In response to legislators and GOP candidates calling for Barack Obama to halt his Syrian refugee program, the president is accusing them of being scared of women and children. But in light of the evolution of terror in the Middle East, why are we stopping at identifying only men as potential terrorists?
Let’s begin with some numbers. According to the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, the majority of Syrian refugees are made up of men and women between ages 18 and 59: 22.1 percent men (49.7 percent for all age groups) and 23.7 percent women (50.3 percent for all age groups). An overwhelming number of those (98 percent) are Muslim.
It’s true (at least according to these stats) that many of the refugees are women and children, but this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily friendly. To make that assumption is to ignore the fact that jihadists use women and children in terrorist operations.
We only have to look to an attack as recent as Paris to see that this is true. When police raided a suburban Paris apartment where they believed the mastermind of the attacks was holed up and planning another attack, they found a woman, who blew herself up with an explosive vest. How many other women are playing either a support or active role in terrorism plots across the West? The use of women is becoming increasingly common as radical Islamists seek to breach areas on high alert for military-aged men.
Female Suicide Bombers Aren’t Freak Occurrences
Since the 1980s, women have accounted for nearly a quarter of attacks in several countries, including Iraq, Egypt, and Israel. Some research indicates that since 2002 women have carried out 50 percent of suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Chechnya.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times that calls these attackers “Terror’s ‘invisible women,’” “a younger generation of female jihadists has come to believe that acts of violence can be just as liberating politically and spiritually for women as for men. A religious woman can deflect her parents’ or husband’s objections by invoking the name of religion, which trumps all. The new mantra is ‘even women must fight.’”
The Center for American Progress is critical of America’s ability to deal with radicalization, saying there’s a gaping hole in U.S. counterterrorism strategy: “the fact that terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban continue to exploit uniquely female motivations as a tool to recruit female suicide bombers to attack U.S. soldiers and international aid workers.”
Female Suicide Bombers Are More Lethal
The number of female suicide terrorists is on the rise, and it’s becoming “increasingly important to acknowledge and address this threat to American lives and interests.” Not only are female terrorists growing in number, they’re extremely successful bombers.
Mia Bloom from the International Center for the Study of Terrorism attributes their success to several factors, most notably the fact that many people still do not expect women to be involved in violence. The common social assumption that women are inherently weaker, gentler, and more peaceful than men discounts their ability to engage in such lethal activity. That assumption allows female suicide terrorists to be overlooked by and escape through security inspections in many conflict zones, despite recent attempts to correct this security lapse.
Attacks by women are more lethal, too. They’re able to more easily reach high-profile targets and carry out more assassinations because of the lack of security focus. For example, “Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 1991 assassination by a Tamil Tiger female suicide bomber, who was close enough to touch his feet when the bomb went off, shows how much closer women can get to their targets in many scenarios.”
These unique capabilities are probably why women are responsible for 65 percent of all assassinations among groups that use female suicide terrorists, even though they only make up 15 percent of total suicide bombers in these same groups, according to Lindsey O’Rourke.
American Progress rightly says that “Women’s success in suicide attacks highlights just how little this national security threat is being addressed” and “if we want to actually protect our country, we can’t simply forget about half of the world’s population.”
Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January of this year, The New York Times reported that intelligence agencies have failed to appreciate the role women play in terror. While much will be made in the coming months of France’s intelligence failures, the West’s dismissal of female terrorists should come under the highest scrutiny.
Take the role of women in the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. While the group oppresses many women, many also flock to its ranks. Roughly 10 percent of its Western recruits are female, often lured by their peers through social media and instant messaging. The percentage is much higher in France: An estimated 63 of the 350 French nationals believed to be with the group are women, or just under 20 percent.
The media and policy makers “are playing catch-up when it comes to understanding the full extent of women’s roles in jihadist groups.”
A large part of the problem is the tendency to fixate on terrorist violence against women, whether it be Boko Haram’s mass kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria or the Islamic State’s sexual violence, slavery, kidnappings and forced marriage. We prefer to see terror through the lens of gender, positing radical Muslim men against women, with the West as their only defender….
Terrorists are strategic about using women, in increasingly chilling ways. To fight them, we have to move past simplistic assumptions about gender and terror and get serious about helping women and girls who are on this deadly path, as well as their would-be victims.
Children Become Suicide Bombers, Too
While The New York Times calls for us to get more serious about female terrorists, those on the Right who are worried about terrorists posing as refugees are accused of being cold-hearted toward women and children.
Yet think about the children: there have been reports of children being used as suicide bombers for years. In Nigeria, four women blew themselves up and a ten-year-old girl with an explosive belt was taken into police custody. CBS News has reported that “It is difficult to know how many children have been trained in Iraq and Syria, but there have been reports the number in recent months is in the hundreds.”
It’s a tactic the Taliban and other terrorist networks have perfected, recruiting children to kill as they yell, “Allahu Akbar.” PBS has reported as recently as this week that children and teens are being trained as ISIS suicide bombers. “It’s also a record of one particularly disturbing way the group is trying to expand its influence: training children and teenagers to become the next generation of jihadis,” PBS writes.
The children who are being trained are sometimes as young as five years old. This ISIS video is a disturbing picture of what we’re facing on the terrorist front. It shows lines of young children participating in drills and chanting verses from the Quran.
U.S. Government Exists to Protect U.S. Citizens
Given these facts, how can our president continue to allow Syrian refugees into our country, even if they’re mostly women and children (and that is up for debate)? Remember the Boston Marathon bombers? They were refugees too, fleeing the Chechen conflict. They were “vetted” and, just like those who knew the terrorists in France, friends and associates said they never suspected these refugees were radical Islamists.
When Obama mocks those who want to protect our citizens from the bloody hell those innocent people suffered in France, he needs to be reminded of the true face of our enemy. It’s not just a man’s face. It’s a woman’s face. It’s a child’s face. This isn’t xenophobic or uncharitable. It’s reality.
The job of the federal government is not to play Mother Teresa to the world. Its primary job is to protect Americans from harm. If President Obama is not willing to step up and do that job—even when it means denying women and children access to our homeland—then he needs to step aside.