Keren Shein Daskal and Dr. Eitan Azani
One of the most surprising developments in female involvement within various Islamic terrorist organizations is the way Jihadi organizations have allowed women to assume various roles, including battlefield positions and execution of terror attacks. These women are integrated into an arena that from a historical and classical perspective has been a male dominated-arena (Von Knop, 2007).
The number of women in Jihadi organizations has gradually grown since 1976. Between 1985-2010 female terrorists have perpetrated over 275 suicide bombing, about 25% of the total attacks, on behalf of various organizations around the world. These women have killed hundreds of men, women and children and injured scores of others (Bloom, 2011). It is evident that the common denominator between female motivation to partake and terror organizations’ motives to let them in has expanded and enabled this phenomenon. Even though classic Islam has consistently frowned upon female participation in Jihad, radical Islam takes a different approach and tries to justify their participation. For example, to date, there are a number of Fatwas that allow female participation in Jihad and even female suicide bombers (Von Knop, 2007; Davis, 2013). Terror is perceived as a male-dominated field, among other reasons, due to the fact that the percentage of terror attacks perpetrated by women, although on an upward trend, is still very low. This number leads to a flawed analysis of the phenomenon and belittles women’s’ contribution to Jihad’s survival and the scope of terrorism. A large body of research is dedicated to the “male” Jihad that often includes violence and terror attacks whereas most of the women who identify themselves as radical Muslims adopt a “feminine” Jihad that is perceived as “softer” than its male counterpart because it is far less violent. Women’s’ long-term contribution to Jihad is in some respects even harder to eradicate than the “male” Jihad (Von Knop, 2007). The classic “female” Jihad is manifested in many “soft” fields such as fundraising, indoctrination and incitement trough education and of course steering the private household (husband and children) towards Jihad.
Researching female participation in Jihadi organizations presents a built-in set of conflicts to western researchers. On the one hand, there is a tendency in the west to connect women’s’ status in a society to the level of modernization of the country they live in (Deeb, 2006). Therefore, the rise in the number of women incorporated into Jihadi institutes and organizations in a certain country may be perceived as an indication of progress and even the existence of values of equality that are attributed in the west to modernization and civility. On the other hand, Jihad is perceived in the west as a field characterized by religious zeal and conservatism, that are regarded as essentially contradictory to gender equality and modernization.
This article examines whether the growing integration of women in global Jihadi organizations is a derivative of feminist progress and modernization that may, in turn, signify buds of cultural change and gender equality or rather an abuse of these values and trends for the needs and benefit of the organization. Will the integration of women spark a change in the realm of radical Islam or will it actually perpetuate the prevailing stereotypes and cement women’s’ status in Islamic society?
The motives of various organizations and women from a variety of cultures contribute to the growing phenomenon of women partaking in global jihad. It is tempting to classify it as an irrational phenomenon since it is unclear why western women, for example, would leave an environment that promotes gender equality to join organizations that commit, inter alia, sex crimes and violence against women. Such classification may lead to research that focuses only on the psychological aspects of the phenomenon whereas the reality, of thousands of women from varied countries and cultures leaving their homes for war zones, is more complex than what meets the eye (Bonnet 2015). It may be more prudent to analyze the phenomenon without any cultural judgment in the spirit of Publius Tarentines “I am a human, and there shall not be any human phenomenon I shall regard as foreign” (Publius Tarentines Afer, Legibus I, 12,33). To enable a more accurate, in-depth and neutral analysis of the various motives behind the phenomenon this article will adopt a transnational and cross-sectional approach. This approach does not examine women’s position on a one-dimensional axis where Religious Zeal/Conservatism is on one end and Modernization/Feminism is on the opposing end (and the two inherently contradict each other), but rather this article analyzes the phenomenon on a more flexible, multi-dimensional matrix under the understanding that the above do not necessarily contradict each other.