Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mia Bloom's "Bombshell: Women and Terrorism"

Mia Bloom is Associate Professor of International Studies and Women’s Studies at Penn State. She is a leading expert on suicide terrorism and is the author of Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (2005). In addition to her research on terrorism, Bloom conducts research on ethnic conflict, the strategic use of rape in war, and child soldiers.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her most recent book, Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorists, and reported the following:
I looked through page 99 of the book and in fact it is representative of the book as a whole. Page 99 discusses the suicide terror operation against the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem in which a women, Ahlam al Tamimi* scouted the located and helped the bomber, Izz Eddine Al Masri kill 15 civilians, most of whom were children and their mothers and wounded 130 others.

Allow me to provide the description of the scene:
It was 2:00 PM, and the two story restaurant was packed with families and young children eating their afternoon snack. When the bomb exploded, 15 civilians were killed instantly and another 130 wounded. Half a dozen strollers lay charred on the street where mothers had left them while they ate lunch. When rescuers ran into the restaurant, the blistered bodies were still smoking, so hot that they could not be touched. The first wave of good samaritans ran in and wrapped the pizzeria's checkered tablecloths around the victims' hair and clothes. Everyone in the restaurant and several passersby had been struck by shards of flying glass when the windows shattered. Streaks of blood ran down people's arms, legs, and torsos. (Bombshell, p. 99)
The book examines what roles women play in terrorist organizations. From scouting locations and planning attacks, to leading some groups and comprising the most elite fighting units, to suicide bombers who use their bodies as weapons. Most people think of women as being inherently more peaceful, and this stereotype is precisely the reason why more and more terrorist groups are using women.

The face of terrorism is changing—and it is now often a woman’s face. No longer can we expect terrorists to look a certain way, be a certain age, or gender. The arrests in the United States of Jihad Jane and Jihad Jamie—two blue-eyed, blonde-haired women—epitomize the increase of women participating in all levels of terrorist organizations. Women are becoming key players. They can even be found in the most seemingly chauvinistic and male-dominated terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda.

Terrorist organizations know that female bombers generate eight times the amount of media attention that men do using the same tactics. They also know that an attractive woman can also be an excellent distraction. If there are several women from which to choose, they will select the prettier girls. The women chosen for missions are quite literally Bombshells, i.e. some of the most attractive women in their community. Looks aside, women, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, dressed in traditional clothing like the Niqab or the Silwar Kameez, can hide an Improvised Device (IED) effectively and if anything, might give the impression of late term pregnancy – yet another excellent disguise. For the terrorist organizations that use women operatives, it is a win-win scenario. The terrorist organizations increase their recruitment pool by 50% but additionally, are better able to recruit men who may balk at the fact that women are doing their job. Having women involved in terrorism shames men into participating.
[*Editor's note: Ahlam al Tamimi was one of the prisoners exchanged by Israel in October 2011 to secure the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.]

Learn more about Bombshell at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue