Nice Day for a… White Widow

Posted: September 27, 2013 in Current Affairs, History, Politics, Religion, terrorism
Tags: , , , , , ,


On Saturday 21 September 2013, unidentified gunmen attacked Westgate shopping mall, the most upscale mall in Nairobi,[4] Kenya. The attack resulted in at least 67 deaths, and more than 175 people were reportedly wounded in the mass shooting.

The extremist Islamic group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the incident (…)

In the midst of tragedy the press of Kenya and beyond, rather than seek to inform and explain, appear to make the most of the opportunity to maximise sales. “Star Gives Free Obituaries For Westgate Victims” bragged ‘The Star’ newspaper of Nairobi after asking “Was British Woman Among Terrorists?” “Did White Widow Die in Siege?” queried the British ‘Daily Mail’, whilst ‘The Australian’ informed us (hopefully somewhat tongue in cheek from the Subby?) that we were all on a “Global Hunt for ‘White Widow’”.

Samantha Lewthwaite from her school year book.

Not the terrorist-like smile used by ‘The People’ newspaper – but similar.

Searching for a decent strain of marijuana aside, the recent feeding frenzy surrounding the involvement, or otherwise, of British Muslim convert Samantha Lewthwaite – widow of 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsey – in the Kenyan Westgate shopping mall massacre is pretty much par for the course, and is epitomised by the headline in the Kenyan daily, ‘The People’, which pondered, “Is This The Terror MASTERMIND?” featuring as evidence a large photo of Lewthwaite with a broad terrorist-like smile.

Still, I suppose it’s the job of tabloids and their ilk to scandalise and sensationalise regardless of the facts at hand, but I remain somewhat amused when as yet unevidenced claims generate wordage at an academic level providing a feedback loop of legitimacy to such sensationalism. Take this by Alexandra Phelan from the Global Terrorism Research Centre, Monash University, and printed in the much valued Aussie portal, The Conversation;

‘White Widow’, ‘Black Widow’: why do female terrorists perplex us?

The text below an accompanying graphic gives us the gist of the article:

“British woman Samantha Lewthwaite is suspected of being a ringleader in the Kenyan mall terror attacks. But why are we so surprised at the idea of a female terrorist?” 1

(link to full article below & here)

Nice article Alexandra… but wait, hold on? Are we perplexed or surprised at the idea of a female terrorist? Well, no, not really? Not at all, actually.  And why should we be? Some of our greatest heroes and villains throughout history were both female and ‘terrorist’ – the occupation of France springs instantly to mind, and the likes of Ulrike Meinhof and Boudica would, I’m sure, have had a word or two to say on the subject.

Women historically have been prepared to both fight and give up their lives in pursuit of numerous ideas ranging from equality to ideology, through to love and simple vengeance. Armed forces throughout the world now regularly employ women, not just as cooks, cleaners, and prostitutes, but as soldiers, sailors, and pilots on the front line. No, seriously, they do. Really. Truly. Honestly.

Women, when given the opportunity, appear to be able to do anything their male counterparts have historically claimed for themselves. They have successfully ran homes, business’s, charities, NGO’s, nation states and Empires. Some have discovered comets, whilst others have piloted space-ships into the realm of these comets. Some have even learnt to drive cars.

That they have done all this whilst engaging in the popular hobby of banging out billions upon billions upon billions of screaming, mewling, hungry, offspring comes as no surprise, not to myself, at least.

So, should we be surprised or perplexed at the idea of a female terrorist? No, we should not. We should not be surprised at the idea of a female anything. Well, almost anything. Read on:

What is surprising, indeed should be surprising – and this is the real story here – is the suggestion of a female ‘ringleader’ or ‘mastermind’ within the al Shabaab Islamist organisation. Let me re-phrase that to be clear, what is surprising is the suggestion of a female ‘ringleader’ or ‘mastermind’ in any Islamist organisation – terrorist or otherwise. Now there, surely, lies the surprise.

Let’s face it, it would be a bit of a first, wouldn’t it? Indeed one is tempted to inquire as to how exactly this ‘ringleader’ or ‘mastermind’ managed to break through the al Shabaab glass ceiling rather than being used as a mere disposable fire-and-forget explosive?

Did she pop down to HR screaming threats of litigation?

Perhaps al Shabaab have turned a new leaf in their understanding of the fairer sex and have now started to recite passages from The Female Eunuch alongside those of the Qur’an?

Perhaps al Shabaab, a clannish rather than multi-national set-up, have been influenced by the more nuanced al Qaeda and their western Fly-In-Fly-Out Jihadis with their well thumbed copies of ‘Men are from Mars…’?

Possibly, but somehow I doubt it. The ingrained, indeed necessary misogyny of an ideology unable to extract itself from the 7th century, even by its adherents in the most developed of economies, is one that wishes to see the likes of Lewthwaite remain indoors – unless covered and accompanied by a male member of her family.

I could be wrong of course and Lewthwaite’s body may well be found amongst those al Shabaab fighters still lying buried in a Kenyan mall. She may even be found holding an empty, still smoking AK 47 across her chest?

Without wishing to appear too morbid – even at the death of an alleged mass-murderer- it’s an image worth thinking about. It would certainly make a great shot, wouldn’t it? The poor and the misguided amongst Islamist youth would then have a tee-shirt to rival the image of Guevara. They could whisper her name in hushed reverence on street corners, ‘Samantha the Martyr’, they would say, and then relate stories of how she ‘masterminded’ the famous raid on, well, shoppers and their kids, and of how she died amidst a hail of bullets in the groceries & dried goods aisle, her ‘Akky’ blazing till the end.

The image is a propagandists dream, isn’t it? Well, no, not exactly. In fact it’s a bit of a nightmare, and here’s why;

The problem here, for al Shabaab and Islamist organisations generally, is that the new in-demand tee-shirt is hardly ‘on message’, is it?

What could be more off-message for Islamism than a powerful, organised, independent woman, unafraid to bark orders to her male Jihadi underlings. Hardly the iconic role model for the average Muslima in the coming Caliphate, is it?

Before you know it throngs of Islamist women will all be throwing hissy fits and running off to HR to complain about discrimination. Next they’ll want to sit at the front of the mosque and wear little white hats like the men instead of body bags. They’ll want to talk, too. Yes, talk. And organise. And ‘mastermind things’, and ‘ringleader things’, just like the boys do – just like Samantha did…

Phew, I can feel the sweat running down the very neck of Islamism as we speak. Don’t worry boys, for Islamist historians will no doubt ensure that Samantha’s ‘Akky’, this most potent of symbols, will be thoroughly air-brushed away, or at the very least miraculously transform itself into a ‘Dust-Pan & Brush’.

For Islam, the country, (as we say here in Australia) is no place for an Islamist feminist.

Best all round then that no body be found. Islamism can continue to bury its head in the sands of an earlier century, and the western press can continue to regale us with sensationalist stories of secret caves and hydraulic chairs and the stroking of white cats. No, hold on, the White Widow would surely have a black cat ? If only just for contrast, you understand.

Nice day for it.

‘Cue Navy Seal Team Six, you’re Oscar Mike’.

Anvil Springstien.

1 26 September 2013, 12.13pm AEST

‘White Widow’, ‘Black Widow’: why do female terrorists perplex us?:

Alexandra Phelan

Teaching Associate/PhD Candidate at Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University

  1. […] Nice Day for a… White Widow […]

  2. […] Nice Day for a… White Widow […]

  3. […] Nice Day for a… White Widow […]

"Dear Mr Springstien...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s