My colleague Charlotte Allen has written eloquently today on the sad and shocking events of Beslan.  

A piece in the International Herald Tribune deals with a chilling phenomenon that has special relevance for the atrocities at Beslan: “the spectacular rise of the female terrorist.”

The newspaper notes:

“The recent wave of terrorist attacks in Russia has been remarkably brutal, aimed even at children. There was, however, another detail regularly picked up by commentators and analysts: the prominent role played by women.”

Female terrorists carried the bombs in a recent plane downing over Central Russia on Aug. 24, and it was a woman who became the main suspect when a bomb destroyed a Moscow railway station a few days later. And, again, it was women wearing suicide belts who played a major role at Beslan, where children, who generally provoke nurturing tendencies in women, died so violently. 

Terrorist networks have always used women as carriers and in other subsidiary roles.

This is something new, and it’s very disturbing.

The IHT notes: 

“The events in Russia suggest that women are now the preferred tool with which to carry out ‘martyrdom operations.’ If sustained, this would be a truly remarkable development. After all, Islamic terrorists propagate a vision of society in which women are consistently portrayed as weak, inferior and sinful. Women, they believe, have no role to play in public life, never mind that of ‘heroic martyr.’ The question, therefore, is obvious: Why have Islamic extremists suddenly embraced the use of women as high-level operatives?

“Symbolically, their participation sends a powerful message, blurring the distinction between perpetrator and victim. Even among progressive Westerners, the notion that women are the ‘weaker sex,’ and that their inclination is to create and protect life rather than destroy it, remains widespread. If women decide to violate all established norms about the sanctity of human life, they do so only as a last resort. The scholar Clara Beyler, who analyzed public reactions to suicide bombings, found that ‘female kamikazes’ tended to be portrayed as ‘the symbols of utter despair … rather than the cold-blooded murderers of civilians.’ If a woman was involved, the media focused on ‘what made her do it,’ not on the carnage that she had created. In other words, if the attacker was a woman, it was the bomber who became the victim, and whose grievances needed to be addressed.”

The second reason is that, given the post-September 11 security measures, it’s easier to get women into certain places. The piece points out that “the perception that women are less prone to violence, the Islamic dress code and the reluctance to carry out body searches on Muslim women made them the ‘perfect demographic.'”

The IHT adds:

“The relevance of this development extends far beyond the current crisis in Russia. In fact, our astonishment at the use of female operatives by Islamic terrorists may be yet another ‘failure of imagination’ with potentially catastrophic consequences. As early as 2002, Patricia Pearson warned: ‘Yes, it may be hard to imagine a woman flying into the twin towers. But we have to be careful about our presumptions. … Our imagination failed us before Sept. 11, and we paid a steep price.'”

The most shocking aspect of the emergence of women as terrorists is, of course, that at Beslan they killed children. Is there anybody out there who wants to call these monsters freedom fighters?