January 30, 2012
Leading terrorism expert discusses mobilization of women into terrorist networks
BY SAMANTHA GOLDMAN
Renowned terrorism scholar Mia Bloom delivered two lectures to the University of Maryland community last week. Both lectures, which were sponsored by START, explored the mobilization of women into terrorist networks and ethnic conflicts.
Bloom’s first lecture, “The Changing Role of Women in Terrorism,” charted women’s participation in terrorist activities over the course of several decades—from assisting in subordinate roles to becoming key players. Most often, the primary contribution expected of women has been to sustain an insurgency by giving birth to and raising future fighters, Bloom said. However, more recently, women are taking a leading role in terrorist organizations by becoming suicide bombers.
Bloom also discussed what factors motivate women into joining terrorist networks, including marginalization by society, individual choice and revenge. In her most recent book “Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorists,” Bloom discussed how in Chechnya, female operatives called “Black Widows” were mobilized by personal tragedy, such as the death of a loved one.
Terrorist organizations have their own separate motivations for employing women, as well, Bloom explained. For instance, some organizations recruit women for the simple reason that manpower is needed, and others use women as a means to shame men into participating.
In her second lecture, “The Future Trends of Political Violence: Rape as a Strategy of War,” Bloom discussed how rape has increasingly been used by terrorist groups to advance the goals of their ethnic cleansing campaigns.
“In the past 30 years, the nature of rape in war has undergone a shift in emphasis, scope and motivation,” Bloom explained. Wartime sexual violence has long been a means to humiliate, traumatize and silence the opposition; however more recently, rape has been used as a method to recruit female suicide bombers.
In Muslim communities when women are raped, they dishonor their families, Bloom said. And in many instances, those women are left with only one option—to become martyrs. Samira Ahmed Jassim organized the rape of 80 women as a means to recruit female suicide bombers for Ansar al-Sunnah, an Iraqi terrorist organization; and to date, 32 of her victims have gone on to launch attacks. According to Bloom, the message that these female bombers send is that they are more valuable to their societies dead than alive and disgraced.
In her latest research endeavor, Bloom plans to cross-reference data generated by geographic information systems, such as location, ethnicity and religion, with sexual violence data. The goal, she explained, is to be able to predict the likelihood that wartime rape will be used in individual conflicts.
Bloom is an associate professor of international and women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University and a fellow at the International Center for the Study of Terrorism. She has authored numerous publications, including the critically acclaimed “Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror.” She holds a doctorate degree in political science from Columbia University, a master’s in Arab studies from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s in Russian and Middle East studies from McGill University.