WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD — DON’T SAY WE DIDN’T WARN YOU!
This past week, a BBC miniseries, Bodyguard, was the talk of the town. The six-part series came to a conclusion with a stunning twist: A mild-mannered character named Nadia Ali revealed herself to be a terrorist mastermind, implicated with her husband in an attempted bombing.
As a result, social media did what as it does best: It exploded (no pun intended) into a widespread chorus of opinions. Overwhelmingly, the Twitterverse came out to protest what they perceived as yet another Muslim stereotype being shoved down our throats.
Certainly, the visceral reaction is understandable. Who wouldn’t hate to see one of their most beloved, mild-mannered character revealed to be a cold, terrorist mastermind? No doubt, the misplaced use of the word “jihadist” put me on edge since it promotes a stereotype that we must make it our mission to fight. It becomes problematic, however, to minimize the role women play in terrorist activities. If we look beyond the semantics for just a moment, we might focus on a problem that security experts have long warned us about: The role of female extremists acting on impulses of their own, rather than due to coercion by male terrorists.
More often than not, female terrorists are not innocent, misguided victims of evil men. They are self-aware agents acting of their own accord. To strip them of their own agency is to do a huge disservice to the fight against individuals capable of such inhumane behavior. tweet
More often than not, female terrorists are not innocent, misguided victims of evil men. They are self-aware agents acting of their own accord. To strip them of their own agency is to do a huge disservice to the fight against individuals capable of such inhumane behavior. We have knowledge of all-female terrorist cells operating of their own desires, one such cell having been imprisoned earlier this year. We are aware of women, such as the White Widow, who romanticize life in Daesh-controlled territories as a method of recruiting women to this vile and tyrannical cause. Research conducted by the Royal United Services Institute For Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) found that some of the reasons women may defect to Daesh territories include a rejection of Western feminism, and the chance to be a part of something “new, exciting, and illicit.”
We know of hundreds of women who travel to Daesh-controlled territories for a myriad of complex reasons, and clearly it’s not just to play the role of a womb to birth future fighters. To ignore the agency of women like the character of Nadia Ali in Bodyguard, to dismiss it as yet another toxic stereotype, overlooks the very real threat of vulnerable women opting to engage their agency through acts of terrorism because they feel a sense of disconnect and disenfranchisement. This is not okay, and whilst I revile the misuse of the term “jihadi” to stoke images of a war waged, I cannot deny that disenfranchised Muslim women are playing a more active role in extremist terrorism. We have to take notice. We have to act. We have to ensure that women at risk of feeling this way have something to relate to beyond people accepting of these horrific acts of terrorism.