Radicalisation to Terrorism: The Question of Differences Between Women and Men

by Aleksandra Gasztold

The radicalisation is defined as a process of adopting an extremist system of values combined with expressing disapproval, support or use of violence and threat as a method of achieving political and social goals. It can be understood as progressive embracing opinions, assessments and views which support readiness to independent realisation of and (or) introducing changes in the society with various methods. These instruments include use of violence or encouraging others acting violently. This phenomenon concerns not only state of mind but can manifests itself in behaviours. Radicalisation relates to: individuals, groups and masses, their beliefs/opinions, feelings and actions.

Four approaches that analysis this problem focuses on differences in determinates, root causes and catalysts of radicalisation. First the Multi-Causal Approach assumes dependence and crossing of varied factors: psychological, economic, political or sociological. The second Political/Structural Approach recognizes the environment (system) as having the strongest impact on political needs, which can cause tensions and even lead to political violence. The third one Organizational Approach specifies terrorists/extremist organization’s strategy, where violence is a consciously chosen instrument of achieving political goals. The last, but not least is the Psychological Approach focusing on examination of individual motivations and context of radicalisation [Zięba & Szlachter 2015]

The socialization of political violence for both women and men can be examined taking into account: vulnerability, recruitment methods and tactics of indoctrination and action, with simultaneous consideration of the psychological, social, economic and political context. Conditions, factors and the catalysts (trigger events) should be considered through the prism of the systemic approach on various levels that interact with each other. For example, Alex P. Schmid proposes to study the problem of radicalization on three levels: micro, meso and macro . The first level deals with the issue of the individual’s identity and the role of factors creating a sense of frustration that can lead to aggression (anger discharge) or the need for deed / change, revenge or retaliatory actions. The meso level concerns environment surrounding the individual, including family, the closest relatives, colleagues,  neighbours,  and social networks. The macro level refers to the wider circle of the system: public opinion attitudes and behaviour trends [Schmid 2013].

Mia Bloom, examining women who committed suicide attacks, distinguished several motives that are the driving force of this type of terrorist activity. 4 R’s+1 revenge, redemption, respect, relationship, adding rape as a traumatic event that can strengthen the first three [Bloom]. Other scholars of the motives of women’s involvement in terrorism also emphasize personal factors, such as the experience of the death of a family member; infertility or remaining unmarried, which stigmatizes a woman in patriarchal societies [El Saaraj 2002, Victor 2003]; . However, personal factors (subjective goals / motives) may be irrational, incoherent  sense of self (compulsive actions, emotional immaturity, identity disorders, internally contradictory personality structure, etc.). Therefore, it is necessary to take into account the rationality of the terrorist organization/movement’s goal with which the individual identifies.

The problem of radicalization of women into terrorism – just like men – is currently one of the greatest challenges for counter-terrorism systems. This phenomenon occurs and expands regardless of terrorist nature. The increase in women’s crime took place in the 1960s and 1970s, especially those that were previously typical of men. A new type of “terrorist criminal” has appeared, playing the same roles as a man. Changes in the perception of female criminality followed from women’s participation in: the RAF/Red Army Faction (West Germany), AD/Action Direct (France), BR/Red Brigades (Italy), BP/Black Panthers (USA),  PCP/Shining Path (Peru) IRA/ Irish Republican Army (North Ireland, Great Britain), and ETA/ Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Country, Spain/France). The involvement of women increased not only in secularist, leftist or ethno-nationalist movements. Modernly, more and more right-wing organizations, including religious ones, have in their structure women who perform military functions.

Differences between men and women are perpetuated by culture, and therefore by science. Searching for them is fixing the perception of a woman as „The Other” [de Bouvair 1949]. There is a well-established conviction that terrorist organizations are hostile environments for women. And if women are their members, they are perceived as enslaved and forced by the organization (blackmail, dishonor, threat, abduction) or the situation (occupation, loss of a family member, childlessness, disability, redemption, family honor/survival) and not as rational actor. The influence of gender stereotypes in the media and the scientific portrait of women  as a victim reinforces this belief. History of female terrorism, which has a long tradition (f.e. 19. century Narodnaya Vola) has not changed the view of women as a girl captive trough the negative circumstances and forced to behave against her nature. Is the political nature of man and woman so divergent? The tendency to express aggression may be conditioned by biology, but if the choice concerns political interactions, does this matter? Does aggression and in particular violence has a gender?



  • Beauvoir de Simone (1949), Le Deuxième Sexe. Tome 1, Les Faits et Les Mythes, Gallimard, Paris.
  • Bloom M.(2011), Bombshell: the Many Faces of Women Terrorism, University of Pennsylvania Press, London.
  • Victor B. (2002), Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers, Rodale, Emmausl
  • El Saaraj E. (2002), Suicide Bombers: Dignity, Despair, and the Need of Hope, „Journal of Palestine Studies” , No 4
  • Schmid A. P. (2013), Radicalisation, De-Radicalisation, Counter-Radicalisation: A Conceptual Discussion and Literature Review, „ICCT Research Paper”, The Hague, March 2013.
  • Zięba A., Szlachter D. (2015), Countering Radicalisation of Muslim Community Opinions on the EU Level, „International Studies. Interdisciplinary Political and Cultural Journal” 2015, Vol.17.

Uncovered: KGB Guidelines for Recruiting Spies within Jewish Communities

by Przemysław Gasztold

„Jews consider everything from the point of view of personal benefits. These could be money, financial operations, assistance or their contacts with relatives living in socialist countries. That is why in establishing relations with Jews one should remember it is not enough just to influence their intellectual sphere. Before taking a decision to collaborate, the Jew has to be sure that future clandestine relation with an officer will give him truly tangible benefits. Jews like to obtain gifts and this should be taken advantage of during the recruitment process. Money has, however, the greatest influence over the Jew” –  this is only a scrap from a 16-page guidelines entitled Ориентировка о путях повышения эффективности вербовочной работы в среде евреев с использованием особенностей еврейской этнической психологии [Guidelines for Increasing the Effectiveness of Recruitment among Jews using the Characteristics of Jewish Ethnic Psychology], marked „secret” and prepared by the KGB in 1984. The Soviets shared the document with Polish Civilian Intelligence services and instruction was later distributed among its top brass. A copy was found recently within the records of Archive of Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw.

How many Jews were recruited in Western countries because of the tips included within the instruction? We can safely assume that the evaluation was sent to other communist intelligence agencies and served as a manual for conducting espionage operations. The instruction reflects a very distorted image of Jewish diaspora and promotes a stereotypical perception of Jews. Hostile rhetoric and trite clichés used in guidelines suggest that Jews distinguish themselves from other nations and thus need a special intelligence approach. At the beginning of the Polish summary of the guidelines, an anonymous Polish Intelligence officer underlined that recruitment of Jews poses difficulties and requires not only preparing deep and comprehensive study of potential candidates but also needs to be done very carefully by a competent officer familiar with „Jewish psychology”.

According to the KGB evaluation, the Jews have several features that would be of great use for intelligence operations. First of all, they are attached to „ethnic solidarity” which means financial, political and moral support for Israel, and their cooperation within Zionist and Judaic organizations. „Ethnic solidarity” also causes Jewish cohesion, that they help each other and prefer their own kind over loyalty to the country in which they live. Such a „split of national consciousness” resulted from the age-old necessity to play different roles – one of a Jew in a religious communities, and second of a citizen and member of society. Most Jews are aware that they represent a „foreign body” in local communities. Their approach is enhanced by a Zionist ideology and double loyalty promoted in Israel to state law. Thus, it is no surprise – the guidelines highlight – that a cosmopolitism, which weakens patriotic bonds, is widely popular among Jews.

Conflictuality, as well as permanent, subconscious feeling of fear and danger are among Jewish characteristics. They exemplify a sense of alienation, criticism, caution and suspicion towards people of other nationalities. From the other hand, the KGB manual suggests that people of Jewish origin pose high ability to evaluate people, can think logically, accurately and rationally. They are sociable, communicative and have a sense of humor. In the eyes of Soviet Intelligence, Jewish conception of the “chosen nation” makes them proud and exalts self-esteem. They are pragmatic, prudent, and cunning. In the „Jewish hierarchy of advantages”, as detailed in the KGB instruction, the most important places are occupied by getting rich-attitude, pursuit of material goods and approach guided by egoism.

Developed national consciousness, ethnic solidarity, attachment to the Judaic tradition, nationalism, anti-Sovietism, anti-communism and anti-Arabic chauvinism are the greatest obstacles to recruit Jews as spies, as indicated by the manual. The assessment of potential candidates is difficult, because „the Jew is honest only to the other Jews”. In order to target valuable sources, there is a need to search for people who:

– represent anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist and anti-capitalist beliefs

– sympathize with Socialist countries

– are interested in maintaining economic, cultural, and political relations with Socialist Countries

– suffer from anti-Semitism and discrimination

– are guided mainly by egoistic premises.

The KGB underscores that the best intelligence work with Jews is done by Jews. In reality, however, the preliminary findings about potential sources is commonly conducted by officers of „rezidentura” [spying ring] who usually don’t have Jewish origins. The manual warns that Jews very often have good knowledge about the situation behind the Iron Curtain and frequently perceive communist diplomats as representatives of „anti-Semitic regimes”.


The documet can be downloaded here:

KGB Guidelines for Recruiting Spies within Jewish Communities

Polish summary of the report (in Polish):

Polish Summary of the KGB report

Gender Socialization to Committing Crimes: The Problem of Juvenile Delinquency

by Aleksandra Gasztold


Family is the first and most important agent of socialization.  It is also a critical institution of social control. Children are socialized differently according to their sex. It lies at the foundation of the stratification and diversities of roles and attitudes. Furthermore, it distributes and genders any kind of activity, even the criminal one. Methods and means that parents use to exert authority over their sons and daughters determine the power relations in family. It translates into other relationships also in workplace and in public life, more broedly. It is very difficult to raise a child in a gender neutral way. Moreover, living in a given culture (a specific context) exercises what parents (or caregivers) informs parents understanding of femininity and masculinity.

One theory in criminology which explains the phenomenon of a higher participation of young men in crime is Power-Control Theory. Power-control theory  of gender and delinquency (John Hagan)  concerns the control displayed in the household over children. In this approach, demoralization of teenagers – the group among which the research was carried out – is the result of the social position of parents (power), which translates into the way in which families perform their function of exercise authority over children (control). However, parents tolerance depends on the amount of power which they have in the workplace. The studies have shown that parents who have jobs where they must supervise the activities of subordinates tend to be relatively tolerant of the trouble-making behaviour of their children, especially their sons. The rule is simple: children from more affluent homes should have be more incline to demoralization. This was to be due to the fact that the family’s income is based predominantly on businesses run by fathers (own companies). Men-employers repeat their dominant position at work in the form of a superior attitude in family relations. The mothers, instead, exercise direct control over the home and children. In a paternalistic family this means that women are expected, above all, to provide care for and supervision over daughters and to leave a large margin of freedom to their sons. For example, this model promotes mothers as being more controlling over their daughters than their sons. Simply putt: boys enjoy greater freedom than girls, hence their activity is wider.  In theory, boys in traditional families should be subject to the father’s authority, above all. However, the control possibilities of the father are limited due to his involvement in professional work. As a result, in traditional (patriarchal) families sons have greater opportunities for deviant action than daughters. The situation is different in egalitarian (balanced) families, that is, those in which fathers and mothers share theirs equally professional and family responsibilities, as well as in the homes where the wives occupy dominant positions (they are „heads of families”). This leads to equally deviant behaviour on the part of daughters and sons. Hence, children are socialized in the same way –  regardless of sex, they share similar attitudes (independence, risk taking) so their behaviour, including involvement in deviant and delinquent activities , is also comparable. The gender gap in the egalitarian family is narrower than in patriarchal one.

The theory of power-control has been criticized for several reasons. Everyone questioned the higher probability of deviant behaviour tendencies occur among children from wealthier families. It has also been emphasized that differences in functioning of the family between  employee family and employer family are not substantial. The theory has also been accused of omitting the issue of unemployed parents.

To sum up the sex of the child determines the process of its socialization through the scope and strength of the control applied. The empirical research of Hagan (and his team) basically confirm the hypothesis that the disproportion between the sexes in criminal activity is higher among patriarchal families and lower in more partner families. Further analyses haven’t confirmed that “freedom at home” increases the probability of crime involvement. Nevertheless, they have demonstrated that poverty and economic marginalization determine the circumstances of delinquency for boys and girls.




Hagan J., Modern criminology, crime, criminal behaviour and its control, MacGraw-Hill, New York 1989.

Hagan J., Gillis A., and Simpson J.: The class structure of gender and delinquency: Toward a power-control theory of common delinquent behavior; American Journal of Sociology, No 6, Vol. 90, May 1985.

Female Experience Matters in Security Studies


by Aleksandra Gasztold

 The basic goal of scholarship within the heterogeneous feminist movement is the advancement of a theory based on the female experiences and using the language of women. Moreover, the purpose is to ask questions that were previously ignored or avoided. In doing so, the emotional involvement of the researcher is permitted, in contrast to the artificiality of male objectivity and distance. In this conception, the research process is intended to shape the consciousness of both the object of research and the researcher. They are meant to reflect practical knowledge, which, among other things, is conditioned by their experiences in everyday life. The research  in field of security studies should take into account women’s experiences. However, it is questionable whether awareness-raising features in scholarship are actually desired. Consequently, qualitative research is favoured, especially participant observation and analysis of experiences and case studies. While the practical nature of feminism imposes such an approach, social sciences and humanities cannot always come to terms with it. To the contrary, the feminist works are based on a critical analysis of traditional theories and concepts, paradigms and language. Furthermore, they entail a feminist conceptual grid, as well as premises and explanations that are useful for both theory and practice. Feminism recognises that traditional theories of political science marginalise the importance of women, as well as the role of gender as a category in social and political life. The main aim of feminism is to raise awareness and thereby universalise this approach. This also marginalises the role of quantitative research, which is perceived as a patriarchal tool enclosing science within the confines of male vision. Feminism perceives itself as a new body of knowledge about existing problems. In this view, an analysis of the involvement of women in the security sphere, particularly in relation to political violence, does not serve to set women against men, but to broaden our knowledge of human nature and of political activity.

The basic goal of feminism in security studies seeks to introduce the category of gender as a constant variable that conditions reality and to improve our knowledge of women’s experiences. This is based on the conviction that by exposing unequal gender relations and looking at them from a woman’s point of view, it is possible to establish the sort of comprehensive definition of security that modern critical thinking has been aspiring to develop. Due to the traditional understanding of internal and external functions of the state in ensuring security the roles of women have been marginalised and even omitted. This stems from the long-lasting associations of masculinity with militarism, which lies on the foundation of  maintaining security.

Violence is an intrinsic part of security musings. Violence against women, especially sexual violence, cannot in any way be compared to the experience of this sort of violence against men. It is believed to be greater in militarised societies and endorsed in patriarchal systems (e.g., through legislation, controlling women’s right to their own body or image and other customary practices). The dominant institution perpetuating this status quo and reflecting society on a micro-scale is the family. Male supremacy is not based on physical strength but rather on the acceptance of a certain system of values. A significant role is played by socialisation and universally accepted preconceptions about the supremacy of men, which consolidate their superior position. The patriarchal communities have a tendency to combine cruelty with sexuality as an expression not so much of evil but of power, where sadism is tied with ‘the masculine role’ and the experience of being a victim with ‘the feminine role’ [Millett, 2005, p. 48].

Supporters of the feminist perspective have noted that the gender aspect is critical to the comprehension of multiple determinants and political processes (within security). Gender is a social construct, and it therefore creates and impacts not only the individual but also all of society. Feminist theory can be used to analyse various security phenomena, including armed conflict, terrorism, revolution and other actions related to political violence because it focuses on research at the level of the individual, both men and women. Gender difference as a variable that makes up social reality is crucial in the understanding of political behaviour and in security studies. It permits scholars to broaden the scope of analysis and to show that particular phenomena have broad cultural, social and even biological roots that mould their genesis, structure, functioning and efficacy. The feminist approach enables a more complete analysis of women’s motives in undertaking political activity and their methodology thus making it possible to demonstrate the specificity of security-related behaviour.


Further reading:

Gasztold A (2017). „A Feminist Approach to Security Studies„, Przegląd Politologiczny 3/2017.
Light M., Halliday F. (1994), Gender and International Relations, in: Contemporary International Relations: A Guide to Theory
, eds. A. J. R. Groom, M. Light, Pinter Publishers.
Millett K. (2005), Theory of Sexual Politics , in: Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology , eds. A. E. Cudd, R. O. Andreasen Blackwell Publishing.


What Happend on 12 December 1981 at Wojciech Jaruzelski’s Office? New Evidence on Martial Law from East German Stasi Archive

by Przemysław Gasztold

The 13 of December 1981 marks the intrinsic watershed in activity of the Independent Self-governing Trade Union „Solidarity”, a mass social and political movement born in August 1980 after tremendously huge protests and strikes which spread across the whole country and challenged the Polish United Workers’ Party (PUWP) authority. The turmoil was caused by several factors, among others systematically weakening living conditions, raising prices, ubiquitous corruption and malfeasance. The ruling Party was surprised by large-scale of unrests and discontent supported even by PUWP members and by the fact that many important factories, state enterprises and facilities joined the strikes bringing the country at the brink of bankruptcy and inevitable collapse. Bearing in mind that the use of force in order to smash the protests could ended in hugely bloody and destructive civil war, authorities needed to recalibrate their approach and agreed to the establishement of „Solidarity” with Lech Wałęsa as its unquestionable leader. Moreover, after a raucous debate authorities officially acquiesced to union’s genuine independence from Party organs. However, not only did the workers prove their dissatisfaction of the current situation and the chaos rapidly emerged even within the PUWP internal structure where the quest for scapegoats began. The high ranking Party officials put blame for economic crisis on the PUWP leader Edward Gierek thus he was replaced by Stanisław Kania.

The Communists however were aware that the sovereign union could not be permanentny implemented into the post-totalitarian political system and thought of it as highly detrimental to Marxist-Leninist precepts and national security. That is why they adopted a double-track strategy which aimed at internal disruption of the „Solidarity” by using tools provided by the security apparatus (secret informants, blackmail, prompting internal squabbles) while at the same time they started to prepare for the final battle. The union managed to operate freely for 16 months and mustered mass social support (around 10 million members) but constant tension with the state authorities and temporal crisis constituting the tests of strength for both adversaries. This led to significant decrease of confidence in „Solidarity” in second half of 1981, as public-opinion polls indicate. In October 1981 Jaruzelski replaced Stanisław Kania as the 1st Secretary of the CC PUWP. The latter was perceived as being too soft and inefficient by the bulk of Communist hawks and low level Party hacks backed by dogmatists from USRR, GDR and Czechoslovakia. He was averse to coercive measures and didn’t want to do what had to be done. Soon it turned out that Jaruzelski and his inner circle fund themselves in the same quandary, being under rising pressure aiming at forcing them to strike against the „Solidarity”. Plans of military operations and dragnets were arranged and ready for implementation. The army as well as security apparatus just waited for an order to move from barracks and take the Polish streets.

Finally, on 12 December 1981 Jaruzelski decided to put Martial Law into action. The next day around 100 thousand soldiers and state security officers accompagnied by several thousand tanks and armoured vehicles appeared in all Polish cities bringing the end of „Solidarity”. The union was soon banned, around 10 thousand people were arrested and placed in detention centers. Those who managed to hide went underground and started to build or renew the foundations of clandestine oppositions networks.

While the background, policy-making process and technical factors regarding the implementation of the Martial Law are rather familiar to pundits, the newly discovered document from Stasi archives scheds new light into the behind the scenes circumstances which led to the final decision taken by Jaruzelski.

According to interviews and memoirs, the decision was made on Saturday, 12 December 1981, around 9 AM in the Office of the Council of Ministers. Jaruzelski convened a meeting and was visited by close aides – gen. Michał Janiszewski, gen. Florian Siwicki and gen. Czesław Kiszczak – the Minister of Internal Affairs. The latter, right-handman and trustem bedfellow, presented the secret memorandum on the Solidarity Commission’s members meeting in Gdańsk, which left no other options than striking with military force. Thereby the generals concluded that this day Martial Law will begin. It was around 10 AM when their meeting was over, and Kiszczak was the last one who left the office. Apparently when leaving, he reminded Jaruzelski that if Martial Law was to be introduced the same day, only four hours were required to issue the relevant orders, because the Ministry of the Interior needed eight hours to execute the order. Kiszczak left the Office of the Council of Ministers and waited impatiently for the final order from Jaruzelski. Time was running out but PUWP leader did not react, nor did he call. Around 2 PM Kiszczak took the initiative and decided to call his superior. Jaruzelski answered the phone but was still not fully convinced about the decision and asked his minister about the situation in Gdańsk. Kiszczak briefed him that „Solidarity” unreletingly conducted hostile policy and even made further demands. Such reasoning induced certain ramifications on Jaruzelski and after a short deadlock He finalny launched the Martial Law[1].

A completely different account of the same day was presented by General Mirosław Milewski, one of the most important representatives of so called “healthy forces” and top Party official with clandestine ties to Soviet secret services. In his story, Jaruzelski’s decision-making process lasted longer and the order was issued only under the pressure of top brass from the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of the Interior. Milewski’s version of events can be found in the Stasi report describing the meeting between Rudolf Maroń and general Józef Kierat – head of civilian security apparatus in Rzeszów from 1979 to 1990. It seems that Milewski valued him very much, trusted him, thus the two frequently discussed the political situation. Maroń also regarded Kierat as a true communist and was to already meet him in December 1981 but plans were thwarted by the Martial Law. Maroń finally managed to talk with Kierat during the spring of 1982, and the Stasi operatives in an uncanny way obtained the report from that meeting. It must be remembered that abovementioned memo is a third-party information and its content could be slightly distorted by subsequent recipients. Nor can it be treated literally, because Kierat, presenting Milewski’s account, indicates 13 December 1981, as the day of making the decision on Martial Law, while it is known that the action was then in progress. It seems that Milewski describes the events of 12  December 1981, which is also indicated by the fact that his story to some point overlaps with Jaruzelski’s and Kiszczak’s statements.

According to Milewski, since Jaruzelski became the 1st Secretary of the CC PUWP he was still reluctant to take serious actions against the “Solidarity”. Even in December 1981 he hesitated as before and did not want to push the army to the streets. Many army and state security officers feared he would not be able to handle the situation and perceived his policy as inept and impotent. Jaruzelski changed his mind only on 12 December, 1981. According to Milewski, around 1 PM the PUWP leader was visited by Kiszczak who strenuously persuaded him to take the decision but failed to convince his boss. This meeting is also described in other accounts. What happened later however is still unknown. According to Milewski, when Kiszczak did not manage to convince the 1st Secretary, several top generals took the initiative and unexpectedly arrived at his office. Bogusław Stachura, Eugeniusz Molczyk and Milewski among them shared the bellicose belief that Jaruzelski’s only available move was to immediately strike at “Solidarity” and order Martial Law. They wanted to extort this decision by threatening that they would not leave his office until he will confirmed to quell the trade union. Jaruzelski still refused to take action but after dramatic discussion finally leaned toward the implementation of Martial Law. He reportedly changed his opinion after listening to a tape secretly recorded during the one of the “Solidarity” meetings where somebody threatened to kill him. Additionally, the Stasi report indicates that between 3 and 10 PM Milewski, Stachura and Molczyk remained at Jaruzelski’s office to check on him, fearing that he will change his decision. They did not trust him and were afraid of his behavior in case of potential outbreak.

Milewski’s statement paints the image of Jaruzelski as an undecided politician, torn by internal contradictions. He constantly postponed Martial Law as he was not mentally prepared for military struggle against his own nation. It can be seen that Jaruzelski was not entirely convinced to the necessity of introducing Martial Law and only the brutal pressure from top brass threating him to stay at his office forced him to give an order. In such narrative, the introduction of the Martial Law is apparently conducted by Milewski, Stachura, Molczyk and probably also Kiszczak. The 1st Secretary made the decision under great pressure, being aware he could not wait any longer, because his indecision might act as bad example to his subordinates. Abstaining from questioning the truthfulness of events delivered by Milewski, it is worth paying attention to their significant role in the internal party games. Rumors about Jaruzelski’s tear, his disorientation and confusion undermined his position and authority. Hearsay about him as a dove shaped the image of a shaky politician who in times of high tension had serious problems with making a strong decision. Moreover, it is worth a proper consideration how many people among the high echelons of PUWP engaged in spreading the rumors about Jaruzelski’s decision-making process, because it can be assumed that Milewski and Kierat were not the only ones who used to propel such accusations[2].

[1] Człowiek honoru? Czesław Kiszczak w rozmowie z Jerzym Diatłowickim, Warszawa 2016, s. 168-169

[2] BStU/MfS HA XVIII, 6454, Information von Genosse Maroń, 21.4.82, p. 73.

Desire of aggression – assessment of female terrorists’ attraction to violence by Aleksandra Gasztold


Appetitive aggression can be explained as the use of violence and/or the desire of harm to a victim for the purpose of experiencing violence-related enjoyment. If it is use as a tool it is: proactive, appetitive, predatory and goal directed (1). The feelings experienced by preparatory most are positive. It is worth underlining that the final goal may not always be a reward but simply the delight of cruelty. Interestingly this kind of aggression is found only in humans and the Hominini species, regardless of sex. This phenomenon very often appears or increases when the victim struggles. Resistance can cause excitement and increase the use of violence. Some scholars look for the roots of appetitive aggression in the development of hunting behaviour. However, this reward-driven mechanism that responds to hunting-related rituals is only to observe in men (2). Another type of cruel behavior is reactive aggression. It features hostility, affectiveness, defensiveness and retaliation.

Appetitive aggression among female combatants has not been studied systematically. However, some analysis proved, that there is no difference between male and female fighters in aggressive behavior in war and post-conflict regions (3). Aggressive behavior during wartime may be a mixture of reactive aggression (impulsive, affective and uncontrolled behavior provoked by a perceived or real threat) and the aforementioned appetitive aggression motivated by intrinsic reward (suppression, emotion unleashing). Violence can be seen as fascinating and exciting or it can be a form of adopting to the battlefield’s environment, or a result of huge psychological oppression.
Nevertheless, it can be problematic to compare the experience of war combatants with criminals and terrorists. Organized crime (terrorism overwhelmingly is a collective action) is subjected to other conditions (internal and external, subjective and objective) and the catalysts of radicalisation to brutal violence may be different than during wartime (4). The combatants are often directly and repeatedly affected by the violence. Conversely, terrorists path to violence can be a phase process – like a metaphor for a staircase (5) – and many of them have had a „normal life” before.

There is a well-established belief that terrorist organizations are hostile environments for women. If women are members they are perceived as enslaved and forced to stay either by the organization (through blackmail, threat, abduction) or the situation (occupation, loss of family member, childlessness, disability, redemption, family honor) and are not seen as rational actors. For example, a well-known American female suicide terrorist researcher Mia Bloom, has identified five factors (motives) of engagement, so called the Four R’s plus One: revenge, redemption, respect, relationship, and rape (which is a tool that can contribute to revenge or shame). All these elements can overlap (6). Moreover, they all underline the traumatic position of a woman who refuses to admit her fate or torment her with emotions (love, hatred, despair), heroically performs self-sacrifice. Who is responsible for her decision? Geopolitical situation, dysfunction of the state, social system, or is she herself responsible? Special type of terrorist attacks, when the perpetrator sacrifices own life is appetitive aggression or reactive one? And why so easy we are searching for the answers in external and oppressive conditions while analysing female terrorists activity? Perhaps accepted is to recognize women as a victim, not as a monster with hunger to kill? Compelling argument is that terrorist are not psychopaths (7).

Searching for answers to the motives leading to terrorist activity expand the studies on terrorism, which will usually be in the perspective of cultural roles and images about ourselves and those that threaten us. It does not improve understanding about how these women build relationships with the outside world and why terrorist organizations recruit girls and women. It may, however, be suggested how organizations search for candidates, among others by manipulating the motives presented by Bloom. However, the reduction of women’s motivation to the five suggested R’s does not always have to apply. The formulation of general categories and assumptions for terrorist activity and motives can not apply to all terrorist forms and trends. The phenomenon of terrorism is not homogeneous, often due to the different social contexts in which the organization operates so the catalysts can be different and often unique (8). It does not matter if we are researching women or men. Challenging topics that remain are: the gender of the subject of analysis, the gender of researcher and his/her perception of gender roles in a given historical time, imprisoned in a given culture.

by @AGasztold

(1) R.G. Fontaine, Disentangling the Psychology and Law of Instrumental and Reactive Subtypes of Aggression, „Psychology, Public Policy, and Law” 2007; Vol.13(2), pp.143–165.
(2) D. Jones, Human behavior: Killer instincts, „Nature” 2008, Vol. 451, pp. 512–515.
(3) R. Weierstall, T. Elbert, The Appetitive Aggression Scale—development of an Instrument for the Assessment of Human’s Attraction to Violence, „European Journal of Psychotraumatology” 2011; Vol. 2.; D. Meyer-Parlapanis, R. Weierstall, C. Nandi, M. Bambonyé, T. Elbert, A. Crombach, Appetitive Aggression in Women: Comparing Male and Female War Combatants, „Frontiers in Psychology” January 2016, Vol. 6, p.1-8.
(4) A. Zięba, D. Szlachter, Countering Radicalisation of Muslim Community Opinions on the EU Level, „International Studies. Interdisciplinary Political and Cultural Journal”, Vol. 17, No. 1/2015, pp.119-144
(5) F. Maghaddam, Staircase to Terrorism. A Psychological Exploration, „American Psychologist” February-March 2005, Vol. 60, No. 2, pp. 161-169.
(6) M. Bloom, Bombshell: the Many Faces of Women Terrorism, C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd: 2011, p. 234-236.
(7) J. Horgan, Psychology of Terrorism, Routledge 2002.
(8) See: A.Zięba, Problem udziału kobiet w organizacjach terrorystycznych, [in:] P.de la Fuente, W. Gzicki, C. Taracha (ed.), Terroryzm wczoraj i dziś: wybrane problemy, Lublin 2015, pp. 49-65.

Women in Security

During this edition of the Warsaw Security Forum (November 8-9, 2017), on the second day, there was a special panel Women in Security: Gender, Violent Extremism, and Terrorism with partnership of the Women in International Security (WIIS). Chair: Frances G. Burwell – Senior Fellow, Women In International Security; Distinguished Fellow, Atlantic Council, USA. Keynote speakers: Aleksandra Gasztold – Assistant Professor, University of Warsaw, Poland; Melissa Conley Tyler – National Executive Director, Australian Institute of International Affairs, Australia; Anna-Karin Eneström – Director General for Political Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sweden; Hamoon Khelghat-Doost – PhD Fellow, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

The discussion involved the following points:
• The extent of women’s involvement in violent extremism. The push and pull factors of radicalization and recruitment.
• The success of violent extremist organizations in leveraging gender norms to aid recruitment efforts.
• The multiple and varied roles women play in terrorism, including the claim that some jihadi organizations have been much more strategic about engaging women than other organisations.
• An overview of current government P/CVE programs and recommendations on how to strengthen gender-sensitive initiatives.
• Over the longer term, engagement and empowerment of women is crucial to combating violent extremism. Any successful counterterrorist strategy must address the role of women and should engage women

Anna-Karin Eneström spoke about how extensive women’s engagement is and what kind of knowledge the authorities possess about this phenomenon. Women play a role in almost all aspects of violent extremism and terrorism. Despite this, they are often stigmatized and idealized by governments and extremists. Then, Melissa Conley Tyler was asked to present a global view of female roles in terrorist organisations. We often think of women as victims of violent extremism, however, she underlined that it is not the only role they play, nor even the predominant one. According to Tyler, we have to take seriously the fact that those women exercised agency and that they were sympathizers, recruiters, propagandists, perpetrators, and preventers. Many different motives, just like in the case of male terrorists, can be found behind women’s decisions to join extremist groups. In some cases it may be perceived as a rational choice, even sometimes a way of life. Hamoon Khelghat-Doost presented his research on jihadi organizations and explained how they tend to engage women. He questioned the common opinion that such terrorist groups only oppress women.

Aleksandra Gasztold addressed the effective anti-terrorist strategies and female deradicalisation potential. She presented several deprogramming initiatives from all over the world (Sister Against Violent Extremism/SAVE, Women/Girls in Violent Extremism/WomEx, Pakistani Women Moderating Extremism/PWME). Aleksandra Gasztold claimed that nowadays we can’t build a viable security without women’s participation because they play crucial roles in local communities, upholding tradition, taking care of religious values, transmitting national legends and myths, as well as raising children. Mothers are the best peacemakers and role models for their children. Gasztold voiced a few recommendations for effective and improved counter-terrorist policy: scenarios development analysis (map of transformation of female illegal activities) and the need to establish the Database on Female Terrorism and Extremism (international one, as an extract of the common base).

During the session, the public were invited to join in the discussion. There was some scepticism among the speakers about resolving the problem of women’s participation in terrorism in Africa. The example of Nigeria was raised (Boko Haram), where membership in a terrorist group is often for women a chance for survival and education. Aleksandra Gasztold shared the opinion that promising solutions involve an elaboration at the UN-level and, further, an implementation of the comprehensive DDR program (disarment, demoblisation and reintegration), like it was with FARC members in Columbia, ETA in Spain, or LTTE on Sri Lanka.

In conclusion, it is worth calling Frances G. Burwell’s opening speech of the session, where she remarked that women are more than 50% of the world population. This fact is something that should be taken into consideration by decision-makers, and certainly not something to be ignored.