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The Softer Side of Jihad: How Radical Wives Affect Radical Husbands

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Posted on January 15 2010 10:27 am

Wives can be quite persuasive.   I remember the time when my husband told me flat-out I could not get the iPhone.  Sigh.  Two months later, it’s hard to express how much I love that shiny, new device…  I think I need a pink case for it.  Any suggestions?

Now, everyone, I am not saying I can talk him into just anything.  I am saying that living with a man, taking care of him and being the primary voice he hears every day gives us unique influence.  It is a precious thing, and something not to be exploited.  Well, not too often, at least.

When I read Christopher Dickey’s column in Newsweek examining the role wives of jihadis play, I was intrigued.  My impression of women “of the black burka” was not exactly one of feminine prowess or persuasion.  (This is why.)  Dickey unpacks the recent interview and related statements made by Defne Bayrak, the wife of the CIA bomber, and draws an interesting conclusion:

Humam al-Balawi, the 32-year-old Jordanian doctor who blew himself up along with seven CIA employees and a Jordanian handler in Afghanistan on Dec. 30, was always a pretty lonely guy. According to his mother, Shnara Fadel al-Balawi, he had “a social phobia.” She told NEWSWEEK’s Ranya Kadri that he seemed to live his life on the Internet. Whether he focused entirely on jihad there or indulged in other vices, we don’t know [...] He first came across Defne Bayrak in a chat room. An aspiring journalist who was a few months younger than he, she had just recently started wearing the hijab, or head covering, that is a clear political as well as religious statement in modern Turkey.

At first glance, it appears that Dickey is laying the framework for yet another psychological explanation for radical behavior, as opposed to personal culpability.  He’s not.  Rather, he describes a cold mutuality and a wife ardently involved as an Al Qaeda teacher and apologist:

While he was struggling with his medical career, working in different Jordanian hospitals, she was developing hers as a propagandist for violent jihad. Over the last decade, this has become a key role for women who sympathize with Al Qaeda. “There is an army of female organizers, proselytizers, teachers, translators and fund-raisers, who either enlist with their husbands or succeed those who are jailed or killed,” writes American scholar Mia Bloom in a draft of her forthcoming book, Bombshell: Women and Terror. “A significant development in women’s participation in the global Jihad has been the dissemination of radical ideologies on-line. The Internet has afforded Jihadi women … the opportunity to participate in Jihad without compromising their position and inferior status in the society. Articles, communiqués and online chat rooms offer women the space to express their fanatical support.”

Another author and wife of a jihadi husband said:

“It’s not my role to set off bombs—that’s ridiculous,” she told The New York Times in 2008. “I have a weapon. It’s to write. It’s to speak out. That’s my jihad. You can do many things with words. Writing is also a bomb.”

This appears to be the very function which Bayrak played, according to Dickey:

Bayrak seems to have taken precisely that attitude when she was translating books like Bin Laden: The Che Guevara of the East from Arabic into Turkish. And while she makes her husband’s blogging about jihad sound as if it was all his idea all along, you have to wonder if she was reading—and editing—over his shoulder. (emphasis mine)

I do this “reading over the husbands shoulder,” offering copious amounts of spousal opinion.  Granted, this is regarding the minutiae of our daily lives, not, say, the proper way to fasten a bomb to one’s body for maximum efficiency.  For Allah!  For the children!

From now on, I’ll make sure to check my assumptions about subjugated Muslim women at the door and wait for details.  For some, terror isn’t a way of life foisted on unwilling wives; it’s a position of power and, indeed, profoundly dangerous influence.  This is the only “proper” feminist way to view it, no?

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