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In the wake of terrorist atrocities in Brussels, there has been much talk about the determination of European nations to stand together and not give way to fear. It’s assumed that we’re all in it together and that if we are scared, it’s of the same thing – young men with bombs and Kalashnikovs.

I suggest this is not the case and that, faced with Islamist terrorism, women and men experience very different levels and kinds of fear. While all of us – adults and children – fear explosives and guns in the hands of fanatics, it is women and girls who are likely to experience the most visceral terror. During the Second World War, all Britons feared Nazi occupation – but the fear of British Jews must have been of a different order. Most knew what occupation meant for them. In a similar way, women know what Isis and its affiliates want – and what they intend for us.

Powerful politicians and the liberal commentariat seem indifferent to ISIS’ threats to place a black flag over Downing Street and absorb Europe into an Islamist Caliphate. They consider such threats unrealistic and grandiose, despite the fact that ISIS and associated Islamists continue to control huge oil revenues and swathes of land in the Middle East. They are aware that ISIS brings death, sexual enslavement and servitude to women – as well as to many minorities – but they can live with it, because there’s no immediate prospect of conventional military occupation in the UK and little threat to them. Sexism blinds them to the suffering of women, while racism and arrogance causes them to under-estimate their enemy. They do not understand the power of ideas to subvert the institutions and social structures they take for granted.

Women tend to have a different perspective. For many of us, occupation seems an immediate threat – or in fact began long ago. It’s not that men in balaclavas are fighting in our streets. It’s that the ideas which fuel such men are here already and have been for decades, blighting the lives of women and girls of both immigrant and indigenous communities and putting all women who aren’t part of their state building exercise at risk.

British politicians may suggest Islamist terror first came to these shores on 7/7 – and boast that the security services have prevented many atrocities. The fact is that domestic Islamist terror – rooted in the same Islamist ideology as ISIS and al-Qaeda – reached homes and streets on these islands decades ago and has flourished unhindered ever since, shored up by Saudi-funded Salafi and Wahhabi teachers in mosques, schools and universities. Politicians have done little to counter this. Rather they have turned a blind eye and appeased it.

As a consequence, in many British homes, women and girls are denied their rights under British and international law, confined to the home, without freedom or control over their own bodies and fertility, finances or futures. Husbands have mastery over wives, brothers over sisters, uncles over nieces and sons over mothers. Polygamy is tolerated because, though bigamy is illegal, unregistered ‘religious’ marriages are not. Under age marriage of teenage girls to much older men takes place, denying girls education and a career and condemning them to repeated pregnancies. Hard line Imams and even some school teachers justify domestic beatings and sexual violence, instructing girls that they may not ‘refuse’ their husbands.

There are no public slave markets, but there is domestic slavery and organised trafficking and abuse of vulnerable young girls by groups of men – until recently, routinely tolerated by politicians and the police. There is also female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so called honour killing. These abuses are illegal, but convictions are vanishingly rare. Each is declared an abomination, but the ideology which underpins so many of these crimes remains unchallenged.

Our society treats the control of women and children by men, even returning jihadists, as a religious imperative or a bargaining chip – to be tolerated provided men keep their violence off the streets.

Jean Calder is the Director of For Our Daughters, a charity which campaigns against sexist violence.

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