Bombshell: Women and Terrorism

Bombshell: Women and Terrorism

Bombshell: Women and Terrorism

Bombshell: Women and Terrorism


Between 1985 and 2008, female suicide bombers committed more than 230 attacks--about a quarter of all such acts. Women have become the ideal stealth weapon for terrorist groups. They are less likely to be suspected or searched and as a result have been used to strike at the heart of coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This alarming tactic has been highly effectiv, garnering extra media attention and helping to recruit more numbers to the terrorists' cause. Yet, as Mia Bloom explains in Bombshell: Women and Terrorism, female involvement in terrorism is not confined to suicide bombing and not limited to the Middle East.

From Northern Ireland to Sri Lanka, women have been engaged in all manner of terrorist activities, from generating propaganda to blowing up targets. What drives women to participate in terrorist activities? Bloom--a scholar of both international studies and women's studies--blends scrupulous research with psychological insight to unearth affecting stories from women who were formerly terrorists. She moves beyond gender stereotypes to examine the conditions that really influence female violence, arguing that while women terrorists can be just as bloodthirsty as their male counterparts, their motivations tend to be more intricate and multilayered. Through compelling case studies she demonstrates that though some of these women volunteer as martyrs, many more have been coerced by physical threats or other means of social control.

As evidenced by the March 2011 release of Al Qaeda's magazine Al Shamikha, dubbed the jihadi Cosmo, it is clear that women are the future of even the most conservative terrorist organizations. Bombshell is a groundbreaking book that reveals the inner workings of a shocking, unfamiliar world.


As the number of female terrorists and suicide bombers has increased several hundredfold in the past few years, the trend has been accompanied by a barrage of misinformation and misperception about what is actually going on. Many people have assumed that women could not consciously choose to participate in terrorism of their own volition. The underlying assumption is that a man made her do it. In their attempts to explain women’s involvement in terrorism for a general audience, journalistic accounts have presented a far too simple and unidimensional account of the phenomenon.

We need to work past gender stereotypes and begin to examine the conditions that really influence female violence. We do not want to excuse the women’s behavior, nor do we want to denude their actions of their political motivation. Lots of women are just as bloodthirsty as the male members of terrorist groups, but women’s motivations tend to be intricate, multi-layered, and inspired on a variety of levels. Anger, sorrow, the desire for revenge, and nationalist or religious zeal coalesce in ways that make any simple explanation impossible. Given that terrorist groups gain so much from women’s participation, it is far easier to understand why terrorist groups seek female activists than to explain why women oblige them by heeding the call to action.

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