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Women who strike terror

Let's take a walk around some of the recent news stories relating to women, who are dishing it out. Once they have overcome this discrimination, their path to success lies in them being more committed, more dedicated to their cause and ideology than their male colleagues and could also make them more ruthless, says Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta in An International Diary.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2004 13:07 IST

"Dr Germ", sounds like something out of a Marvel Comic book, an image of an evil man with red eyes and bubbling vat's of green glop, clad in a white doctor's coat, battling Spiderman, Iron Man or Captain America. In a rather interesting turnaround, the cartoon has come to life.

President Saddam Hussein's biological warfare programme head, Dr Rihab Taha, was given the title "Dr Germ" by UN Inspectors. Let's take a walk around some of the recent news stories relating to women, who are dishing it out.

Dr Taha has a doctorate in plant pathogens, or plant diseases from the UK and was responsible for a military research factory, which was pumping out thousands of litres of anthrax and other biological weapons. She headed the Iraqi Biological Weapons Program for 7 years. In a recent BBC Panorama Interview, she said that she wasn't ashamed of what she did, as defending a country calls for such measures.

She claimed that the biological weapons had not been weaponised. Ummm, taking ONE example, making 19,000 litres of botulinum toxin, a food poison that swells the tongue and suffocates its victim, is not weaponising it? But, of course! She was interviewed by the UN Inspectors recently and was very non-committal, as her interview was attended by her "minders". BBC Panorama also disclosed an unsubstantiated report in a recent Kurdish newspaper, that she had been murdered, to stop her confessing.

Talking about biology, another lady, Asiya Andrabi, is a graduate in bio-chemistry and bacteriology and leads the only women's militant organisation, Dukhtaran-e Millat (DEM - Daughters of the Ummah), which has been banned by the Indian Government, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The DEM originally started as a social organisation, aiming at helping Kashmiri women to get the rights granted in Islam. Which Islam was never made clear, a fact that emerged later on.

Initially, she fought for dowry prevention, against pornography, reserved seating for women in buses, but the religious direction of the group gradually changed to a more austere version of Islam.

Then DEM warned Kashmiri women not to appear outside their homes without a burkha and its cadre's have been accused of throwing paint and acid on un-veiled women. This escalated into a proper campaign, with Andrabi calling it as the "beginning of a comprehensive social reform movement based on true Islamic thought". Amongst her other demands, one was for women to quit their jobs and stay at home. Having taken a vow to only marry a Mujahid, she did and has told her husband to take more wives to have more children for the Jihad.

Following on the footsteps of Leila Khaled, one of the most famous terrorists in the 1970's, Wafa Idrees, achieved "martyrdom", when she became one of the female suicide bombers in Israel, killing an 81 year old man and injuring many others. She was a student of the Al-Najah University in the West Bank, a volunteer first-aider and stretcher bearer with the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Her actions were attributed to varied reasons, some claim it was her sudden increased interest in religion, or the fact that she had been shot by a rubber bullet some months back, or her experiences with the Red Crescent or simply depression. One friend said that she was very enthusiastic in following news of other suicide bombers.

Suicide bombing is no stranger to the South Asian Theater, with Rajiv Gandhi being assassinated by Dhanu, a LTTE member, who turned herself into a human bomb through a well planned and crafted conspiracy. It is also one of the few cases of documented legal investigations of such a suicide bombing in the public record with sentences, some in absentia, handed out to the perpetrators and supporters of this act.

LTTE is, of course, famous for its cadre's wearing cyanide capsules and its creed of never letting themselves be captured alive. Rajiv Gandhi was not the only notable targeted by LTTE suicide bombers.

A female suicide bomber wounded Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and killed at least 15 people in 1999. LTTE cadres have been reported to clutch explosive material and charge at advancing Sri Lankan troops / vehicles and detonate it in close proximity.

Then there is the recent news-story about the Al-Qaeda Chick. US Intelligence officers suspect that Dr Aafia Siddiqui may have helped in the logistical planning of Al-Qaeda operations. Dr. Siqqiqui, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, has a doctorate in neurological science. She is now allegedly in FBI custody in Pakistan.

While across the border, a fascinating story of the Angel of Death in the recent Afghanistan action has emerged in Robin Moore's new book "The Hunt for Bin Laden". He mentions a US Air Force Captain, a female AC-130 Spectre gun ship's "weapons release officer".

The Spectre gunship is one of the most lethal ground attack airplanes in the US Air Force Inventory. General Dostum, the Northern Alliance Commander, was amazed when he heard of her and spoke with her. Then the good General spoke in Dari with his Taliban counterparts and announced, "The Americans have so little respect for you, that they have sent their women to fight you".

This was echoed in English by the Captain and she apparently added that she had heard how the Taliban treated women and it was "payback time". Needless to say, this was an intolerable insult to the Taliban and can be considered as a severe psychological blow.

She started to be called "the Angel of Death" and radio announcements would be made in Dari to the Taliban before the Spectre would be let loose with its blinding array of weaponry. The Spectre is one of the meanest killing machines on the battlefront, with a 25mm Gatling gun, which can fire up to 1,800 rounds per minute, and 40mm and 105mm cannons. In action, it looks like a solid stream of fire emerging from the left side of the aircraft and is extremely destructive.

In one instance, General Dostum got Mohammed Fazal, the Taliban Chief of Staff, to surrender just by letting him hear the US Captain's voice over the radio. He threatened that he had the Angel of Death overhead with the Death Ray (the laser targeting and guidance system). The combination of a "female" combatant, who is dealing out tremendous punishment, seems to be too much for the Taliban to handle.

The military shock, not-withstanding the fact that it was a female, that too a western woman, not in chador (gasp), dealing out death and destruction would have been a bigger shock.

Women are frequently more committed to their causes and ideologies, they have to struggle more against discrimination and have to try harder at proving or carving a niche for themselves. Women have to deal with family, educational, economic and social discrimination.

Once they have overcome this discrimination, their path to success lies in them being more committed, more dedicated to their cause and ideology than their male colleagues and could also make them more ruthless.

On the other hand, the public at large is usually shocked to hear instances of female suicide bombing or about female Dr. Germs of this world. The image of women as the caring, loving and nurturing woman, clashes badly with images such as the above. Truly, the ideologically driven female of the human species is more dangerous than the male.

All this to be taken with a grain of salt!

(Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta, currently working on a doctorate at Kings College in International Relations and Terrorism, also holds a Doctorate in Finance and Artificial Intelligence from Manchester Business School. He works in the City of London in various capacities in the Banking Sector. He also lectures at several British Universities.)

First Published: Jan 06, 2004 11:57 IST