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Terrorists Lack Influences of Women

November 18, 2001|JUDITH F. DAAR | Judith F. Daar is a professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa. and

The face of terror has been imprinted on the American psyche, and that face will probably persist for years.

One cannot help but take note that the faces of terror are all male. Newspapers across the country published images of the 19 hijackers, and later the faces of 22 men suspected of terrorist activities. Osama bin Laden and his followers appear to us as exclusively male figures, an image reinforced by the now well-known misogyny of the Taliban. The angry mobs gathering in Pakistan, the hordes of workers seen bowing for daily prayers, the defiant leaders vowing to withstand all American force--all men.

This observation is not to suggest that all terrorists are men or that men as a gender are inherently evil, but instead to ponder the question: Where have all the women gone? We know that many Afghan women, draped in full burka so as not to offend, escaped to refugee camps. These women seem just as much victims of the September attacks as their American counterparts who lost their husbands and brothers, fathers and sons. But while American men were lost to an evil they could have never anticipated, the terrorists and their supporters seemed to surrender themselves to a power that forsakes all human relationships.

As a mother of four boys, I was struck, as I often am when I witness people committing heinous acts, by the simple thought, "What would your mother think?" Surely these men had mothers and sisters, some had wives and children, perhaps even daughters. How can it be that the women in their lives were utterly powerless to influence the decisions they made, the wholly unfeminine path toward destruction that they willingly walked?

We may find solace in the conclusion that these men were simply not human, a breed separate from the brotherhood of people who occupy our world. But nothing could be further from the truth. These men were as human as every baby born on Earth, yet they lack all symptoms of humanity. Not only did they purposefully and systematically wreak death on themselves and the innocent thousands, they seem to shun, even despise, the human bonding that fuels our desire to hold life dear. Without a lifetime connection to the gender that is at once praised and vilified for its nurturing capacity, these men sought joy in the promise of womanly embrace in the hereafter, a promise laden with images of myriad virgins awaiting them.

The inability of women under the Taliban to influence the men in their lives is hardly surprising given the extreme repression they endured.

A woman prohibited from working or gaining an education, stoned in public for not wearing proper attire, who must wear silent shoes so as to never be heard, will never have the political or moral authority to instill in her husband or sons the values of compassion and attachment, qualities essential to our humanity.

In a free society where equal opportunity is at least a contemplated goal, women inevitably shape the lives of men through their roles as leaders, partners, wives and caretakers. We may inspire, teach, infuriate and even nag, but we can bring out the best in our men.

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