In his famous book “What Went Wrong,” the greatest historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, writes that “the main culprit [for the failed development is] the relegation of women to an inferior position in Muslim society, which deprives the Islamic world of the talents and energies of half its people and entrusts the other half’s crucial early years of upbringing to illiterate and downtrodden mothers. The products of such an education, it has been said, are likely to grow up either arrogant or submissive, and unfit for a free, open society.”

This means that the women question is the question of Islam itself. If Islam does not face it thoroughly, it will never be able to produce a social development equal to the needs of its huge population.

There are several degrees of oppression and abuse, different legislations as well as movements that are opposed to them. There is the Tunisian attempt to promote a better legislation for women and, on the other hand, the fatwa immediately recanted by the Diyanet, the Turkish Council for Religious Affairs.

The fatwa, which first appeared on its website and then was deleted, replied to an anonymous user asking if the bond of his marriage can be broken by the sexual desire toward his daughter. The answer the man received was as repugnant as his question: “However, the daughter should not have less than nine years,” an advice that belongs to the deepest medieval darkness.

There have been many protests, but this is the extreme of a philosophy whereby another fatwa, issued by the same Diyenet, labelled as “inappropriate” for unmarried couples to hold hands, live together and spend time alone. This is sexophobia, spiced with a prurient and scrupulous interventionism, which makes the woman a puppet. Also our culture had the same problems, but we sorted them out after centuries of battles for freedom.

One could list the differences per each legislation, but the tide of prejudice is stronger: Egypt, a moderate country, is the first in the ranking of women’s oppression compiled by The Thomson Reuters Foundation. In these very days, a debate is ongoing as to the possibility of coexistence with the world of Muslim men after the events in Cologne, where the charges have increased up to 379.

What happened begins to look like the start of an epochal revelation, as also tenths of young Swedish and Finnish women denounced to have been sexually harassed by immigrants.

It’s already a long time since we should have considered the contempt for women a central theme concerning the possibility of the encounter between different cultures, even in the more provocative aspects.

For instance, the use of Yazidi women as slaves with the complicity of the Isis kapò-wives has been viewed only as a horrible oddity, although the protagonists explained it to us by specific fatwas. Such precepts are ignored by the most, but they linger even when not practiced. Thus, we have disregarded for years the growth of the crime of honor when a girl shows signs of “westernization”.

We have disregarded the beatings, the veil, the depression of the Islamic woman. It is true: the doctrine of the Prophet improved more than one thousand years ago the status of women. At that time, the pagans used to burn the unwanted babies, and this has been forbidden by Mohammed laws. Women were also given the right to inherit and own properties.

Nevertheless, today Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, even the moderate states and Jordan still have laws reflecting the female inequality as it is established in the scriptures of Islam. Her testimony is worth half of that of a man, the male is the head of the family, of the society, of everything.

The idea that women are the source of sin make them the object of perverse and aggressive fantasies. In Pakistan, to prove that she was raped, a woman has to avail herself of four adult males of “impeccable” character as witnesses. The age at which a girl can be given in marriage reaches down to childhood.

The famous wedding pictures that in Gaza showed a procession of adults with child brides in white dress was almost an object of ethnic curiosity, and sometimes it is by ethnic understanding that the European judges respond to honor killing.

The collection of horrors on the woman condition explains the reason behind the violence in Cologne: women who go out in the evening, while it is dark, dressed like they want, alone or in company according to a personal choice, provoke religious, moral and social contempt; they are considered easy women deserving evil.

How to stop this? Nobody really has a clue in Europe. In Norway, they are trying with “respect for women” classes, a small weapon against the millennia.

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (January 10, 2016)