While much will be made in the coming months of France’s intelligence failures, the West’s inability to appreciate the role that women play in terror should come under the highest scrutiny. Take the role of women in the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. While the group oppresses many women, many also flock to its ranks. Roughly 10 percent of its Western recruits are female, often lured by their peers through social media and instant messaging. The percentage is much higher in France: An estimated 63 of the 350 French nationals believed to be with the group are women, or just under 20 percent.
This story is both a new one and an old one. Women have long been involved in terror of all stripes, from female neo-Nazis in Europe to Chechen “black widow” suicide bombers.
Indeed, despite stereotypes about their domesticity and passivity ”” the idea that they must always be under men’s influence or tricked into joining ”” women are drawn to groups like the Islamic State by many of the same forces as men: adventure, inequality, alienation and the pull of the cause.