Gender and Terrorism (Female Suicide Missions)

Religion, National, and Individual

Fatima OmarJEBALIYA, Gaza Strip (AP) — A 64-year-old Palestinian grandmother blew herself up near Israeli troops sweeping through northern Gaza on Thursday, wounding two soldiers, and eight other Palestinians were killed in a day of clashes and rocket fire. The militant Hamas, which is in charge of the Palestinian government, claimed responsibility for the suicide attack and identified the bomber as Fatma Omar An-Najar. Her relatives said she was 64 — by far the oldest of the more than 100 Palestinian suicide bombers who have targeted Israelis over the past six years. Her oldest daughter explained the bomber's motives - "They (Israelis) destroyed her house, they killed her grandson – my son. Another grandson is in a wheelchair with an amputated leg," Fatheya said she and her mother had taken part in rally at a Gaza mosque three weeks ago where women defied a cordon of heavily armed Israeli troops to create a diversion for besieged Hamas fighters to slip away. “She and I, we went to the mosque. We were looking for martyrdom,” the daughter said.

Individual Motivations

Because individual motivation is quite specific, it should be considered case by case. However, in general, the choice to commit suicide usually revolves around some of these important factors: 

  1. revenge motives,
  2. loyalty to a charismatic leader,
  3. aspirations of a higher status which cannot be achieved during one’s life time,
  4. damaged identity or social stigma for violation of traditional cultural or religious norms,
  5. in some cases a “quest to a voice in the public square”.


Another great impact on the choice to commit suicide for a cause is religion. Comparative studies of the cases among organizations using female bombing show that there are also secular female suicide bombers. This does not mean that on an individual level religiosity and religion are irrelevant. Just the opposite; religion often simultaneously includes and excludes women from this form of violent struggle. But their impact is not a direct correlation to the action. Rather it has less to do with the theological aspects, and more to do with the kind of social networks religion creates. From a theological point of view, female bombing is a new phenomenon, alien to traditional interpretation of Islam, but characteristic for its new radical versions.  Since religion is not the strongest motivation factor, the role it plays provides individual perpetrators and organizations with symbolic resources needed to justify and legitimize suicide acts. This leads to the idea that other factors, different than religion and religiosity, as for example identity and its transformations, should be considered in looking for motivations to become a terrorist.

Nationalistic Motives

Does female suicide terrorism have to do with nationalistic motives? The answer is indeed positive. As it has been said, female bombing happens just in societies where a perception of bitter ethnic conflict exists. But nationalistic motives inspire all forms of violent struggle, not just the bombing; thus they are not able to offer a specific explanation of the phenomenon.

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