The Islamic State is often said to target and exploit alienation, disaffection and lack of purpose in young men as a key recruiting tool.
In his essay “Globalization and Its Mal(e)Contents: The Gendered Moral and Political Economy of Terrorism,” Michael Kimmel suggests that 9/11, one of the most violent events of the 21st Century, had its roots in the hijackers’ discontents with their current male predicament of declining opportunity in a globalizing, modernizing world.
But Kimmel sees the predicaments of these young men as ones of bitterness over undeserved male privileges lost rather than recognizing that these privileges had been culturally granted and assigned to the young men specifically to enable them to satisfy their duties, obligations and expectations as men. Removing a person’s tools without restructuring his job description is a surefire formula for disaster.
Kimmel informs us that the father of lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had told his son to “toughen up” and that his difficulty finding employment as an engineer and his being consigned to the “lowly” job of draftsman could be traced to the fact that he had not pursued becoming a doctor. His sisters, after all, were doctors and he was supposed to be “the man of the family.”
How much better a place the world might be if Atta’s father had said instead, “Don’t worry, Mohammed. You will find the engineering job you want and until you do there is no shame for you to work as a draftsman.”
How much better a place the world might be right now if we were to tell our young, marginalized, alienated, jobless young men, “It’s okay. We know the world has not been kind to you. We love you for your effort, we love you for your heart. Pay no attention to those who deride your current job as ‘chump change.’ You are much, much more than the money you make. Never forget that we know that.”
And then we would have to make sure that we really, truly believe what we have said and challenge ourselves to banish whatever sexist notions we might harbor that the chief role of any male — any “real” male — is “to provide... [economically].”