Interesting articles about the role of women in Al-Qaeda

This two articles were very interesting.

Women of Al Qaeda

Jihad used to have a gender: male. The men who dominated the movement exploited traditional attitudes about sex and the sexes to build their ranks. They still do that, but with a difference: even Al Qaeda is using female killers now, and goading the men.

Very little is known about the first woman to become a suicide bomber for Al Qaeda in Iraq, except that she dressed as a man. Two weeks after a U.S.-backed operation to clean out the town of Tall Afar near the Syrian border in September, she put on the long white robe and checkered scarf that Arab men commonly wear in Iraqi desert towns. The clothes disguised her gender long enough for her to walk into a gathering of military recruits with no one taking much notice. The clothes also concealed the explosives strapped around her womb. “May God accept our sister among the martyrs,” said a Web site linked to the organization of Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. She had defended “her faith and her honor.” No name was given. But the bomb that blew apart that anonymous woman killed five men, maimed or wounded 30 more, and opened a new chapter not only in the war for Iraq but in the global struggle against terror.

Never before had any branch of Al Qaeda sent a woman on a suicide mission. Since female bombers first appeared in Lebanon two decades ago, their ranks have come mainly from secular Arab nationalist groups, from Kurdish rebels in Turkey and the non-Muslim Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fighting the government of Sri Lanka. Only in the past few years did the Palestinian “army of roses” carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis, and the “black widows” strike at the enemies of Chechnya’s rebels. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Qaeda and its offshoots around the world held back. But as he has before, Zarqawi broke the taboos. His strategy is to create images of horror, “to look like he has more capability than he truly has,” says Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the Coalition forces spokesman in Baghdad. Zarqawi recruits where he can, he exploits whom he can and he attacks the softest of targets to get the peculiar kind of publicity he craves. Women are his new weapon of choice.

In October, Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed that a second female bomber, this time accompanied by her husband, killed herself attacking an American patrol in Mosul. And last week the world learned of the third: Muriel Degauque, 38, a fair-skinned Belgian from the grim rust-belt city of Charleroi near the French border. As a girl, she often ran away from home. As a woman, she had a succession of failed relationships with Muslim men: a Turk, an Algerian and finally a Belgian of Moroccan descent who followed the teachings of radical Salafists, similar to those of Al Qaeda. They went to live for at least three years in Morocco, and when she returned home she was fully veiled: alienated, lonely, in the thrall of a husband who consumed her entire world. Muriel—now calling herself Myriam—”couldn’t have children,” a spokesman for the Belgian prosecutor’s office said last week. Even when she was near her parents, she rarely spoke to them. The last they heard from her was during the summer. On Nov. 9, she blew herself up attacking Iraqi police near the town of Baqubah. American troops gunned down her husband shortly after Myriam was killed.
That same night, Nov. 9, bombers hit three hotels in the Jordanian capital, Amman. As scores of dead and wounded were still being counted, Al Qaeda in Iraq announced that a woman had been among the suicide attackers there, too. Zarqawi, once again, was publicizing his new approach. But what Zarqawi did not know was that the woman had failed to detonate her bomb.

The second one is called

Reform: Not Ignorant, Not Helpless

The West is focused on the extreme cases of oppression against Muslim women. But there’s another world out there.

The West’s exposure to Muslim women is largely based on Islam’s most extreme cases of oppression: Taliban-dominated Afghanistan, Wahhabi-ruled Saudi Arabia and postrevolutionary Iran. Under those regimes, women were and are ordered to cover. Many Afghan women are forbidden to attend school, and no Saudi woman is allowed to drive. Yet despite the spread of ultraconservative versions of Islam over the past few decades, these societies are not the norm in the Muslim world. In Egypt, female cops patrol the streets. In Jordan, women account for the majority of students in medical school. And in Syria, courtrooms are filled with female lawyers. “Women are out working, in every profession, and even expect equal pay,” says Leila Ahmed, Harvard Divinity School professor and author of “Women and Gender in Islam.” “Though the atmosphere in Muslim countries is becoming more restrictive, no matter how conservative things get they can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

Still, Muslim women are feeling like pawns in a political game: jihadists portray them as ignorant lambs who need to be protected from outside forces, while the United States considers them helpless victims of a backward society to be saved through military intervention. “Our empowerment is being exploited by men,” says Palestinian Muslim Rima Barakat. “It’s a policy of hiding behind the skirts of women. It’s dishonorable no matter who’s doing it.” Scholars such as Khaled Abou El Fadl, an expert on Islamic law and author of “The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists,” says this is an age-old problem. “Historically the West has used the women’s issue as a spear against Islam,” he says. “It was raised in the time of the Crusades, used consistently in colonialism and is being used now. Muslim women have grown very, very sensitive about how they’re depicted on either side.”

Surely the late feminist Doria Shafik felt the scorn of men—Arab and British—while fighting for the right to vote in 1940s Egypt. Yet Shafik persevered and cast her first ballot in Cairo in 1956. “I render thanks unto God to have been born in the land of mysteries,” she later wrote. “To have grown up in the shadow of the palms, to have lived within the arms of the desert, guardian of secrets … to have seen the brilliance of the solar disk and to have drunk as a child from the Nile sacred river.” Millions of Muslim Arab women still love the societies they’re born into, regardless of jihadist manipulation or American intervention. If reform is to come, they will surely be the ones who push it forward.

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