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?

 

Notes

  • 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.