong guys or won't dress "properly."
Western women are deeply threatened by the worldwide march of Islam. Women are at risk if Al Queda or a Bin Laden look alike starts to gain power anywhere in the world. It's understandable that women don't like the war in Iraq, nobody does, but if the wrong side wins, they have a lot to lose, far more even than their male counterparts.