International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe
Chapter 26: Female suicide bombing
This chapter was originally supposed to be titled “Female suicide terrorism.” But should we feminize a complex tactic of political violence just because women have become visible in it, and generalize it as illegitimate in the first place? I suggest we speak of women suicide bombers and female suicide bombing instead and carefully distinguish terms and concepts in what is an ideologically charged debate. Similar to “suicide terrorism,” which has turned into a dynamic object of knowledge and privileged signifier within terrorism studies and beyond, the notion of female suicide bombing suggests that there is a specific phenomenon which we can grasp by this term, independently of the specific circumstances of their appearance. Moreover, the terms attack/bombing/operation, on the one hand, and terrorism, on the other, are frequently conflated both in politics and in research. The very space in between these notions, however, remains oddly open to a most delicate key question of international relations (IR): which political violence is legitimate and which is not? When it comes to speaking and writing about women who intentionally cause their own and others’ death in the context of a violent political conflict, it seems that to some extent the political confrontations including suicide attacks correspond with the discursive contentions in the media and in scholarship. To put it in another way, the issue is a perfect example of how deeply political and epistemic violence are entangled.
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