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, read more.

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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