Before news broke last week of the two female suicide bombers in Moscow, Americans had already learned that two U.S. women—known as Jihad Jane and Jihad Jamie—were arrested last month for ties to a terrorist plot against the life of a Swedish cartoonist.
Jamie was later freed, while Jane has pleaded not guilty. Whether their acts were criminal or not, their associations with other jihadists opened a new front in the War on Terror: Western women making connections with terror groups.
In January, the UK Telegraph reported that al Qaeda’s terror cells trained “a group of female suicide bombers to attack Western targets.” It added, “These women may have a non-Arab appearance and may be traveling on Western passports.”
Steve Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, says there’s little doubt al Qaeda wants to expand the demographic of suicide bombers, but said it is unclear how terrorist groups will seek out Western-looking women to convert to the cause.
But certain psychological triggers are a factor when an American girl-next-door turns to female jihad, other experts said.
Robert Spencer, the director of the website Jihad Watch and author of several books on Islam, says that Americans who convert are required to exchange a culture that relishes life for one that relishes death.
“The idea of love for death is something that runs through the world view of the Islamic jihadis,” Spencer said.
He referred to a comment from a jihadist in Afghanistan who said Americans love Pepsi-Cola the way they love death. “It sums up the difference in the mindset,” Spencer said. “Americans do love life, they love living, they love the things of life.”
Spencer says there is a concerted effort in Islam to attract Western women, often by appealing to their frustration at being objectified in today’s Western societies.
Take Jasmine Pinet, the subject of a 2004 Christian Science Monitor story on U.S. Latinas converting to Islam. In the article, Pinet says she’s been treated with greater respect because men aren’t going to come up to her and say, “’Hey mami, how are you?’…They don’t look at you like a sex object.” The article said that “many of the Latina converts say that their belief that women are treated better in Islam was a significant factor in converting.”
Nonie Darwish, author of “Cruel And Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law”, disputes the notion that Islamic “respect” for women is in any way beneficial. Darwish was an Egyptian-born Muslim who converted to Christianity after coming to the United States. She said the way that Muslim societies treat women would be sexual harassment in the West.
“It doesn’t mean ‘respect’ that we’ll get your opinion before we have a second wife,” Darwish said. “That is the respect they mean… you wear your head covered, you don’t leave the house without my permission. And I’ll feed you. I’ll feed you for free, and I’ll have sex with you whenever I want, and if you say no, I can beat you.” She said Islamic law does not require an explanation for beating a wife.
Darwish said women who chose not to cover themselves are viewed as “uncovered meat—they are inviting sexual harassment.” She referred to a case in Australia where a sheik suggested that a group of girls were partly to blame for their rape by Muslim men because of their wardrobe choices.
Darwish identified other reasons that lead American women convert to Islam and make them susceptible to radicalization: They’re broken individuals or they are involved in a romantic relationships with a radical Muslim.
“There are vulnerable individuals in every society [susceptible] to the jihadist propaganda,” Darwish said.
The Washington Post described Jihad Jane as a “ high school dropout” and “married at least twice and, over several years since the mid-1980s, had been arrested in South Texas for writing bad checks and driving while intoxicated.” The Post also reported one of Jihad Jane’s Internet posts in 2007 asked “how to bring an Egyptian boyfriend with whom she had been corresponding for more than a year to the United States for Christmas.”
Darwish said the most vulnerable population for conversion in America are prison inmates, because they’re already angry against the system.
“They are perfect candidates for the jihad,” Darwish said.
Vulnerability also plays into the more complicated issue of conversion and romantic relationships. Syrian-born Wafa Sultan, who lived under Sha’ria law before coming to America in 1989 and who authored the book “A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Radical Islam”, says when American women who lack structure in their lives meet Muslim men, they are romanced and told they will be treated differently. But, Sultan warns, the man will control her life.
Darwish had a similar assessment, saying American women, fed up with being overworked and not being treated well in a dating relationship (and especially those already “insecure” and “a bit lonely”), are often swept off their feet by Muslim men, who promise to take care of them.
“That’s what the women tell me,” Darwish said. “[They] thank their lucky star finding this great guy. And then eventually she gets sucked up in a radical Muslim atmosphere. And it’s up to how strong she becomes.”
The story of Jihad Jamie fits this example. Her mother described her as “insecure” and said she “was lonely and wanted to get someone to love her, ” according to a Fox News article. The mother blamed the Algerian man her daughter married for her involvement with the terrorist plot and she believes her daughter was also influenced by Jihad Jane and Najibullah Zazi, who is pleading guilty to a New York subway bombing plot.
Darwish and Sultan said many of these women have no idea what they’re getting in to when they agree to convert to Islam.
“They think they are converted like when a Catholic converts to Protestant[ism],” Darwish said. “They don’t tell them that the punishment for leaving Islam is death. So you make it look like it’s easy to get in, but they don’t tell them that in all schools of Islamic law — not one exception, they all agree — that a person who becomes a Muslim, if they reject the religion, they must be killed.”
Darwish said that’s why she, along with Sultan and others who are under a death threat for leaving Islam, have formed a group called Former Muslims United.
“We were born into the religion, and we were born in the Middle East. We lived as Muslims, we absorbed the culture, and it took us years and years to get the courage to leave it,” Darwish said. Darwish has received emails from women who left Islam after being forced to wear Islamic clothes and watching the indoctrination of their kids into jihadist ideology and now were concerned for their safety.
Sultan said that women who convert to Islam and remain in Western society aren’t getting the real picture. “My advice to them,” Sultan says, “Go back to any Islamic country of their choice and live only for a few years, and come back and tell us about your life in that country.”
The U.S. Department on State has this caution on its website:
Women considering relocating to Saudi Arabia should be keenly aware that women and children residing in Saudi Arabia as members of a Saudi household (including adult American-citizen women married to Saudi men, adult American-citizen women who are the unmarried daughters of Saudi fathers, and American-citizen boys under the age of 21 who are the sons of Saudi fathers) require the permission of the Saudi male head of their household to leave the country. Married women require their husband’s permission to depart the country, while unmarried women and children require the permission of their father or male guardian.
On February 20, 2008, a new regulation went into effect requiring Saudi men seeking the mandatory permission from their government to marry foreign women to sign a binding document granting irrevocable permission for foreign-born spouses and children of those foreign spouses to travel freely and unhindered in and out of Saudi Arabia. However, this regulation is not retroactive.