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Kvinnelige islamister og/eller kvinnelig deltagelse i jihad fremstår muligens som noe av en selvmotsigelse, men det er i så fall en feilaktig og farlig naiv forestilling, skriver sosiolog Jolande Withuis i Sign and sight.

I Nederland er man blitt oppmerksom på at et økende antall kvinner engasjerer seg i islamistiske terroristnettverk. Withuis artikkel bygger på undersøkelser rundt Hofstadgruppen, og intervjuer av flere marokkanske kvinner som var/er involvert i det ekstremistiske miljøet:

The network is said to have links to networks in Spain and Belgium. Among their contacts is Abdeladim Akoudad, also known as Naoufel, one of the suspects of the Casablanca Attacks. The group is influenced by the ideology of Takfir wal-Hijra. Redouan al-Issar, also known as «The Syrian» is the suspected spiritual leader of the group. Most media attention is attracted by Mohammed Bouyeri, convicted to a life sentence for murdering Dutch film director Theo van Gogh and by Samir Azzouz, suspected of planning terrorist attacks on the Dutch parliament and several strategic targets such as the national airport and a nuclear reactor. The group is also suspected of planning to kill several members of government and parliament.

I intervjuene kom det frem at Hofstad-kvinnene regelmessig deltok på møter hvor de mannlige medlemmene informerte dem om radikal islam, og at de bidro aktivt til å fremme og spre den radikale takfir-ideologien. De kvinnelige medlemmene oversatte i tillegg bøker og tekster, og hadde en fremtredende rolle i «dawa» (konvertering eller rekruttering av medlemmer) og den øvrige radikaliseringen av unge muslimer.

Til tross for at det er sjeldent at kvinner utfører terrorhandlinger eller frivillig bidrar til egen undertrykkelse, er fenomenet langt fra nytt. Underkastelse og lidelse har ofte vist seg å være et område der kvinner kan konkurrere med menn i et samfunn som ellers ekskluderer kvinner fra politikk eller der kvinner ikke er gitt andre valg enn å innta den tradisjonelle rollen som hustru og mor.

Regardless of how different their respective cultures were, politics was traditionally the domain of men in all of the cultures. Women were excluded and as they were also considered to have no interest in politics, they had to prove, more than their male counterparts, their commitment and loyalty to the cause. More than that: to be allowed to participate at all, they also had to prove their courage, loyalty and competence to those sceptical and sexist brothers-in-arms, and refute the expectation that they would probably desert or fail. And there you have it: the pathway to taking it one step further.

Kvinnelig politisk og religiøs ekstremisme har en lang tradisjon, blant annen innen den katolske kirke. Kirken glorifiserte religiøs lidelse, og kvinner noterer seg for hele 85 prosent av disse lidelseshistoriene. Withuis nevner den kanoniserte Lidwina av Schiedam (1380-1433), hvis sykdom og hysteriske symptomer ble fremhevet av kirken som et eksempel for andre katolikker. Helgenen opplevde seg selv som det samme, og antydet at hennes lidelser fungerte som avlat for menneskehetens synder.

In this genre of spirituality, suffering is an achievement: the more humble, the more superior. The manipulative Lidwina, a typical case of gain through suffering, managed to acquire considerable influence on the priests in her environment through her extreme fate. Her illness brought her fame at a time when it was impossible for women to achieve fame or even have a meaningful life through work, science or art. Plus she also escaped an arranged marriage. When an arranged marriage loomed shortly before she went skating, she prayed to God for an illness. Get married, have children and die in childbirth – this was the fate of women. Remaining unwed meant poverty. And so Lidwien found the one door to a public existence that was open to her gender: lying down, suffering, canonization.

Det er interessant og alarmerende at dette mønsteret historisk sett ikke bare er identifisert blant nonner som påførte seg selv hardere fysisk avstraffelse enn det kirken i sin tid anbefalte, men også blant venstreorienterte og sekulære kvinner. Riktignok antok deres selvpålagte restriksjoner andre former enn fysisk smerte, men for alle disse kvinnene kolliderte behovet for å fylle en politisk rolle med behovet for å oppføre seg slik samfunnet forventet av «gode» kvinner. Konflikten mellom ønsket om en posisjon i samfunnet utover den tradisjonelle kvinnerollen ble løst ved at de aktuelle kvinnene tok seg ekstra tunge byrder og dedikerte seg til det ytterliggående for Saken.

Slike historier vitner om at disse kvinnene utviklet deres politiske engasjement I en kontekst der deres deltagelse brøt med samfunnets tradisjonelle normer for femininitet. Og det er her vi i henhold til Withuis undersøkelser kan finne årsaken til at muslimske kvinner blir islamister og endog begår eller oppfordrer til terror i islams navn – tilsynelatende frivillig, men uten mulighet til å frigjøre seg fra den tradisjonelle kvinnerollen, konkurrerer de med mennene i ekstrem underkastelse og radikalisering:

The ideal Muslim woman is a mother who bears many sons. The lowest of the low in Muslim country are divorced women, followed closely by the almost equally despised unwed women. It is clear that the traditional role model does not offer the life these girls want, but they are also not able to get away from the obligation or the pressure to be feminine as defined by their culture, environment or faith. They do not want to be looked down on as women. They accept the imposed division of mankind into two unequal, totally different types, but they still want another kind of life than the one traditionally allotted to their gender. They display modern and self-conscious behaviour, and feel the desire to be of significance in a religious community that has always been the domain of men. Cloaked in all-covering clothing, they roam the Internet looking for texts that give women the right to join the jihad.

Moreover, the nomadic existence of the «professional revolutionary» was further from regular female life than from male life. They had to give up more, which made it more difficult for them to retrace their steps. The credo «Nothing left to lose» fosters fatalism, despair and indifference regarding oneself and others – in other words: radicalization.

And what about the radical Muslimas? Are we to assume that they radicalize more readily than their religious brothers? Are women more inclined towards desperado behaviour?

We should therefore not look for this tendency towards suffering or sacrifice in a «female nature», but rather in the awkward position of women in society. The influence that Lidwina, for example, achieved on church life, was unattainable by other, less destructive pathways.

Blandingen av islamistisk sektarianisme og kjønnsdiskriminering er eksplosiv. For å delta i jihad på lik linje med mennene, må kvinnene kvitte seg med den følsomheten som er en del av «arbeidsbeskrivelsen» for kvinner. For å gjøre opp for å ønske noe de tradisjonelt ikke burde ønske og bli ansett som likeverdige vil islamistiske kvinner i større grad enn mennene underkaste seg, utvise lydighet og lojalitet til den radikale gruppen de er en del av. Dette innebærer ikke sjelden å frivillig underordne seg de mest konservative tolkningene av islam, inkludert burka og polygami. Å tilsynlatende velge den ekstreme undertrykkelsen frivillig gir kvinnene en følelse av likeverd med mennene og en viss overlegenhet overfor de kvinnene som åpenbart ikke velger selv.

This line of reasoning also explains why these women lacked the weakness and passivity commonly ascribed to their gender. Their «strong» behaviour expresses a compromise, a way of reconciling two identities that were in conflict from society’s point of view: traditional femaleness versus a purpose in public life. This self-destructive form of commitment is an alibi to escape the «feminine» quality of passivity. In this way women have created an escape route from their second-class position through martyrdom. Subordination, sacrifice, and zealousness have often been the way for women in political and social movements to be allowed to join in with the men. As inequality between the sexes diminishes, women will have less reason to manifest themselves as martyrs.

In my opinion the analysis outlined above is also relevant to the women of, for example, the Hofstad group. Furthermore the sociological perspective helps us avoid the dilemma of whether Muslim radicalism is a form of emancipation or the opposite? Groen and Kranenberg also struggle with this question. I agree with Belgian journalist and terrorism expert Hind Fraihi, who in a television debate about their book characterized Muslima fundamentalism as «cynical feminism». Cynical because it is just an illusion of equality of women who are actually extremely submissive. As this behaviour is their choice, and at first sight not to their dissatisfaction, those who try to understand them are caught in a fruitless round of «yes they are! no they aren’t!»: are these emancipated women or victims?

According to the Koran or the cultural traditions derived from it, the desires and ambitions of these girls are inappropriate. But they have no desire for what is appropriate. They also run the risk of being viewed as unfeminine in other ways: they are often smarter, more integrated and more competent than their husbands and the young men in the group. They must compensate or make up for this, and there are different ways to do so, for example by utilizing their talents not for the benefit of their own personal careers and autonomy, but for the cause

I følge den nederlandske sosiologen er muslimske kvinner som finner islamismen attraktiv oftest i tjueårene, har utdannelse, men føler seg ekskludert av det omgivende samfunn og gir derfor islam en dominant rolle i sin identitet. Radikal islam tilbyr disse kvinnene en total identitet, i stedet for familiens og storsamfunnets krav om å fylle forskjellige roller. Som regel blir de sett på som for radikale av sitt nærmiljø, spesielt av egen familie, som imidlertid får problemer med å protestere eller intervenere fordi radikaliseringen angivelig er religiøs:

It is a certainty that the radical Muslimas become alienated not only from Dutch society, but also from their own environment. They feel that their families do not live according to «pure Islam» and confuse faith with Moroccan culture and tradition. Family members on the other hand are not happy with a daughter who is hidden inside a burka, whose husband refuses to sit down to dinner at the same table as her mother. The «compromise» I outline is effective not only with regard to their husbands and religious brothers, but also with regard to the parental environment. Even though the girls are doing something that is undesirable, the transgression is in line with the parental religious beliefs. Their godliness knows no bounds, so how can their parents possibly object?

Modern life is characterized by people fulfilling different roles. Sects and radical beliefs, on the other hand, demand total dedication. Their faith offers radical Muslimas a total identity that is more important than anything else and that is not limited to particular hours or particular occasions. It requires effort and suffering, but at the same time provides satisfaction and peace of mind. Islamic rules that are bothersome or difficult – having to cover oneself, not being allowed to eat many things – become, if you manage to live up to them, sources of self-respect. It is like the anorexic who is satisfied when she manages to go on starving herself, even when it harms her health. So these women can be obsessively engaged in finding out which ingredients are «haram» or «halal», which also fills their days and therefore yields a comfortable feeling of a meaningful life.

Kvinner og menn innenfor de aktuelle miljøene inngår regelmessig giftermål med hverandre, i den hensikt å gjøre seksuell omgang mulig. Ekteskapene er ikke sanksjonert av kontrahentenes familier og er følgelig ansett som promiskuøst. Også dette er et brudd på tradisjonen, noe som gjør det svært vanskelig for de radikaliserte kvinnene å returnere til sin familie eller nærmiljøet dersom de skulle ombestemme seg med hensyn til sitt valgte engasjement. Det gjør dem enda mer avhengig av miljøet de tilhører og sine ektemenn innen samme. Kvinnelige islamister gir gjerne offentlig uttrykk for at de godtar sine ektemenns rett til å ha flere koner – utad og seg i mellom later de som om de ikke har noen motforestillinger mot at ektemannen benytter seg av denne rettigheten. Eventuell personlig lidelse i en slik forbindelse blir likevel belønnet; på tross av den klare underordningen blant egne menn er de høyt plassert på rangstigen i forhold til øvrige grupper i samfunnet. Det er derfor ikke uvanlig at islamistiske kvinner stadig hevder at den ekstreme underkastelsen egentlig er kvinnefrigjøring, noe de utelukkende baserer på at de selv har valgt seg inn i det aktuelle miljøet:

Superiority is the sweet reward that places the radical women above not only the non-believers, but also their families who lead less extreme lives. Above their uneducated or even illiterate mothers, for example, who are «respected» but who are actually helpless and definitely not able to address Allah or study the holy Koran. Or above their fathers, who command no respect in matters relating to the faith or in their social position. They think they have chosen their own submissive position, which implies a higher state of existence. To less religious or non-believing females these Muslimas will stubbornly maintain that their subservience to their husbands is not subservience to these men, but rather to their own convictions, and it is «therefore» a form of emancipation.

Den frivillige deltagelsen i egen undertrykkelse gir i tillegg grunnlag for en viss makt overfor eventuelle mindre radikale ektemenn; han kan kritiseres uten at kvinnene behøver å bekymre seg over irettesettelser. Blant radikale kvinner er ydmykelse av egne menn en form for selskapslek, hvilket også gir en følelse av at de er frigjorte fra den tradisjonelle kvinnerollen.

At the same time the women take every opportunity to humiliate their husbands if they are less radical or not decisive enough. The fact that the rule of separate male and female domains makes them a relatively steady group will sometimes turn this competing with and humiliating of the men into a party game for girls. Knowing Arabic and the holy Koran enables many of them to make contact with Allah directly (rather than through a man), which is an innovation that preserves their illusion of emancipation. At the same time this illusion stimulates their radicalization and isolation, because it is an emancipation that consists of obsessively studying the «pure» doctrine (which still comes to them through men).

Finally, these women, like their radical predecessors, will be inclined or feel compelled to challenge the male prejudice that they are too weak, frightened and ignorant, by taking their religious fight further than they perhaps want to. Because they must prove their equality (in decisiveness and religious conviction) as well as their subordination (as a gender), I see a risk that they will be willing to carry out gruesome assignments. Their ambiguous situation makes them vulnerable to recruitment.

The women around the Hofstad group display a mixture of assertiveness and sectarianism. Sect and gender aspects meet in the one thing every sect focuses on: living according to the doctrine and purification of the group. Here also, rivalry with and submission to the men go together perfectly.

Muslimsk fundamentalisme er i bunn og grunn en kjønnsfundamentalisme, skriver Jolande Withuis, og kvinnelige islamisters deltagelse er spesielt kompleks fordi fundamentalismen i utgangspunktet fokuserer på å bevare patriarkatets makt. Samtidig ønsker mange radikaliserte muslimske kvinner å bruke patriarkatet til å frigjøre seg selv fra den tradisjonelle kvinnerollen det samme patriarkatet har tildelt dem, og er derfor villige til å involvere seg i islamistiske bevegelser og om nødvendig utføre terroristiske handlinger for å oppnå sin personlige frigjøring.

Underkastelse forkledd som kvinnefrigjøring, eller enda mer alvorlig; kvinnefrigjøring som krever underkastelse kan være en særdeles farlig kombinasjon.

Sign and Sight – Jolande Withuis: Suffer, fight, become a saint