Why do they want to live long enough to take revenge?

suicide bomberThree cheers for the intelligent commenter who raises issues that journalists must consider in covering their beats, particularly involving a beat that is not sole dealing with religion. In this case, I’m thinking of terrorism.

Commenter Deacon John M. Bresnahan raised a great point in this post on telling the story when it comes to female Muslims and terrorism:

Since so much of Europe has lost any enthusiasm for the Christian Faith it looks like G.K. Chesterton’s observation that “those who believe in nothing, will believe anything” may be coming into — at least — partial play. Since it is part of the human condition for most people to believe in at least something of a “higher” spiritual nature — take away strong faith in he who said “love your enemies” and it looks like some will then choose a powerful faith that says — “Even if it means killing yourself, take out your enemies and their mothers and their wives and their babies.”

And another commenter Lucas gave us this link to an article dealing with the western roots of Islamic terrorism.

Both are solid contributions to the discussion of terrorism, female Muslims and the United States’ war on terrorism that is slowly starting to encompass more than just the Middle East. So I was pleased to see the cover story in Newsweek Tuesday:

Jihad used to have a gender: male. The men who dominated the movement exploited traditional attitudes about sex and the sexes to build their ranks. They still do that, but with a difference: even Al Qaeda is using female killers now, and goading the men.

The article is very newsy, as it should be, but it utterly failed to deal with the theological underpinnings of the female Jihadist. Rather it relied heavily on relatively recent trends in the Islamic world. Here’s what I’m talking about:

“Chivalry” is not a word normally associated with terrorism, at least not in the West. But the world in which Osama bin Laden would like to live, and the vision that inspires so many of his followers, is literally about days of old when knights were bold — and fair maidens were kept behind veils, their virtue protected, their lives entirely controlled by men. Since the 1990s, bin Laden has cast his fight as one against “crusaders,” and the most important ideological tract by his right-hand man, Zawahiri, bears the title “Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner.”

While gender roles are evolving in many of today’s societies, Al Qaeda has hoped to freeze them in a time of feudal traditions. Many of the organization’s leaders have been intellectuals, doctors, lawyers and engineers who are perfectly at home with other aspects of modernity. But they differ violently with the West about the way women should be allowed to participate in daily life, viewing females as chattel in some cases, as revered mothers in others and almost always as icons to be protected from outside influences.

In jihadist propaganda, the invasion and violation of Muslim lands is intimately tied to the violation of Muslim women, either directly or through the corrupting role of Western values and attitudes. In its 1988 covenant, the Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas laid out its view of “the Muslim woman” as “the maker of men” and the educator of future generations—the person who prepares future fighters. “The enemies have realized the importance of her role,” says the fundamentalist manifesto. “They consider that if they are able to direct and bring her up the way they wish, far from Islam, they would have won the battle.”

The article does a very good job grasping and understanding that these female suicide bombers signal a changing of tactics from the enemy. Is it a sign of desperation or a sign that the movement is gaining strength? It’s hard to say.

But I’m still left wondering why these women are blowing themselves up other than the current factors mentioned here:

The tales of these Chechen women are as much about tawdry victimization as battlefield heroics. They come from a rugged society where an old tradition, made worse after years of gunslinging war and anarchy, allows men to kidnap the bride of their choice. The kidnappers can settle disputes with the woman’s family in cash, or with violence, according to Lida Yusupova of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Grozny. But once she’s been taken, she’s unlikely to find another husband. “No intelligent, nice young man in Chechnya would marry a nonvirgin girl,” says Yusupova.

Some Chechen women who have lost husbands or sons in the war want to live only long enough to take revenge. The first attack by a “black widow,” in the summer of 2000, killed 27 members of the Russian Special Forces. Then the spectral, silent presence of 18 “widows” during the deadly hostage siege of a Moscow theater in 2002 heightened their mystique. Over a four-month period in 2003, Chechen women carried out six out of seven suicide attacks on Russian targets, killing 165 people. Women bombers allegedly brought down two Russian airliners last year, killing all 90 passengers and crew.

So revenge is the reason these women are blowing themselves up? Is it that simple? Tell me why a nonvirgin Muslim woman doesn’t stand a chance of getting a husband? Why is it so important for Muslim women to get a husband?

There are historical and theological answers to these questions and rather than merely digging up the most relevant facts and news for their in-depth articles, reporters must dig deeper into the history of the Middle East and the teachings and beliefs of Islam to allow us to understand this story in its entirety.

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  • http://turtleislander.blogspot.com/ Paul Grant

    There are other Western roots to militant Islam. See ‘The World is an Undutiful Boy!’: Sayyid Qutb’s American experience, in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Volume 11, Number 1, 1 March 2000, pp. 87-103(17).

    Basically, this is the story of Sayyid Qutb, one of the intellectual daddies of al-Qaeda, who spent some time in the late forties as an international student in the US. Qutb was a proud and swarthy Egyptian, and took great umbrage at American Jim Crow laws. The racial situation in his American experience was more important than “Western decadence” in his opinions about Islam.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Tell me why a nonvirgin Muslim woman doesn’t stand a chance of getting a husband? Why is it so important for Muslim women to get a husband?

    It wasn’t really all that long ago that the same things were said of Christian women.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd/essays Dan Berger

    Not so, Avram. Widows have always been respectable marriage material for Christian men.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    I’m afraid I’m unable to share in the enthusiasm for either John M. Bresnahan’s “insight” or for the essay linked by Lucas Sayre.

    As I noted before, a Western woman terrorist is hardly unique, and the link with Chesterton is banal: people who don’t believe in loving their enemies are more likely to hurt people than those who do. Therefore what? And given the lack of American Christian concern over torture, secret prisons and “extreme rendition” one wonders what Christianity (sorry, “The Christian Faith”) has to do with it one way or another.

    As for the “roots of jihad” essay, it doesn’t amount to much – especially since Heideigger’s Nazism and Foucault’s daft pro-Iranian revolution comments are well-known. The argument is basically: Bin Laden is anti-American. This can’t be because of his religion, since we have an off-hand quote which claims he doesn’t know much about Islamic theology (when was the last time Pat Robertson quoted Aquinas, by the way?). And it’s not even worth raising the possibility that anything America has ever done might have something to do with it.

    No, the truth is apparently: middle eastern anti-Americanism is based on postmodern Marxism as preached in 1960s Paris, so we can blame Derrida and Satre Al-Qaeda. Plus the postmodernists have a bit of time for Heideigger’s ideas, so they must be Nazis. And because they’re a bit romantic, this all goes back to Rouseau (whom I don’t like, by the way – Voltaire had him bang to rights). All in the space of 2000 words or less.

    Come off it.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Dan, was the passage talking about widows?

  • Maureen

    Widows and divorced women are usually acceptable marriage material for Muslims. So if this is true, it must be a Chechen tribal thing.

    However, I don’t see it mentioned that some surviving female Chechen bombers have allegedly claimed that they were orphans who were sold by their relatives to terrorist groups as slaves. Whether or not this is just propaganda, I don’t know.

    Also, I don’t see it noted that some Chechen women apparently are becoming suicide bombers because they were outright raped either by Chechens or Russians, and thus no longer have a place in their families. Only death for the cause might be able to restore their “lost honor”.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd/essays Dan Berger

    Avram, like Maureen I understood the passage to be talking about widows as well as divorcées and young kidnap victims who manage to escape.

    But looking at it again, you may be correct.

  • http://www.maryams.net/dervish Maryam

    Except for A’isha, all of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives were divorcees or widows.

    Given that ‘Muslim women’ come from a vast number of cultures that span the globe, it’s probably better to attempt to consider local varieties of folk-Islam’s influence in the Chechen experience rather than extrapolate it to all Muslim women, everywhere.

  • Molly

    I think Maureen is on to something. The desicion to become a suicide bomber may be all that is left to some women.

    How sad that THAT isn’t the story being covered.