The Black Widows of Chechnya: Overview and Motivation Essay

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The decades' old Chechen conflict has not received much media coverage in the West; however, there has been one aspect of this struggle which has been reported upon: female suicide bombers, known as “Black Widows”. Various sources attribute their actions to being victims who suffered traumatic loss of loved ones, brainwashing by Islamist zealots, being rape and/or being drugged. In my paper, I sought to learn more about the motivations of these women to see if there is more behind than what I perceived to be stereotypical reasons for their actions offered in the media. I discovered that their reality and motivation is complex, based on past and recent history of Chechnya and the culture of indigenous Chechen society.
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The Russian response led to a resumption of hostilities, in which Russian forces went on a scorched earth campaign to crush the Chechen forces. As a result, the separatists changed their tactic from the first Russo-Chechen war, and turned more towards guerilla warfare and terror attacks. (18) The decade old conflict has seen sustained and endemic violence, human rights abuses, criminality and poverty. The human toll has left 200,000 dead, including 35,000 children. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees lists approximately 350,000 Chechens as displaced. Nearly half of Chechnya’s pre-war population is either dead or displaced. (9).
In addition to the change in tactics, the second conflict split the insurgents between secular nationalist Sufi Muslims and a new force, Salafists, who embraced a more radicalized version of Islam, Wahhabism. The Salafists had a “desire to intimidate and influence an audience more effectively.” (5) These radicals, succeeding in hijacking part of the insurgency as the nationalists surviving members fled for safety. Chechnya had an infusion of foreign fighters coming victorious from the Afghan jihad. This marked a shift in the Chechen struggle from being a nationalist struggle into one of seeking the establishment of a Caucasus Emirate (15). In their military operations, the Salafists brought an effective terror tactic to the region: the suicide bomber. (2)
In 2004, Chechen separatists

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