Sunday, August 03, 2008

Female Suicide Bombers

Just wanted to give a shout-out to Lindsey, one of my closest friends (and sometimes commenter here on Rs.5) who yesterday got published on the New York Times op-ed page with an article on female suicide terrorists. The only drawback was that the NYT chose a relatively somber title, as opposed to some of the suggestions Lindsey received a while ago for an academic paper on the same topic, a sampling of which I blogged about (examples include "Does this belt make me look fat? A study on female suicide terrorists" and "She Bangs, She Bangs"). Boring title and all, make sure to check it out.


Lindsey said...

Thanks man.

Ahsan said...

Haha no problem dude. Let's see if people read and respond. Our readership can be quite whimsical in its commenting habits - the most random stuff might get 10-12 comments, and the best posts can go without a comment at all. I hope for your sake if nothing else that people read and get back to you with comments, criticisms or questions they may have.

changinguppakistan said...

Thanks for highlighting this article - Farhana Ali has also done a lot of work on female suicide bombers/terrorists, particularly within the Islamist extremism dimension. I actually was really interested in the topic during graduate school, and found the psychological portrayal of the main character in the film, "The Terrorist" [the story of the female suicide bomber in the Tamil Tigers] to be fascinating and in line with Lindsey's main argument - "the main motives and circumstances that drive female suicide attackers are quite similar to those that drive men."

I always found the reactions to females in roles like terrorists, leading child soldier brigades (sometimes the case in countries in Africa), and ordering acts of genocide (as was the case with one woman during the Rwandan genocide)to be rather telling of the greater gender narrative and stereotypes. Women are often seen as passive and maternal, incapable of committing the acts like suicide bombings.

Acts perpetrated by females therefore, are more shocking, (although as female suicide bombings increase, maybe the shock factor will wear off), and as a result, garner media attention. For militant groups in a country like Iraq, the use of women is also be strategic to garner that publicity. (I just noticed that as I typed that Lindsey had put that in her article).

Anyway, great piece, I would love to read more of her research!

goc said...

refreshing! Not that suicide bombings are refreshing in any way shape or form ... I mean the analysis is refreshing (I have been watching CNN for the last few days so you can imagine my excitement).

Just a thought ... and you can totally blame my liberal arts education for this one if you want. I do.
I noticed the use of the word "used" repeatedly (i.e. female suicide bombers are used as ...). I don't know a lot about literature on suicide attacks in general, so I was wondering if there is a significant difference in how male vs female suicide bombers are talked about in this regard. Is there comparable agency given to both male and female bomber's when it comes to exercising a conscious decision to carry out a attack versus being "used" as cannon fodder by larger political movements? Ignore this if you have no idea what I am trying to get at.

Anonymous said...

Congrats Lindsey. You're on a roll. Don't write the dissertation. Just keep on writing those opeds!

Anonymous said...


i love you

Lindsey said...

Hey goc and changinguppakistan,

Thanks for reading the article! By the way, I also really liked the portrayal in The Terrorist- the movie takes a little while to get off the ground, but it's definitely interesting if you can stick with it.

I think you're both right about the lack of agency ascribed to women. To be honest, when I first approached the topic, I also implicitly assumed it; but I have come to amend my position. If you take the personal grievances of female attackers as evidence that they were driven to commit their attacks, then it really does seem like they don't have much agency. Since reporting on female attackers almost always seems to focus on these factors, it's very easy to conclude that women commit their attacks out of despair. I think the fundamental problem with this type of reporting, however, is that it overlooks that many men have similar experiences- and thus relegates female suicide attacks to an emotional response, while men's are seen as largely political or religious. I think that for both sexes, it's a mix of fairly similar political, communal and personal experiences that motivates them.

Finally goc, you're right that by saying militant organizations 'used' female attackers, I'm giving credence to the position that they're coerced into committing their attacks. Perhaps I'd be better served by saying 'employed' or 'adopted.' Thanks for pointing that out to me.

That was long and rambling... anyway, thanks again for reading the article.

Best, Lindsey