What motivates a female suicide bomber?

December 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

 What makes a man want to kill himself and as many others in the process? Religious extremism perhaps? Community pressure? The promise of a virgin-filled Paradise after death? The belief in a holy war?           

Getty Images: A mother of two from Gaza City makes a video statement for Hamas days before blowing herself up, killing four Israelis and wounding seven others.

And, if these are a few of the reasons – what are the motivations more specifically for a female suicide bomber?

On Saturday – Christmas Day – a female suicide bomber killed more than 40 people after detonating an explosives-laden vest in an aid distribution centre in North-western Pakistan
This is thought to be the first woman acting as a suicide bomber in Pakistan. The right wing press have had a field day with this story because the murderer was dressed in a burkha.

The Pakistani Taliban later claimed responsibility. It is thought to be a protest over the handling of the nearby border with Afghanistan by the Pakistani authorities.In the case of suicide bombing – the majority of which are committed by men, the very vast majority – the martyr is fueled by a belief in a holy war, and the honour of dying for this cause, and for the promise of better to come. It is a very male based ideology – 72 sumptuous virgins waiting to deliver “everlasting happiness”.

But the Taliban is no friend to women.

After all, if in Islam female sexuality is something to be respected – the Taliban take this ideology a step further to be something to be feared, repressed, punishable. Women are to cover their faces because “the face of woman is a source of corruption”. Under Taliban rules, women are not to be educated, and face public flogging and execution if they break their rules. So, affiliation with the Taliban appears on the face of it an unlikely motive for a female suicide bomber. And yet the bomber on Saturday is believed to have been acting for the Taliban. 

AP: The Christmas DAy Pakistan bombing

 In researching this post, the study “Female Suicide Bombers”by Debra D Zedalis starts with a rather suprising quote from Hiba, a mother of five- and a suicide bomber trainee.

“I have to tell the world that if they do not defend us, then we have to defend ourselves with the only thing we have, our bodies. Our bodies are the only fighting means at our disposal”

 This rings surprising sounds of Femen, the activist group based in the Ukraine, which argues that they have to use their bodies because it is all they have to protest with. This idea of physical-based protest, of women being rendered so powerless that their bodies are the only tool they have to protest does not sound particularly likely in this case, since suicide bombing is a tactic used predominantly by men.

Some reports suggest that the enforced female attire is the biggest help for women working with the Taliban – after all the shapeless burqa is a perfect hiding place and male police are forbidden to touch or search women. Incidentally, see this story on a father who killed his own daughter who he claimed had been joining a suicide mission with al-Qaeda.   

 Perhaps it’s wrong to try and seperate motivations between men and women taking such drastic actions. It does strike me as sadly ironic that allowing women to take part in such acts of protest could be seen a sign of rising status for women in the Arab world. Hamas, for example, issued a fatwa that women could participate in suicide missions – but has still banned women from smoking water pipes, or having their hair cut by male hairdressers, for example. 

Should we be celebrating the inclusion of women in extremist politics and actions as in some dark way a step forward for Islamic women?

Related Articles

Female suicide bomber kills 43 at Pakistan food aid center (capitolhillblue.com)

Villagers fear hunger after Pakistan bombing (abclocal.go.com)

Najim al-Anbaky, Iraqi, Kills Daughter Recruited As Al-Qaida Bomber (huffingtonpost.com)

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