A former lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces visited Binghamton University to take students into the minds of suicide bombers.
Anat Berko, a lecturer at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, spoke Monday night about understanding how and why suicide bombers engage in such violent activity.
“I spent 20 years in high-security prisons speaking with members of Hamas, Fatah and Islamic jihadists. Imagine the Israeli version of Guantanamo Bay, but probably a bit nicer,” she said.
The focus of her talk was the role of women and adolescents in Islamic terror attacks and the mental abuse that leads many of these people to try and take their own lives.
“Today we see a wave of female and children bombers. There have been over 50 female suicide bombers in just Iraq,” she said.
She described how many female terrorists had been sexually assaulted as young women or children.
“Many times these girls are sexually abused,” she said. “And if they commit a ‘mistake’ or are involved with a man they are ruined. But for the man it is always okay.”
Berko went on to describe the double standards in jihadist organizations.
“After a woman blows herself up, she is not really a hero. Everyone wonders what was wrong with her. Nobody says she gets 72 virgin men in heaven,” she said. “When a woman blows herself up, men argue that she reveals too much flesh.”
Berko illustrated her arguments with quotes from prisoners she had interviewed.
“I object that women will go and blow themselves up,” said Sheikh Abu Ter, vice prime minister of Hamas. “It’s crossing the red line.”
Berko also described the scope of child involvement in terrorist attacks.
“There are instances of recruiters waiting for children right out of school. They would just go after students like drug dealers,” she said. “I spoke with a 15-year-old boy in prison, and you could tell he had been beaten and abused.”
Yet when asked if terrorist leaders were often willing to sacrifice their own children, Berko answered bluntly.
“No. What do you think?” she said. “They like to abuse the children of others, not their own.”
Though she sympathized with the background many suicide bombers grew up in, Berko was critical of jihadist culture.
“There is [an] omnipotent feeling bombers have that they can decide who lives and who dies,” she said. “But this causes severe damage to the Muslim world, not the West.”
Many of the nearly 100 students in the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center multipurpose rooms said they felt shocked and overwhelmed after the presentation.
“It made me really sad. I didn’t realize how involved women were in this and how terrible some of their lives were. It makes me want to do something, but I can’t think of what,” said Phoebe O’Connor, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law.
Other students said the presentation gave them new perspective.
“I found this event amazing. Very sad, but amazing,” said Jacob Sneider, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “It humanizes some of the terrorists. It doesn’t excuse what they do, but you understand them better.”
Justin Hayet, an organizer from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and a sophomore majoring in political science, said that Berko helped bring a balanced view of Middle Eastern affairs to BU.
“The presentation went well and dealt with dense and intense topics,” he said. “It is important for campus events to have unbiased truth. If there is a presenter that accurately showcases Israel in an accurate positive or negative light we want to show that. Today we had a variety of different clubs co-sponsor this event and a lot of different people showed up.”
The event was co-sponsored by BUZO (Binghamton University Zionist Organization), StandWithUs, Bearcats for Israel and Dorm Room Diplomacy.