Through The Static

May 31, 2008

Al-Qaeda’s Feminists

Filed under: Gender,Religion,World News — disciplepete @ 2:11 pm

I have to admit, it almost seemed like an article from the Onion when I saw this headline about a debate within al-Qaeda about a woman’s right to participate in “terror” attacks. I just wouldn’t imagine that women who were devoted to Islamist militant organizations would feel so strongly about challenging their prescribed roles. But apparently it is a serious issue for some that’s being addressed in the safe space of the internet, where the women can express how they feel without revealing their identities. From Yahoo:

In response to a female questioner, al-Qaida No. 2 leader Ayman Al-Zawahri said in April that the terrorist group does not have women. A woman’s role, he said on the Internet audio recording, is limited to caring for the homes and children of al-Qaida fighters.

His remarks have since prompted an outcry from fundamentalist women, who are fighting or pleading for the right to be terrorists.The statements have also created some confusion, because in fact suicide bombings by women seem to be on the rise, at least within the Iraq branch of al-Qaida.

A response from one of the women:

“How many times have I wished I were a man … When Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahri said there are no women in al-Qaida, he saddened and hurt me,” wrote “Companion of Weapons,” who said she listened to the speech 10 times. “I felt that my heart was about to explode in my chest…I am powerless.”

Such postings have appeared anonymously on discussion forums of Web sites that host videos from top al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. While the most popular site requires names and passwords, many people use only nicknames, making their identities and locations impossible to verify…Many appear to represent computer-literate women arguing in the most modern of venues – the Internet – for rights within a feudal version of Islam.

Well, Hamas is more open to women fighters:

Hamas, another militant group, is open about using women fighters and disagrees with al-Qaida’s stated stance. At least 11 Palestinian women have launched suicide attacks in recent years.

“A lot of the girls I speak to … want to carry weapons. They live with this great frustration and oppression,” said Huda Naim, a prominent women’s leader, Hamas member and Palestinian lawmaker in Gaza. “We don’t have a special militant wing for women … but that doesn’t mean that we strip women of the right to go to jihad.”

So what does this all mean for al-Qaeda’s PR?

Al-Zawahri’s remarks show the fine line al-Qaida walks in terms of public relations. In a modern Arab world where women work even in some conservative countries, al-Qaida’s attitude could hurt its efforts to win over the public at large. On the other hand, noted SITE director Katz, al-Zawahri has to consider that many al-Qaida supporters, such as the Taliban, do not believe women should play a military role in jihad.

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