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.