Saturday, July 22, 2006

Female Suicide Bombers

The Salon has an odd and interesting article about women who become suicide bombers; odd, because the article starts like this:

Though these fledgling female armies may surprise many in the West, a much bigger line was crossed in 2002, when Wafa' Idris, a resident of al-Ama'ari Refugee Camp in the West Bank, became the first Palestinian female suicide bomber. Idris had been forced into an arranged marriage by her elder brother. Like most other Palestinian women, she was dependent almost entirely on male relatives for her economic well-being and survival and had no choice but to accede to her brother's decision. In her heart, however, she remained defiant and never accepted the marriage or her new husband, a first cousin. When she became pregnant against her will, she secretly aborted the child. On top of her unhappy marriage, abortion, and subsequent divorce, Idris was further traumatized by her weekly exposure to blood and death in her work as a paramedic for the Red Crescent, where she volunteered every Friday, caring for large numbers of Palestinians wounded during the second intifada.

It has never been clear whether Wafa' Idris intentionally blew herself up with the 22-pound bomb she was carrying or whether she was simply a courier, but she died in the blast, killing one Israeli and wounding a hundred more. Idris' brother, for his part, said that her decision to become a suicide bomber was due to her work at the Red Crescent and that she was a hero.

Two years later, Hamas sent out its own female suicide bomber -- a 22-year-old woman from a wealthy family in the Gaza Strip and the mother of two young children, one of whom, reportedly, was not yet weaned. Pretending to be crippled, Reem Riyashi arrived at an Israeli checkpoint and requested a personal security check so that she would not have to go through a metal detector. Minutes later, she blew herself up, killing four Israelis. Seven more Israelis and four Palestinians were also injured in the explosion, which was so powerful that it blew the roof off the building and scattered human remains to such a degree that the bomber's body parts could not be distinguished from those of her victims.

Like Idris before her, Riyashi had a secret. She reportedly had had an affair initiated by a Hamas operative, and when she was offered the chance to redeem herself by carrying out a suicide bombing, she took it. Her husband, Palestinian security forces assert, drove her to the checkpoint. Hamas leader Ahmad Yasin had stipulated that a female suicide bomber must be chaperoned by a male.

See how the female suicide bombers' reasons are dissected and analyzed in an almost Freudian way? Yet the same article then says this:

Once a woman from each of the two major Palestinian factions had carried out a suicide bombing, it was inevitable that others would follow. Yet even as their numbers grow, what is most remarkable about these women is the way in which their stories are presented, particularly in the Western media. The usual motives cited for carrying out a suicide bombing -- humiliation, despair, revenge, hate, fame, money, religion, nationalism, the occupation and combinations thereof -- are deemed insufficient to explain female bombers. Male suicide bombers, of course, often have their own unofficial motivations, but they are rarely the focus of a report. In contrast, the innermost recesses of a woman's psyche, her most shameful secrets -- almost invariably sexual in nature -- are displayed to a world eager for such an unveiling, eager to be shown that women do not truly relish the job of dying and killing.

Whatever. Perhaps all this is a way of proving the point that women's motives are assumed to be somehow related to some man in their lives, not just the same sort of fanaticism that grabs men. Or perhaps men's motives really are about some woman in their lives, but nobody wants to find out. - Either I'm very muddled in my thinking today or the article is muddled. You take your pick, but don't tell me if you decide it's me who is the most muddled.

My confusion even extends to the picture attached to the story, the picture of Um al-Abed, a mother of eight, who has declared herself willing to become a suicide bomber. The article says this about the picture:

Palestinian female suicide bombers, unlike some of their male counterparts, are not sex symbols but rather icons of purity, sacrifice and honor -- and this holds true both for the Islamists and the nationalists, if to varying degrees. Whereas the Syrian Social Nationalist Mouhaidli adorned herself in a snazzy red Falangist beret and, later, in a white bridal gown and veil symbolizing her deathly post-bomb wedding, Um al-Abed appeared before the cameras in Gaza wearing a conservative Saudi-style hijab, or head covering, and a niqab, or face covering, with a small slot through which she looked out at the world. Despite her moment of fame, this new bride of Palestine was already faceless and invisible -- as if foreshadowing her death -- while the institution whose birth she announced promised to produce many more like her.

Right. She's pure and not a sex symbol. Well, here is the picture:

Notice the bare knee or thigh? I don't get how this is a picture of purity.