Profound differences highlighted

by | Oct 11, 2013 | Book Reviews

The Smarter Bomb
Women and Children as Suicide Bombers
Anat Berko
Rowman & Littlefield, 2012
196 pages, $45.00
ISBN 978-1-4422-1952-6

After some “light” reading, your reviewer tackled a rather grim subject, one which exposes the exploitation of women and children in the business of terrorism. Anat Berko, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces, holds a Ph.D. in criminology and is a research fellow at a prestigious Israeli institute as well as a visiting professor at George Washington University.

Having spent the past 15 years in Israeli prisons interviewing terrorists, focusing first on male prisoners, but eventually turning her attention to women and children, Berko is arguably the preeminent authority on the subject. One might ask, “What’s the difference? A terrorist is a terrorist.” The difference, the author shows, is profound, reflecting the horrendous disadvantages of women in Muslim society.

Implicit in its title, The Smarter Bomb seeks to answer the question: “Is a woman who carries out a suicide bombing attack a smart bomb or a stupid bomb?” Face to face meetings by the author with Hamas and Islamic leaders reveal broad disagreement as to the propriety of utilizing a woman in any effort outside her home. “Women have no place but in the home, and furthermore are incapable of getting the job done. Moreover, we don’t need them,” say many Palestinian insurgency leaders and scholars. Terror groups, however, exploit women —and children—to achieve their goals.

Paradoxically, instead of fostering admiration for noble self-sacrifice, a female terrorist is suspected of having “made a mistake,” (wink-wink-smirk-smirk); that is, lost her virginity, even if she was raped. Parents in some cases are happy to see their “wayward” daughters blow themselves up rather than bring perpetual shame to the family. Since suicide terrorists work through a system of dispatchers, it is not uncommon for a dispatcher to have sex with a woman to reinforce her resolve to die. For these women, dying is preferable to living.

In some cases, young women who have no intention of ending their life, will take part in terrorist acts such as throwing acid or attempting to stab Israeli soldiers. They feel impelled to end their wretched existence, knowing that prison in Israel is a safe haven where they will be schooled and given respect. “The Jews take better care of us than the Arabs do.” As Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum notes, Palestinians keep their distance from female security prisoners. “She’s a heroine, but I would never let my son or brother marry a woman like that.” Why? Because “if a woman is in jail for a long time she will become a man” (translation: she develops wrong-headed ideas of independence).

How sad is the Arab society’s polarity toward women? “They may be guarded and supervised at home but in a suicide bombing they are left exposed for all to see.”

Because Arab society is weak and disintegrating, it is apparent that beneath the robes and head coverings there is nothing. It may appear that the female terrorist is finally taking control of her life, but that is not really the case. Having crossed societal boundaries, the woman is acting in an expected manner. Women and children are gulled into impulsive acts and are in turn the pathetic victims of Islamic fundamentalism.

Berko, as a frequent visitor to prisons, becomes a person to whom female terrorists turn for guidance and friendship as a non-judgmental listener. As much as her heart goes out to these women, she must exert constant self-discipline to avoid taking on their burdens. In the long run, Berko fears the problem will only become exacerbated with more sophisticated uses of women and children in terrorist roles.

There is a brief but useful glossary of Arabic terms.

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 30 years.