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What Motivates Female Suicide Bombers?

Last week's terrorist bombing in Iraq, carried out by a woman, made many of you question the logic behind suicide bombings. While men are still far more likely to be suicide bombers than women, more and more women are ready to die and ready to kill. Male or female, the endgame is always the same, but what leads them to a crowded square with a bomb strapped on is not.

Time magazine tells the story of Hasna Maryi, a suicide bomber who found her calling after her brother died en route to his mission when a fellow jihadis's belt prematurely exploded. She was devastated: he would never be a martyr. His only path to salvation, she decided, was for her to complete his mission. Religion was not her motive (she hardly cracked the Koran growing up), but redemption was.

Hasna's story is not an anomaly. Research findings reported in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism found female suicide terrorists were more motivated by personal reasons and more likely to be recruited through peer influence, exploitation, and self-promotion than men, who found their fury in religion and nationalism and were recruited through religious persuasion.

In eJournal USA (as in paid for by the US government, just a disclosure . . .) the article "Women As Victims and Victimizers" examines the complicated question of why? To find out,

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What's in it for women? After all men are promised 72 virgins and everlasting paradise. Do women get 72 male virgins? No, of course not. Earthly motives, rather than celestial rewards, appear to inspire — or more likely corner — women into the role.

In fact, the most reliable predictor of a woman's involvement in terrorism is her relationship with a terrorist. Here's how it might happen:

  • The loss of a loved one, usually the dominant male in their life.
  • A need to reinvent self because of alleged or real sexual misconduct.
  • An inability to conceive children or not being considered marriage material.
  • A desire to improve the status of women in society.
  • A need to prove that they are just as dedicated as men to the cause.

Women's motivations are undeniably complex and should not be disregarded as pure emotion. But do explanations like these help you understand female bombers? Are they truly different than men? Could it be that these women are already suicidal and their culture provides an acceptable context — even an admirable cause — for them to die?

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stephley stephley 7 years
That's not an army, at best its a network of Islamic militant groups with some similar aims. If we were fighting soldiers in another army, there wouldn't be so many random civilians (journalists, Afghani government employees)among the people Bush has dragged off to secret prisons.
UnDave35 UnDave35 7 years
Who do you think we are fighting in Iraq? Who keeps wandering into groups of innocent civilians and blowing themselves up?
stephley stephley 7 years
What Army are we fighting in Iraq Dave?
KerryG KerryG 7 years
I read a really interesting article a few weeks back about female suicide bombers that suggested they're actually sparking a sort of bizarre feminist revolution among extremist women, who are standing up to some of the most conservative forces is Islam to demand respect and acknowledgment ... for martyring themselves and blowing up their fellow human beings en masse. On the "faith in humanity" scale, I think that one comes up a wash.http://articles.latimes.com/2008/may/31/world/fg-qaedawomen1
KerryG KerryG 7 years
I read a really interesting article a few weeks back about female suicide bombers that suggested they're actually sparking a sort of bizarre feminist revolution among extremist women, who are standing up to some of the most conservative forces is Islam to demand respect and acknowledgment ... for martyring themselves and blowing up their fellow human beings en masse. On the "faith in humanity" scale, I think that one comes up a wash. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/may/31/world/fg-qaedawomen1
UnDave35 UnDave35 7 years
You have a point Gabi. But the difference is US soldiers go after other soldiers. These terrorists go after innocent civilians.
stephley stephley 7 years
Whoa Gabi, you dp like to live dangerously, bringing that up here.You do have a point: One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.
stephley stephley 7 years
Whoa Gabi, you dp like to live dangerously, bringing that up here. You do have a point: One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.
gabiushka gabiushka 7 years
So what about U.S. soldiers? they are also willing to die for their beliefs. There they call them martyrs, here they call them heroes.
MartiniLush MartiniLush 7 years
colleenb and zeze, i totally agree with you both. Suicide bombings are more about the individual and their anger rather than religion.
gitsie123 gitsie123 7 years
I really don't think these women are motivated rather than forced. There are a lot of middle eastern women who have been shunned and abandoned by their families and are therefore exploited, forced, and brainwashed to do these things. I do agree with Undave, these women are the products of a abusive system. There is no real way to judge these women for the things they do because in that part of the country some women are burned alive, stoned, and murdered for the littlest things. Their motivation could be that they were taught that their lives are meaningless and it is the only way they will be able to make it in heaven.
colleenb colleenb 7 years
I don't think it's about religion at all because they are more devout Muslims who don't blow themselves up than who up. It's something within the individual.
zeze zeze 7 years
I think suicide bombers over there are like our columbine incident here, it is about anger more than anything - sure there are the religious freaks who do it for the after life, but it seems to me it's mostly anger making these people kill. We have the columbines and the Virgina Techs and we live in a happy, stable country where the killers anger comes from bullies, therefore our number of incidents is small, but living in a war zone with death, fear, anger, and hopelessness all the time results in a lot more incidents. I think even the people that do it for religion are only fooling themselves, it's justified anger - why else would virtually all suicide bombers come from these areas, you almost never hear of person living in a happy secure environment shooting up a school or blowing themselves up - how come religion doesn't tempt these people?
amybdk amybdk 7 years
True, raciccarone... ;)
raciccarone raciccarone 7 years
Women. Who knows what they're thinking?
vmruby vmruby 7 years
IMO it's enormous stupidity and lack of respect for any human life.....
akyiba akyiba 7 years
What's in it for the men? Nothing. What's in it for the women nothing? The killing innocent people and you'll get 72 virgins argument is full nonsense. I guarantee you it's nonsense. In my opinion only an unlearned person would believe such a thing. The real question is what's in it for the family of these so called martyrs? If the suicide bombers weren't Muslims I wonder what the speculation for their actions would? I wonder what would the headline read?
UnDave35 UnDave35 7 years
"In fact, the most reliable predictor of a woman's involvement in terrorism is her relationship with a terrorist. Here's how it might happen: The loss of a loved one, usually the dominant male in their life. A need to reinvent self because of alleged or real sexual misconduct. An inability to conceive children or not being considered marriage material. A desire to improve the status of women in society. A need to prove that they are just as dedicated as men to the cause" How do you reinvent yourself by blowing yourself up? These women are victims of an abusive system. It's so sad.
melda melda 7 years
Could it be that these women are already suicidal and their culture provides an acceptable context — even an admirable cause — for them to die? No.
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