In last week’s piece, Jolande Withuist compared modern Muslima (female Muslim) terrorism with some examples of Leftist female terrorism networks and the place of extreme suffering in the Medieval Christian tradition.
Women have historically created an escape route from their second-class position through martyrdom. Subordination, sacrifice, and zealousness have often been the way for women in political and social movements to be allowed to join in with the men. As inequality between the sexes diminishes, women will have less reason to manifest themselves as martyrs.
This analysis is also relevant to the women of, for example, the Dutch Hofstad Network it helps us avoid the dilemma of whether Muslim radicalism is a form of emancipation or the opposite.
In their 2006 book on the Hofstad Network, Strijdsters van Allah, investigative reporters Janny Groen and Annieke Kranenberg, also struggle with this question.
I agree with Belgian journalist and terrorism expert Hind Fraihi, who characterised Muslima fundamentalism as ‘cynical feminism.’ Cynical because it is just an illusion of equality of women who are actually extremely submissive. As this behaviour is their choice, and at first sight not to their dissatisfaction, those who try to understand them are caught in a fruitless round of ‘yes they are! no they aren’t!’ are these emancipated women or victims?
Let us not forget that in the course of history women have forcefully defended anti-emancipatory ideas before. For example: in 1917 some 43,000 Dutch Christian women signed the petition ‘Do Not Give Us the Vote,’ because they viewed citizenship as incompatible with the domestic fate of women. (Fortunately, Aletta Jacobs and her followers ignored them.)
More productive than an emancipatory or anti-emancipatory judgement is analysing the dynamics of the behaviour and the situation of these young Muslim women.
The ideal Muslim woman is a mother who bears many sons. The lowest of the low in a Muslim country are divorced women, followed closely by the almost equally despised unwed women. It is clear that the traditional role model does not offer the life these girls want, but they are also not able to get away from the obligation or the pressure to be feminine as defined by their culture, environment or faith. They do not want to be looked down on as women. They accept the imposed division of mankind into two unequal, totally different types, but they still want another kind of life than the one traditionally allotted to their gender. They display modern and self-conscious behaviour, and feel the desire to be of significance in a religious community that has always been the domain of men. Cloaked in all-covering clothing, they roam the Internet looking for texts that give women the right to join the jihad.
The contradictions in their gender-thinking are illustrated by their names. As is often the case in sects, members discard their own names. To confirm their new identity and their entry into a new ‘family,’ they choose a new name. All the Hofstad Network women are automatically named Oum, which means ‘mother.’ This traditional title is followed by a first name of their own choosing. One of the women is named ‘Oum Osama,’ which expresses that bin Laden is her role model. So she has combined the mandatory, generic, modest title of mother and the most violent, least modest male name available.
According to the Koran or the cultural traditions derived from it, the desires and ambitions of these girls are inappropriate. But they have no desire for what is appropriate. They also run the risk of being viewed as unfeminine in other ways: they are often smarter, more integrated and more competent than their husbands and the young men in the Hofstad Network. They must compensate or make up for this, and there are different ways to do so, for example, by utilising their talents not for the benefit of their own personal careers and autonomy, but for the cause.
The likelihood of this type of emancipation having a self-destructive or self-subordinating element is high, and unfortunately the risk that radical Muslimas, unlike Saint Lidwina, (see Part 1) will take others down with them in their self-destruction is very real. Their potential ‘suicide’-terrorism includes murder or even mass murder. Here the gender aspect goes to another important element of radicalisation: sectarianism.
Modern life is characterised by people fulfilling different roles. Sects and radical beliefs, on the other hand, demand total dedication. Their faith offers radical Muslimas a total identity that is more important than anything else and that is not limited to particular hours or particular occasions. It requires effort and suffering, but at the same time provides satisfaction and peace of mind. Islamic rules that are bothersome or difficult having to cover oneself, not being allowed to eat many things become, if you manage to live up to them, sources of self-respect. It is like the anorexic who is satisfied when she manages to go on starving herself, even when it harms her health. So these women can be obsessively engaged in finding out which ingredients are haraam or halal, which also fills their days and therefore yields a comfortable feeling of a meaningful life.
This extreme interpretation of being Muslim, which is by no means common, implies exclusivity. Members of sects and this type of Muslim group can certainly be compared to one must forego emotional bonds other than those to the group; their commitment must not be thwarted by personal ties; they transfer their connection with their fellow human beings to their faith, and erase their sympathy for outsiders by looking at people with other beliefs as enemies. Radicalisation implies that a person’s faith increasingly colours (or ruins) her relationships with others. Where faith was at first only one difference, in the process of radicalisation it turns into the one essential dividing line into a source of conflict or separation, of resentment and hostility on the one hand, and bonds and togetherness on the other.
One of the mechanisms that help sects survive is that the members live in fear of excommunication. Mosques are not quick to excommunicate anyone, but takfiri can expel, disown and even murder each other. The process of radicalisation makes people vulnerable, for the farther a woman has gone along on the radical road, the more frightened she will be of being excluded from the group. She has left behind, or even rejected, her old family and friends and there is no honourable way back. She has become financially and emotionally dependent on the group. Because these women do not work, they are sometimes completely separated from society. Few contacts in the normal outside world means little correction, a reduced sense of reality, and also little chance of escape. The more isolated the individual members become, the more powerful the sect.
The informal structure of terrorist networks may further increase the
fear of excommunication, because members are never sure of what is ‘right’ at any given time. This gives charismatic persons who act as teachers even more power. In addition there is the temptation to compensate uncertainty regarding the faith with decisiveness. One of the Hofstad Network girls wanted to divorce her husband because he stood up for a Dutch judge; another spoke with contempt about Samir Azzouz because he had not backed up his words with action.
Members of a sect learn not to empathise with other people or themselves. The loneliness this causes is mitigated by the shared battle against the Western world, which becomes a psychological necessity. And it goes even further in the case of violent sects, where a lack of compassion with non-believers is proof of virtue. Members start competing in inhumanity. Just like Mohammed Bouyeri practised his role as slaughterer, the members of violent political groups train to become insensitive.
Mohammed Bouyeri was also the one who joined 16-year-old Malika to another ‘brother’ in matrimony. Her wedding night consisted of watching violent videos. This would accustom her to killing and the prospect of becoming a martyr.
One girl told Groen and Kranenberg she had watched videos of beheadings until she felt nothing at all.
This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in the Dutch newspaper Trouw, and was translated into English for signandsight.com by Maggie Oates. Part 3 will be published the next week.
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