'Bombshell' explodes myths of female terrorist motivation

February 22, 2011

Often portrayed as pawns of male-dominated terrorist organizations, female terrorists are actually motivated by more complicated and diverse reasons, according to a Penn State researcher.

"It's true that some women are coerced, but the truth is that motivations vary from terrorist group to terrorist group," said Mia Bloom, fellow, International Center for the Study of Terrorism. "For example, of the women in the provincial Irish Republican Army group that I talked to, not one was coerced; they were enthusiastic about their roles."

Bloom, who examined female participation in the world's most recognized terrorist groups in her book, "Bombshell: The Many Faces of Female Terrorists" (Viking Canada 2011), said there are five main reasons why females resort to acts of terrorism and suicide bombings--revenge, redemption, relationship, respect and rape.

"Relationship, the third R, is particularly crucial in understanding how women are mobilized," Bloom writes. "The best single predictor that a woman will engage in terrorist violence is her relationship with a known insurgent or jihadi."

According to Bloom, leaders of terrorist groups encourage female participation in their organizations for several reasons. Women are more effective at attracting media attention. They are also held up as an example to goad males into joining with or increasing their participation in terrorist movements.

"Groups have found it very effective to use women as propaganda tools, especially to appeal to men," Bloom said. "The message is if you don't step up, you're not a man."

Bloom also said the level of participation in a terrorist group changes from culture to culture and from group to group. In some terrorist organizations, women assume leadership positions and take part in all aspects of operations. For example, Ah-lam al-Tamimi, a member of Hamas, planned one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the history of Israel.

"Some terrorist groups go as far as addressing the roles for females in their founding documents," said Bloom.

For other terrorist groups, women are relegated to the lowest status of the organization and used as canon fodder and, because of their ability to avoid suspicion in civilian areas, as suicide bombers on city streets.

"The truly deplorable thing about female suicide bombing is that in many cases women are usually selected to attack civilian targets, or 'soft targets,' " said Bloom. "So women are being used to kill other women and children."

Bloom recommends blunting the lure of terrorism for females by exposing the true nature of the groups in a process she refers to as "deglamorizing, demobilizing and delegitimizing terrorism."

"This part of the book has to do with the work we do here at the center," said Bloom. "We look for ways to get people to leave terrorism."

She began writing the book about three years ago after writing a chapter on female suicide bombers in her previous book, "Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror." As she further researched female terrorists, Bloom realized that her source's conclusion that most female terrorists were coerced was simplistic.

"I actually wrote the book as a corrective," Bloom said. "I started to realize that I mischaracterized women as merely pawns in these organizations."

The University of Pennsylvania Press plans to publish the book in the U.S. in fall, 2011.
-end-


Penn State

Related Terrorism Articles from Brightsurf:

Recovery from grief is a slow, difficult process for families of terrorism victims
People who lose loved ones to terrorism are at a particularly high risk of developing Prolonged Grief Disorder, a condition characterized by severe and persistent longing for the deceased and reduced functioning in daily life.

COVID-19 and terrorism: Assessing the short and long-term impacts of terrorism
A new report authored by Pool Re and Cranfield University's Andrew Silke, Professor of Terrorism, Risk and Resilience, reveals how the COVID-19 pandemic is already having a significant impact on terrorism around the world.

Hate speech dominates social media platform when users want answers on terrorism
People often resort to using hate speech when searching about terrorism on a community social media platform, a study has found.

How news coverage of terrorism may shape support for anti-Muslim policies
Terrorist attacks committed by the so-called Islamic State are rising in Western countries.

An understudied form of child abuse and intimate terrorism: Parental Alienation
According to Colorado State University social psychologist Jennifer Harman, about 22 million American parents have been the victims of behaviors that lead to something called parental alienation.

'Terrorism does not terrorize' claims new study
The impact of terrorist events on mental wellbeing may be less significant than we are led to believe, argue the authors of a significant new study published today in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Philosopher warns against 'drifting into state terrorism'
Philosopher Michael Quante calls for social debate on ethically justifiable warfare -

Deeper understanding of ISIS propaganda can help in the fight against terrorism
Douglas Wilbur, a retired major in the U.S. Army and a doctoral student in the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, is continuing the fight against ISIS by studying the Islamic militant organization's propaganda texts and communication strategies.

Are current efforts to combat terrorism actually increasing the risk of future attacks?
A public health perspective of the rise in terrorism and violent radicalization points to social determinants of health including discrimination, social isolation, and stigmatization of groups such as Muslims or Arab American as factors that can make people more vulnerable to extremist influences.

Weaponizing the internet for terrorism
Writing in the International Journal of Collaborative Intelligence, researchers from Nigeria suggest that botnets and cyber attacks could interfere with infrastructure, healthcare, transportation, and power supply to as devastating an effect as the detonation of explosives of the firing of guns.

Read More: Terrorism News and Terrorism Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.