The so-called “Arab Spring” has sprung a moralistic leak. The fallen dictators were hardly prime specimens of devout examples for their people. Whatever differences there were between Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qaddafi, Ali Abdullah Salih and Bashshar al-Asad, all have self identified as holding back the tide of Islamic extremism. As elections are being held in Tunisia and Egypt, it is quite clear that conservative religious parties are making the most gains. The “secular” ideals supposedly upheld by the strong men (who embraced the secular mainly to bleed the wealth of their countries and garner Western military aid) are clearly being challenged. All the hype about letting democracy bloom in these “Arab” lands is now coming back to haunt the hawks who thought democracy was just another word for approving American foreign policy. Finally given a voting choice, it seems that those who brought down the dictators prefer having leaders with more conservative religious values.

All of a sudden the Huntingtonian clash talk is gathering more momentum. The idea that any political party would hoist the banner of “Islam” is scaring Western commentators. Some journalists, who try to be sympathetic to the people they write about, argue for nuance. Wednesday Nick Kristof wrote an oped in the New York Times about an apparently with-it young woman of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, arguing that she is just an ordinary person who happens to wear a hijab. Maybe, maybe not: this is one of those situations where indeed only time will tell.

Drowning out a semblance of nuance are the Islamophobes who are having a field day with the spate of silly fatwas coming out of Egypt (and elsewhere). Within the last couple of days it seems like The Onion has been scooped by sites like Jihad Watch. The wishy-watchers on that Watch quote al-Arabiya, so we learn:

Preacher Mustafa al-Adawi issued a fatwa prohibiting Muslim women from wearing high heels because they are a source of seduction for men.
“A woman can only wear high heels for her husband but she is not to do so outside her house,” he said.

If you have invested in the Egyptian stock market, you might want to pull out of the shoe businesses. Well, at least this preacher lets women wear high heels at home.

Then there is the anonymous Egyptian cleric who has apparently warned women not to touch cucumbers, zucchini or carrots because they resemble a penis and will thus arouse the women. So they should have a male cut these vegetables for them, as women obviously still need to do the cooking. I suppose it has not occurred to this fellow that if a man picks up a cucumber and thinks it looks like a penis, that this kind of homosexual thought should be even worse. Actually, this is not a new idea. The 13th century travel account by Ibn al-Mujawir relates a story that the ruler in Sanaa, Yemen at the time forbade women to sell or buy whole white radishes (the long white kind that look like carrots) in the market because they would use them for a certain purpose in that unmentionable part of their anatomy. And someone should tell this cleric that men should not eat figs unless they are at home with their wives in bed. Pity the poor vegetable hawker who gets a basket of oranges or mangos to sell and is asked for two at a time.

The fear mongering here is that, horror of horrors, Egyptian women will not be able to wear high heels in the street and men will have to help out in the kitchen for dinner. Of all the issues pressing Egyptian society, high heels and phallic cucumbers are newsworthy? Jihad Watch does not indicate that in fact these are not binding rules, but opinions that most Egyptian Muslims find utterly amusing. There are indeed all kinds of silly fatwas out there, which is the case for any religion I know. I remember growing up fundamentalist Baptist and reading a little booklet by “Sword of the Lord” John R. Rice that women should not bob their hair. Bob their hair! It is also well to remember that almost half of the people in the United States say that they believe in a literal Adam and Eve and do not accept the scientific theory of evolution.

The popularity of such fat-chance fatwas is obvious; we all love to read silly things. But there is a double problem here. First, an anonymous bearded cleric does not define Islam any more than Terry Jones defines Christianity. If you think that the first new law passed in a democratically elected Egyptian parliament will be to ban wearing high heels, you probably need a brain transplant. Second, we trivialize Islam by focusing on such banal pronouncements. We just witnessed protests in several countries that took people’s lives; those who braved the tanks and tear gas did not do so to keep Egyptian women from handling cucumbers. Yes, the new political systems will have a far more religious flavor. No one knows what rights will be newly given and what rights will be eroded. I suspect, however, that economics will trump moral policing.