“This is not a suicide bombing because I am desperate and want to end my life. But this suicide bombing is to achieve the pleasure of Allah and get the virtue of jihad fi sabilillah.This is the path of strangers. I don’t feel insulted to be a stranger. I’m proud to be this stranger.”
The quote above was a statement by Dian Yulia Novi in an interview at a television station in 2016. Dian was the first female suicide bomber to be arrested by the police. Dian, who was 28 years old at the time, was arrested for intending to detonate a high-powered pot bomb at the State Palace (Istana Negara) on December 11, 2016. Dian is a female migrant worker in Taiwan who spends her spare time browsing Islamic websites and social media. During her exploration, she made friends with ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) sympathizers on Facebook. Dian’s determination to carry out a suicide mission was motivated by the situation of her father who was very ill and she thought that the only way to save him from God punishment was to sacrifice herself as a martyr. For her, a martyr can save herself and her family from the wrath of Allah (IPAC, 2017).
Apart from Dian, there are several rows of names of other women involved in terrorism cases. In October and July 2016, Tini Susanti Kaduku and Jumaitun alias Ummi Delima were arrested as armed combatants with their husbands at the East Indonesia Mujahidin/Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT). There was also a bombing case at the Surabaya church in 2018 which was carried out by a family, a wife named Puji Kuswati (43 years old) and their children. Then in early 2021 there was YSF (26 years old) a wife who participated in carrying out a suicide bombing with her husband at the Makassar Cathedral church, South Sulawesi. YSF and her husband are known to be affiliated with the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) network. There is also ZA (25 years old) who carried out an attack at the National Police Headquarters in March 2021 and was later shot dead by members of the police. Police findings state that ZA has an Instagram which contains ISIS flags with jihadist narratives (bbc.com, 2021).
In the IPAC research (2017), it is stated that there are four Indonesian female extremist groups that have emerged. First, it consists of Indonesian migrant workers overseas in East Asia and the Middle East who are more confident, international minded, have good English or Arabic skills and good computer skills. Second, it consists of Indonesian women who have joined ISIS in Syria as part of a family unit. In some cases, women are encouraging families to join, attracted by ISIS videos or determined to raise their children under Islamic law. Third, women who were deported. They are women who tried to cross the Turkish border to join their husbands or other family members or who came in family units but were arrested and deported by Turkish authorities. In many cases they play an active economic role in the community prior to departure. Fourth, female combatants from MIT in Poso. The wives of three MIT leaders are trained to use firearms and explosives as a survival strategy. The involvement of the wives signifies the participation of women in future training.
The involvement of Indonesian women in extremist groups is not a new thing. In Indonesia, there are three major waves of violent extremism inspired by religion. There are Darul Islam (DI) which first appeared in 1948 and was re-launched in 1973, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) which officially separated from DI in 1993, and groups inspired by the Islamic State. In this case, the role of women has gradually developed in line with the pattern of involvement. The presence of mujahideen like Sally Jones aka Ummu Husain al-Britani gave inspiration and justification for Indonesian women to rise up and be active in ISIS (Nuraniya, 2018). However, the role of women in extremist groups has a gender dimension that needs to be explored further.
Position and Role of Women in Extremist Groups
Extremists from the Darul Islam (DI) movement only began to recruit women more systematically in the early 1980s. Initially, DI recruited exclusively men specifically for armed fighting, but the Iranian Revolution in 1979 ensured that many female student activists could play a role. (IPAC, 2017). DI believes that the Islamic revolution must start from the unitary family, by instilling Islamic values from an early age, then Islamizing the community, and finally the state. Therefore, the role of women as mothers and educators is very important in the DI Islamization project. DI has even formed a women’s missionary wing that focuses on women’s recruitment and education (tarbiyah) (Nuraniya, 2018).
For DI, the role of women is very central because the family cannot be transformed unless the women are pious and knowledgeable. A pious woman is defined as a person who obeys the Shari’a (including veiling) and raises children to become God’s future soldiers. DI’s indoctrination program against women was intensified in the early 1980s with two main agendas, namely (1) “jilbabisasi” or persuading more women to wear the hijab; (2) the establishment of a special women’s da’wah group (IPAC, 2017).
In 1992 DI began to split over ideology, when its leaders (Sungkar) adopted salafi jihadism. In 1993, Sungkar and his followers disbanded and founded Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). JI enforces a strict dress code. Women wear longer headscarves and many even wear the veil. Meanwhile, JI has its own definition regarding the role of women, which is limited to domestic/household work. However, women can still teach in Islamic boarding schools or special women’s study groups. Inside JI, women can become members but only men can take the oath of allegiance (bai’at) and men have responsibilities over their wives (IPAC, 2017). JI also prohibits male members from sharing jihad issues with their wives or female relatives, because women are considered weak, gossipy, and easily intimidated. (Nuraniyah, 2018).
An important document regarding the role of women for JI members refers to the “Buku Pegangan Kewanitaan” or “Women’s Handbook” produced by the Al-Mukmin Islamic Boarding School in Ngruki, Solo. The book mentioned three main roles of women in life, namely (1) as a daughter who must obey her father; (2) as a wife who must obey her husband; (3) as a mother who is responsible for the welfare and education of her children (IPAC, 2017).
Then in the early 2000s, JI supporters began setting up online forums modeled on Al Qaeda. The forum provides a new and safe space for women activists. The existence of social media then gives way to a new generation of female recruits who come from families that do not have a previous jihad tradition (Nuraniya, 2018).
Between 2002 and 2016, the role of women was seen to be more active. Some of the roles they perform are as couriers, carrying messages, documents, mobile phones or cash for their imprisoned spouses or relatives, and recording speeches or written documents as needed. In its development, Indonesian women have a strong economic role. Because in jihad families, men move frequently and don’t always have a stable source of income. Therefore, women generally work as small traders, teachers or herbal therapists from door to door (IPAC, 2017).
But on the other hand, women in the context of terrorism are victims. Mulia (2019) reveals that women are victims of conditions created by patriarchal power elites. Some of them are victims of the ideology of their husbands or families, victims of religious indoctrination that do not take sides with humanity, victims of stigmatization from society, victims of the media, and also victims of the excesses of conflict. Even women are also recruited through marriage, being brainwashed by their husbands in a planned way to instill extremist ideology.
However, the role of women in terrorism cannot be seen in the binary lens of femininity and masculinity. Although women are prohibited from fighting and are focused on working in the domestic sphere, women still have the power to make adjustments to the jihadist gender rules. Nuraniyah (2018) found that the subordination of women in jihad organizations is not absolute, but can be negotiated after joining. This finding can be a new lens in understanding women’s agency in the context of terrorism.