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Are Female Suicide Bombers Victims, or Just Terrorists?

Every time a female suicide bomber succeeds, we ask why. Not why would anyone do this, but why would a woman do it. Was she tricked? Brainwashed, coerced, forced? Was she driven to it in a desperate, last-ditch attempt for power and status — legacy. Men are promised eternal salvation, virgins aplenty, and a hero's welcome in heaven, but what's in it for women?

From an eternity perspective, not much. Some say martyrdom will make them beautiful and happy in the afterlife, even more beautiful than virgins. And in heaven, some Muslim clerics argue, husbands never grow bored of wives. Heaven indeed!

But I've always had trouble believing it was solely the fruits of the afterlife that lead men or women to the hard day's work of a suicide bomber. The book Studies in Conflict and Terrorism said women are more motivated by personal reasons — loss of the dominant male in their lives, a desire to improve status in society, and a need to prove they are just as dedicated as men — than celestial promises.

Yet the two female suicide bombers in Moscow Monday were Chechens, and they have a long history of involvement in terrorism. While the worldwide proportion of female suicide bombers is 15 percent, it's nearly 50 percent among Chechens. Potential reasons contradict everything Studies in Conflict and Terrorism reported: they're educated, more likely to hold full-time jobs outside the home, and overall less stifled than their Arab counterparts.

Jezebel points to an essay written by two researchers who interviewed family members of both male and female bombers, hostages, and security officials to reach this conclusion: men and women become suicide bombers for the same reasons.

Yet few things are so disturbing as a woman, creator of life, extinguishing it as violently, indiscriminately, and unemotionally as a suicide bomber. And maybe our unwillingness to see women as violent, not just as suicide bombers but in crimes everywhere, is the real problem.

Image Source: Getty
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