According to the Arabic media, in the course of questioning a suspected male Al Qaeda terrorist, the Iraqi police in Diyala were given the name of an Iraqi woman, Shahlaa Al-Anbaky, as someone who would soon be perpetrating a suicide bombing. The police immediately went to look for her in Mandali, a town sixty miles northeast of Baghdad. On Christmas Eve, 2010, when they could not find her, they pulled her father, Mohammed Najm al-Anbaky, a small-time trader of chickens and sheep, in for questioning.
According to the English language press, once in police custody, Mohammed admitted that he had killed his daughter as a matter of “honor” because she was presumed to have a “boyfriend” in Al Qaeda. This Mohammed was also reported to have killed one of his sisters in 1984 as a matter of “honor.” Mohammed admitted that he had strangled Shahlaa and then, for good measure, had slit her throat. Finally, he had buried her in his own backyard—not in a good Muslim cemetery—just as if his daughter was one of his chickens or sheep.
In this case, English-language readers only learn that the “honor” killing of a woman has taken place in the Arab Middle East. Arabic-language readers learn that the police were not investigating an honor killing at all but were, rather, looking into a possible terrorist attack by an Al Qaeda operative.
Indeed, earlier this year, the so-called “First Lady of Al Qaeda” (Haila Al-Qusayyer) was arrested in Saudi Arabia presumably for recruiting girls and women to become suicide killers. In addition, in December, 2009, the wife of Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, issued a call for Muslim women to support violent jihad: “Jihad is [incumbent] on every Muslim man and woman… and [we women] should keep ourselves in the service of the Mujahideen, and we should fulfill whatever they ask of us, may it be through monetary aid to them or any service or information or suggestion or participation in fighting or even through a martyrdom operation. How many sisters have performed martyrdom operations in Palestine and Iraq and Chechnya, and vexed the enemy, and caused them a great defeat!!”
Meanwhile, back in Baghdad and Baquba, Iraq, we learn that Mohammed Najm Al-Anbaky is the kind of father and brother who is not ashamed to have murdered his female relatives for “honor” and that in neither instance was he arrested for such cold-blooded murders.
More than this is mere conjecture. Would this kind of man view a woman’s membership in Al Qaeda as “dishonorable”or is his belief that his daughter may have had a “boyfriend” the prime motive for murder?
Based on my research into honor killings, I would suggest that this, indeed, was probably the only motive. On the other hand, there is a possibility that if Mohammed al-Anbaky is a Shiite, he might view a Sunni “boyfriend” as objectionable above and beyond the fact that he had not personally chosen him as a husband for Shahlaa. It is also possible that Shahlaa had been recruited by Al Qaeda as a suicide killer. In fact, this is a growing problem both in Iraq and in the Islamic world.
Female suicide killers, like their male counterparts, may be brutally brainwashed or threatened with blackmail by wealthy, educated, serial killers by proxy. The recruits may be clinically depressed, or frustrated by lives in which they have known little tenderness, no love, and absolutely no hope of change.
Wafa Idris, the first Palestinian suicide bomber, was probably in a clinical depression. Her first and only child had been a stillborn and, as a result, she was now sterile. Her husband, who was also her first cousin, had divorced her over this and had already taken a second wife. She was mocked by family and friends and she understood that she had no future in Palestinian society. As a divorced and infertile woman, she was doubly “tainted.” Her bleak prospects–due to Islamic and Palestinian misogyny and not to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–were used to trap her into redeeming her dishonor by becoming a murdering martyr.
In 2002, Idris blew herself up in the middle of Jerusalem, injuring one hundred people and murdering and eighty-one year old man. The fact that she was a trained paramedic in no way gave her pause (or anything to live for). The Saudi Ambassador to London wrote a poem glorifying her deed as exceptionally praiseworthy. However, she was probably not a political extremist or revolutionary in a Western sense. She grew up in a tribal, Islamic society in which women are expected to sacrifice themselves in terrible and medieval ways.
The case of Reem al-Riyashi suggests a similar and horrifying scenario. Several Israeli sources have discovered that this young mother of two very young children “was forced to carry out the suicide attack as punishment for cheating on her husband.” Allegedly, al-Riyashi’s husband was a Hamas activist and her lover was a Hamas operative who had carried out the love affair with the express purpose of recruiting her. According to the British Sunday Times, al-Riyashi’s husband himself drove her to the border crossing.
In 2004, pretending to be crippled, al-Riyashi killed herself and four Israelis at the Erez crossing. Her “choice” was either to be honor murdered for having had an affair—or to go out in a repentant blaze of glory.
Such jihadic terrorism is a death force battling life and the life instinct. Female suicide killers have recently (in 2010) blown themselves up in Baghdad in women-only areas, especially where women are on religious pilgrimages and have small children with them. At such a moment in history, the Muslim jihadists are showing us that one may be raised as a (presumably) peaceful woman; one can even become a biological mother; or be trained as a paramedic—and none of this will matter. Hate and death with triumph over normal, rational decency, and against all positive human instinct.
Indeed, I was recently told about a ranking Hamas official whose son had been treated for cancer by Jewish doctors in an Israeli hospital. They saved the boy’s life. He was asked whether this had in any way changed his political and religious views about Israel and Jews. “Absolutely not,” said the ungrateful, possibly unnatural father.
We deny this at our peril.
I want to acknowledge my resident Arabist, my assistant Nathan Bloom.