Christopher Dickey’s analysis of an interview with Defne Bayrak (pictured below), the wife of the Jordanian suicide bomber Humam Al-Balawi in Afghanistan, asks the wrong questions. Instead of pondering the reason why a woman of Bayrak’s intelligence would condone suicide bombing, he creates an image of women involved in al-Qaeda that made me feel like I was reading the review of a Lifetime movie called Wives of Terror: the Women of al-Qaeda. The article did not shed much light on the role of women in al-Qaeda, and it was misleading because neither the article nor the interview contained any evidence that Bayrak was a member of al-Qaeda. Furthermore, what seemed to be most incriminating were her views on suicide bombing.
While I applaud Dickey for mentioning the WISE Muslim Women’s Shura Council’s initiative to speak out against “violent extremism and domestic violence in Muslim households,” it was unfair to place Bayrak at the other end of that spectrum. What is significant about her is that she seemed to have a more egalitarian marriage with her husband, yet she supported such an extreme view of Islam. The question that really needs to be asked was not her role in her husband’s plot, but rather why she thinks violent jihad is the answer.
In the way that Dickey describes Bayrak’s marriage, it almost as though her husband fell prey to her will, and was doing her bidding. Al-Balawi is described as anti-social, and is portrayed as a somewhat victimized character, being described as “struggling with his medical career,” while Bayrak was developing her role as a “propagandist for violent jihad.” While women have a more pronounced initiative in the jihadist movement, the interview was only clear about her being a journalist, and she was not necessarily completely clear about her own views. In fact, she even said that she did not really read what her husband wrote.