Jihad Jane & Co.: Brainwashed or Hell-Bent?

The phrase “homegrown terrorist” is being thrown around a lot these days. ABC News used it in reference to Colleen LaRose, a Pennsylvania woman who has been charged with using the Internet for terrorist recruitment. She has also been accused of planning to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who drew cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog.

In a similar story, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez from Colorado was detained in Ireland under the accusation to kill the same Swedish cartoonist. The story didn’t get as much media coverage in the U.S., but Canada’s The Globe and Mail published an article about Paulin-Ramirez in which Christina Mott (her mother) described her as a single mother with the “mentality of an abused woman.” This quote portrays Paulin-Ramirez as a victim who would probably be easily persuaded to do something against her will.

These two women’s stories bring up a new type of fear: that Americans can easily be reached via the internet and influenced to be part of terror plots abroad. However, when these Americans are women, the fear carries a little bit of sympathy with it, as if women like LaRose and Paulin-Ramirez couldn’t have made these decisions on their own. The idea that these women have been brainwashed or influenced is integral to the idea that Islam is dangerous and makes women do otherwise irrational things.

How strong would these influences have to be to make a person agree to travel about 3,000 miles in an attempt to commit a crime? Although persuasion may play a role in these situations, I’d say the individual’s mentality plays a much bigger role.

LaRose, for example, went out of her way to put herself in her situation. She thought up an alias (“Jihad Jane”) and commented on YouTube about how she was “desperate to do something somehow to help.” She boasted about how she doesn’t fit the stereotype of a terrorist, and how this would be conducive to gaining access to Vilks. She made up her mind about what she wanted to do way before the opportunity came along.

However, the media tend to portray LaRose differently. She’s depicted as someone who was brainwashed through the internet. Her story was simply substituted with the idea that terrorists have a new way of reaching Americans.   

Paulin-Ramirez, on the other hand, did things in a more abrupt manner. She became fascinated with the idea of jihad before she even showed interest in Islam. She then converted to Islam and went to Ireland to be part of a plot to kill Vilks.

Unlike LaRose, Paulin-Ramirez didn’t get the same level of media attention in the U.S. Perhaps because she didn’t think up a catchy, media-friendly nickname. Instead, she was presented as a troubled single mother with the “mentality of an abused woman,” largely glossing over the fact that she herself took up a morbid interest in a warped idea of jihad.

In the same article mentioned above, Paulin-Ramirez’s mother quotes her daughter, saying that “she’d [Paulin-Ramirez] strap a bomb for the cause.” I’m not sure what the cause is, but Mott had the best reply to that comment: “To go blow somebody up? That’s never been Islam.”

  • http://twitter.com/safiahc Saf

    This is interesting. What I find especially fascinating would be to link this and place it parallel to how the media and indeed society construct “homegrown” terrorists who happen to be male. Seldom are they subject to the same scrutiny regarding their past emotional history, and very few ‘excuses’ are made for them.

    Hm, gendered lenses in our understanding of ‘terrorists’ is something I hadn’t previously given much thought to. Awesome. Thanks for this!


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