We Need to Think Harder About Terrorism and Gender. ISIS Already Is.

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Media Outlet: Vox

Heather Hurlburt and Jacqueline O'Neill wrote for Vox's The Big Idea about how ISIS and other extremist groups exploit gender dynamics: 

Was the Manchester attack explicitly an attack on girls and women — on female culture? The apparently ISIS-inspired bombing, at a concert by Ariana Grande, whose fans are disproportionately young and female, has inspired heated argument about the roles gender and sexism play in terrorism. For some, it was an explicit salvo against women’s autonomy and the value of feminine culture. Conservatives fired back that this line of commentary represented just another example of so-called Western feminists making it all about them. (Men died in the attack, too!)

Another picture emerges, though, if you bypass the culture wars and speak to scholars who focus on terrorism, or to members of communities most affected by terrorism: It's clear to them that extremist groups bend gender dynamics to their advantage in sophisticated ways. Too often, the topic of gender, as it relates to terrorism, is treated as superfluous — a nice-to-have extra. It’s cultural analysis that you might indulge in your free time, perhaps, but, in the end, a distraction from the hard-headed work of combating terrorism. But our adversaries are exploiting gender dynamics in very sophisticated ways, and counterterrorism needs to catch up.

Author:

Heather Hurlburt is director of the New Models of Policy Change initiative at New America's Political Reform program.