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.

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

@Raw_intel

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

Bibliography
(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.

#GASZTOLD