Female Suicide Bombers: The Newest Trend in Terrorism
By: Laura Ann Trombley
May 8, 2002

In January 2002, the female suicide bomber became the newest trend in terrorism.
However, the use of females in the military is not a novel occurrence. Moreover,
even women martyrs are far from extraordinary. There have been a multitude
of female martyrs in western history. Even the Catholic Church had Joan of Arc.
Women terrorists have existed in Italy’s Red Brigades and Germany’s Baader-Meinof
gang. Furthermore, women soldiers are present in the Israeli Army(Appelbaum, 2002, p. 1).

Female suicide bombers serve two purposes. Overtly, they serve a militaristic
advantage for the Palestinian army who can now advance more terrorist tactics on
Israelis. Previously, Israelis only believed that Palestinian men were the perpetrators
of suicide bombings. Ultimately, Palestinian women passed unmolested by Israeli
checkpoints. But with the onset of female suicide bombers, the Israelis now have the more
difficult task of expanding their profile of potential Palestinian suicide bombers to
include women.

While the overt militaristic function of the female suicide bomber has astonished Israeli
officials, the covert function of the female suicide bomber is more threatening to the Muslim
society as a whole. In fact, to view the female suicide bomber purely in terms of utilitarian
purposes, would diminish its true effectiveness. In reality, the female suicide bomber’s covert
function is a liberating tool that challenges the inequality and subordinate status of women in
Muslim society.

As an American women, I rejoiced at the implementation of the female suicide bomber for the same
reason Muslim women rejoiced. It is the purest form of enactment and dissention against Islamic
fundamentalism. Moreover, the female suicide bomber empowers Muslim women to no longer accept
their inferior status. But while western societies hail the trend of gender equality in Muslim
society, the use of the female suicide bomber as a way to achieve gender equality is not
comprehended nor accepted.

Ultimately, my purpose is not to morally justify the implementation of female suicide bombers.
Our culture is unsympathetic to any acts of terrorism especially since September eleventh. In fact,
I will divorce moral ideals so that I can demonstrate how the female suicide bomber is both effective
and radical. I will first explain the subordinate status of women in Muslim Society and then explain
the implementation of suicide bombers against ‘enemy’ nations, and finally show how the female suicide
bomber has been useful as a Palestinian militaristic tactic and as a liberating tool for Muslim women.

The subordination of Muslim women is ingrained in the Koran. The Koran, similar to the Bible, explains
the creation of man. Women are considered to be subordinate because God’s primary creation was man,
not woman. Woman was created after man from man’s rib (Hassan, 2001, p. 60). Moreover, woman was
created to please man and therefore her status is instrumental not fundamental (Hassan, 2001, p. 60).
Furthermore, woman is held responsible for the fall of man since Eve was the woman that tempted Adam
to disobey God (Hassan, 2001, p. 60). The writings in the Koran have been utilized to function as a
tool to subordinate Muslim women. In fact, Muslims truly believe that women are not equal to men
(Hassan, 2001, p. 59). Muslim women’s status in reality is equal to one half of Muslim men (Hassan, 2001,
p. 58). In the Koran, a man’s share of inheritance is worth twice that of a woman. The witness of one man
is equal to that of two women. Women are inadequate in prayer because of menstruation. They are
considered less intelligent because their witnessing counts for less and because of their deficiency in prayer
(Hassan, 2001, p. 59).

Religious conservatism which justifies the subordination of women, also creates hostility between Muslim
and Western countries. Their primary reason for this is because many Muslim countries feel that the only
way for them to modernize is to simultaneously westernize. Modernization is associated with the progression
of science and technology (Hassan, 2001, p. 57). In contrast, westernization is associated with social
problems including drug and alcohol abuse (Hassan, 2001, p. 57). Modernization is highly accepted while
westernization is highly unaccepted (Hassan, 2001, p. 57). While educated Muslim men are considered to be
modernized, educated Muslim women are considered to be westernized (Hassan, 2001, p. 57). Westernized
women are viewed as violating the traditional necessary barrier between “private space” where women belong,
and “public space” where men belong. Ultimately, the presence of women in public space is highly dangerous
for men (Hassan, 2001, p. 58). As a result, Muslim women have difficulties accepting their subordinate status
in their Muslim culture but also have difficulties identifying with western culture. Muslim women are left
feeling isolated and alone (Hassan, 2001, p. 67).

Now that I have addressed the reasons for the subordination of Muslim women, it is imperative to understand
the implementation of suicide bombers in Muslim culture. In 1979, martyrdom was first utilized as a
militaristic tactic in the Shiite Iran’s revolution and the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-1988 (Gerecht, 2002,
p. 1). Martyrdom is the term for suicide bomber in Muslim culture since the term suicide is not acceptable
and is looked down upon (Claudet, 2002, p. 2).

Since 1979, martyr missions have been promoted extensively. Young Muslims have matured by listening to
religious leaders emphasize the venerated status of martyrdom as well as promote everlasting life in heaven
to those who kill Israelis and other enemies of Islamic countries (Davis, 2002, p. 1). These men and women
believe that martyrdom is the ideal sacrifice and example of courageousness (Davis, 2002, p. 1). Moreover,
martyrs are viewed as heroes. Besides respect and happiness, another powerful incentive of martyrdom is the
financial payoff of $25,000 to the martyr’s family as promised by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (Zoroya,
2002, p. 8). In fact, any Muslim who is killed in combat or who is killed by the enemy is considered to be
a martyr (Davis, 2002, p. 2).

The “enemies” of Muslim nations are the western nations like the United States and Israel. Muslims and
Palestinians in particular believe they have been victimized and humiliated by the United States (Davis,
2002, p. 2). They see it as their duty to wage jihad (or holy war) against them (Davis, 2002, p. 2).
Muslim nations believe that the west preaches the ideals of human rights and equality but simultaneously
imposes disparity and paucity on non-west nations such as themselves. (Lindner, 2001, p. 1). The disparity
in wealth between west and Muslim nations has humiliated these Muslim nations. In fact, humiliation is the
strongest agent that creates barriers between countries and decomposes the relationships between them
(Lindner, 2001, p. 1). When respect and recognition are not present, those Muslim victims of humiliation
begin to highlight differences between themselves and western nations as ways to justify the disparities
that exist between them (Lindner, 2001, p. 1).

Ultimately, suicide bombers are used to terrorize these ‘enemy’ nations. While women have supported and
have aided in suicide bombings, men were the ones to actually execute them. Though female suicide bombers
are an extremely useful militaristic tactic, the use of the female suicide bomber has created controversy
in traditional Muslim societies, especially by Islamic fundamentalists (Westerman, 2002, p. 2). After the
Iranian revolution, the clerical regime created informal cadres of women, though the Islamic republic could
not bring itself to employ women martyrs (Gerecht, 2002, p. 2). Traditional Muslim norms enforce that Muslim
women are supposed to be caring while the men are primarily educated to fight. In regard to war, women are
suppose to react with depression when they feel useless, subjugated and humiliated. They are supposed to turn
their depression inwards because they are not supposed to fight (Lindner, 2001, p. 4). Moreover, Muslim women’s
primary role motherhood, and therefore they are considered to be noncombatants (Gerecht, 2002, p. 2). Radical
Islamic groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have not sent women on martyr missions claiming practical religious
reasons (Claudet, 2002, p. 2). Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin spoke out against female suicide
bombers. He claimed that if a female wanted to implement such an attack, she should be accompanied by a male
relative (Claudet, 2002, p. 2).

But contrary to the objections by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the female suicide bomber has proven to be an
extremely useful Palestinian terrorist weapon. Non-religious organizations like the Al-Aqsa don’t have
restrictions on using women in suicide missions and are now increasingly resorting to them (Claudet, 2002,
p. 2). The Al-Aqsa started utilizing female suicide bombers when in recruited four women in September 2000
at the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian uprising (Zoroya, 1). The Al-Aqsa martyrs remark, “suicide attacks
are done for effect, and the more dramatic the effect, the stronger the message; thus a potential interest on
the part of some groups in recruiting women” (Claudet, 2).

Besides the strong message that female suicide bombers send, they also do not invoke Israeli suspicion since
many Muslims consider Muslim women to be noncombatants and therefore not capable of executing martyr missions
(Zoroya, 2002, p. 2). Female suicide bombers have created mayhem at Israeli military checkpoints because women
have rarely been searched in the past and new procedures have to be implemented to now encompass women (Gilmore,
2002, p. 5). In fact, it is speculated that now it will be twice as difficult to stop suicide bombers (Fletcher,
2002, p. 3). Consequently, Israelis now expect to see more female suicide bombers than male (Zoroya, 2002, p. 1).
Furthermore, female suicide bombers are actually highly venerated. Political analyst Maha Abdel Hadi explains that
female suicide bombers are respected my many Muslim organizations. Women have the right to resist Israeli aggression
by whatever way they feel necessary (Claudet, 2002, p. 2). Any person can execute a martyr mission because the Israeli
aggression hurts women as much as men (Claudet, 2002, p. 2). Furthermore, there are no religious restrictions that
ban women from volunteering for suicide missions either (Zoroya, 2002, p. 2). Boaz Ganor of the International Policy
Institute for Counter-Terrorism says, “is you analyze the motivations of women who commit such attacks, it’s the same
as the men: they do believe they are committed, patriotic, and this is combined with a religious duty” (Zoroya, 2002,
p. 3).

Similar to how the female suicide bomber has changed Palestinian military tactics, the female suicide bomber has
changed the status of women in Muslim society. Until this year, all martyrs were men. On Sunday, January 27, 2002,
Wafa al-Idris, a 28 year-old Palestinian refugee, killed one person and injured one hundred other people in downtown
Jerusalem. She became known as the first female suicide bomber. A paramedic who divorced her husband when he wanted
to have a second wife because she could not bear children, Idris helped end the social taboo that women cannot be
martyrs (Gilmore, 2002, p. 1). Prior to Idris’ martyrdom, Palestinian women had only played supporting roles in
military and terrorist operations (Gilmore, 2002, p. 1).

Ultimately, Idris has been hailed as a martyr as well as a liberator for Muslim women. One admirer of Idris said,
“There have been many women who had the intention to do this before now but they were afraid that society would not
accept them. Now they feel they can do it because Wafa has shown the way” (Gilmore, 2002, p. 2). The Al-Aqsa Martyrs
responsible for sending Wafa al-Idris said, “There is no doubt that this is a turning point. It has given women a
burst of enthusiasm to join the fight and many now are volunteering to carry out attacks (Gilmore, 2002, p. 1). This
has resulted in dozens of Palestinian women volunteering for military operations (Gilmore, 2002, p. 1). Many women
have urged other women to become martyrs and have exclaimed, “sisters should now follow in her [Idris’] footsteps”
(Gilmore, 2002, p. 1).

Dareen Abu Aeshah, a 21 year-old college student, continued the trend of female martyrdom when she wounded three
Israeli soldiers near the West Bank on February 28, 2002. Currently it is debated whether or Aeshah or Idris is the
first female suicide bomber. Some speculate that Idris’ job was merely to drop off the bomb, but that it exploded
prematurely (Contenta, 2002, p. 1). Despite this, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs have created a special unit for female suicide
bombers naming it after Wafa Idris (Claudet, 2002, p. 1). But Aeshah is equally revered as Idris. Aeshah’s brother
says, “she’s a real man” and that “the role of women in Palestinian society is not only to cry and keep the
household, but to participate in such acts” (Contenta, 2002, p. 1). Aeshah’s brother exemplifies how Muslim women’s
status has progressed in the past few months. Traditionally, Muslim women were suppose to turn their anger inward,
but now it is accepted for them to participate in terrorist operations.

The third female suicide bomber was 18 year-old Ayat Akras who walked into a Jerusalem supermarket and killed
herself and two Israelis on April 5th (Barr, 2002, p. 1). For Shireen Oudeh, her 14 year old female neighbor, Ayat’s act was
“sensational, it’s awesome, it makes me think anyone would love to be in her place” (Barr, 2002, p. 2). But while
these past three suicide missions have injured more people than killed, each proceeding bomber has been more deadly.
Currently, the most deadly female suicide bombing involved 20 year-old Andaleeb Takafza who killed herself and six
other Israelis on April 12th (Zoroya, 2002, p. 1).

Leila Khaled, a veteran terrorist and leader of the “Black September” airplane hijackings, welcomes women’s participation
in Israeli attacks (Westerman, 2002, p. 1). She currently is involved with advancing women’s rights which she sees in
conjunction with the struggle “against the occupiers,” ultimately meaning the Israelis (Westerman, 2002, p. 2). What I find
most interesting is the tie between women’s rights and terrorism. Impregnated in our culture is the basic right to live. As
Americans we want to live a satiated, exultant and prosperous life. But uniquely, Idris, Aeshah, Akras and Takafka fought
for their right to die. The fairest agent that we experience as humans is death. Death transcends gender, age and class. But
traditional Muslim fundamentalists denied Muslim women their right to die the way they chose. But the female suicide bomber
has changed that. If Muslim women are now free to choose how and when they will die, ultimately, they will be free to choose
how they live.

One must remember that the female suicide bomber functions as a military tactic to wage jihad on enemy nations. Ironically
jihad aims to prevent westernization, but the Palestinian use of female suicide bombers and the failure of the Islamic world to
prohibit these practices have shown how contemporary western ethics have now entered Muslim countries (Gerecht, 2002,
p. 2). But is jihad successfully executed through martyr missions? Abdulazi bin Abdallah al Shiekh, the leading Islamc scholar
in Saudi Arabia, believes that it is not. He believes that suicide bombings are illegitimate and do not have anything to do with
jihad in the case of God (Davis, 2002, p. 2). Ultimately, According to Evelin Lindner, “The ability to conquer the urge for revenge is a sign of personal
strength and great maturity” (5). So will suicide bombers ever resist revenge? Not as long as people like
Suha, a female suicide bomber-in-training believe, “life is worth nothing when our people are being humiliated
on a daily basis” (Zoroya, 2002, p. 3).


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