The United States’ decision to lift the ban on women in combat, now permitting them to defend their country on the front lines, is a historic move for our nation. The announcement made by former Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, is a resolution that seems long overdue, especially when examining other countries that willingly utilize women in warlike tactics.
Various militant groups in the Middle East rely on women to promote their beliefs, transforming them into literal human explosives. The numbers continue to rise, indicating that female suicide bombers have become the weapon of choice for extremists. In fact, women have been active in terrorist incidents for years. The first recorded suicide was in April 1985. Sana’a Youcef Mehaidli, a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, blew up a truck filled with explosives in an Israeli Defense Force convoy, killing two soldiers. She was 17 years old. Such women’s involvement is not uncommon, but groups are increasingly tapping into their vulnerability. Those very religious divisions comprised of men now look to women for help. This is a change for organizations like al-Qaeda that see women as not having a place in society, making sure to isolate them.
Now terrorists gravitate toward women because they are the least likely to be inspected at checkpoints. For example, many Middle Eastern women wear typically long attire, easily covering any sort of explosive. Female suicide bombers place their explosives around their stomachs, giving the allusion that they are pregnant. Particular cultures won’t even entertain the thought of searching women because it is considered an invasion of their personal space.
In addition, female suicide bombers are used instead of men because they bring about more media awareness. Mia Bloom, a professor at Penn State whose specialty is suicide terrorism, explains that these women are used to promote a message, specifically one directed to younger women. That message is “that you can do much more with your death than you can ever do with your life.” For young women, their kamikaze-like actions are catapulting their status to that of champions within their communities. The first documented female suicide bomber in Palestine was illustrated in posters placed throughout cities as well as depicted as the protagonist in novellas. She was even the face on an issue of Time magazine.
Though female suicide bombing might bring about honor and notoriety due to the nature of its actions, it can mean much more for these women. Within these communities, the female body is a representation of sexual purity. If an invasion takes place, (i.e. having sex before marriage, being victimized by rape, etc.) the humiliation is not only placed on the woman, but on her family as well. In an attempt to restore her family’s honor, a woman will offer her body as a conduit for explosives (warning:graphic image), for she is no longer chaste. Some women resort to suicide bombing if they are unable to bear children, motivating them to use their bodies in what they deem to be another purposeful way.
Further justification for why women are inclined to become female suicide bombers is so they may be perceived as equals beside men. Women in particular cultures are financially dependent upon their husbands and, when the men die in combat, the women are left on their own to survive. This creates trouble amongst families which is why certain terrorist organizations promise female suicide bombers that they will look after their families if they execute an attack.
It is impossible to rationalize the mentality that promotes self-destruction as a means to achieving a laudable end. The troublesome reality though is that such beliefs are deep-rooted within their societies, thus making it virtually impossible for these women to step away from violence in order to live peaceful lives.