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Veiled "Bombshells": Women's Participation in Islamist Extremist Organizations

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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Many assume any woman who serves as a terrorist combatant or suicide bomber does so at the behest of a male-dominated hierarchy and not of her own volition. However, this overarching notion appears contradictory given the historical participation of women within liberation movements, uprisings, and terrorism. Faced with what seems to be a growing trend within violent extremist organizations, states, militaries, policy-makers, and academics are confronted with a vital question Are women purely serving as baby factories for future terrorists, as sex slaves, as logistical support, and as sacrificial lambs or, do they have a more active, combatant role In examining the evolving roles of women within Islamist extremist organizations, this thesis concludes that women are not merely innocent bystanders coopted and coerced by male-dominated patriarchal Islamist organizations. Women are increasingly seeking more combatant and more public roles in these organizations and, in so doing, constitute a legitimate threat that must be engaged. Through a review of the prevailing literature concerning womens participation in violence and analysis of the Islamic Resistance Movement, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State, this thesis highlights the crucial and evolving roles that women play within violent Islamist organizations. The author concludes that the more nationalistic an organization becomes, the greater the role women tend to have within it. As such, should organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State establish a nationalist objective, vice their current global jihadist agenda, female participation within these organizations may further evolve beyond purely militant roles and into the realm of politics and leadership. By highlighting the fact that men do not possess a monopoly on violence, the author informs policy-makers and planners of the risks involved in discounting the agency of female participants within these organizations.

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  • Sociology and Law

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