Article

Body Politics: (Re)Cognising the Female Suicide Bomber in Sri Lanka

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Abstract

The suicide bomber has been one of the most potent weapons of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in its 19-year separatist armed struggle against the Sri Lankan state. Of the 217 suicide attacks to date, 46 have been by women. This paper will analyse the representations of the LTTE female suicide bomber in literature, propa ganda, public debate and state security practice. It will argue that a discourse of morality already attenuating the act of suicide bombing lends itself to a particu larly gendered representation of the female suicide bomber that invariably twins her body to sexuality, in a scripting that also enables a patriarchal surveillance of her by the state and the LTTE.

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... The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a preeminent separatist organization fighting for an independent and sovereign Tamil state in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka (Rao, 1988; Wilson, 1988; Robert 1992; Joshi, 1995; Rajasingham-Senanayake, 2000; Gunaratna, 1998 Gunaratna, , 2002 Imtiyaz, 2008). The utilization of children as soldiers (Gray & Matchin III, 2008), the assassinations of several high-ranking Indian and Sri Lanka politicians (Stack-O'Connor, 2007), as well as women's involvement as a significant tactical weapon (De Mel, 2004), can be defined as the fundamental characteristics of the LTTE. In this case, the complexity of LTTE can be discribed as 'the world's most intractable' (Nadarajah & Sriskandarajah, 2005: 87) and 'the most dangerous and deadliest terrorist group in the world and certainly the most violent guerrilla organization of South Asian' (Van de Voorde, 2005: 185). ...
... Therefore, women were strongly recommended to participate as combatants in the Tamil movement in order to make up manpower shortage; and they were provided with systematic military training-weapon technology, suicide bombing, combat, for instance (Ann, 1993; Bouta, 2005). In 1983, the Vituthalai Pulikal Munani (Women's Front of the Liberation Tigers) was founded for women by the LTTE (De Mel, 2004). The Vituthalai Pulikal Munani began its first training for combat in Tamil Nadu (Indian) in 1985 and its first battle in July 1986 against Sri Lanka military (Ann, 1993). ...
Article
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a preeminent separatist organization fighting for an independent and sovereign Tamil state in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka. LTTE women’s involvement in the leadership and fighting forces of the group has given rise to fierce debates about whether the visibility of females in the LTTE fighting forces represented the ‘true’ liberation of the Tamil women and whether women would enjoy equal rights in the public during the post-conflict period. Actually, the Tamil Eelam is the overarching goal of the LTTE, and the emancipation of women has always been a secondary issue dependent on the liberation struggle. All the existing literature illustrates that the LTTE has been unsuccessful in creating the gender equality within the movement, and suggests that women have the right to achieve their emancipation and empowerment without linking to interests of the nationalist and ethnic struggles.
... De Mel (2004) also remarks that there is very little space outside the creative medium to discuss the female militant and her socio-political context, while subverting the idea that she is a mere 'ruthless killing machine' (De Mel, 2004, p.90). In the reviewed articles on representations of the female militant, it is clear that fiction and other creative media are generally more suited to discuss topics like agency in relation to female militants, where their mere existence is considered taboo in more hegemonic discourses on the war. ...
Conference Paper
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The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, destabilized geopolitical balances, empowered authoritarians, distorted democratic processes and curbed the enjoyment of human rights, particularly the right to free speech. The right to freedom of expression includes an exception for public health. However, Covid-19 has become a pretext for many governments to assume abusive control over the Internet and other sources of information. These issues include Internet freedom approaches of liberal states conflict with digital authoritarianism and illiberal cyber sovereignty, online human rights violations such as surveillance and prosecutions targeting journalists, academics, minorities, and pro-democracy activists. Such repression continues without effective consequences from the international community due to the disunity of the West and the United Nations (UN). Big tech corporations are complicit in distortions of democracy and freedom of expression. The Habermasian intersubjectivity paradigm provides a theoretical lens that can be applied to online discourse and freedom of speech, emphasizing how essential Internet freedom is for meaningful democracy. The abilities of netizens and civil society to communicate, organize, and mobilize are inhibited, and human rights and democracy are declining. At this time, when unprecedented global challenges such as Covid-19 and climate change require increased cooperation between the governments, the private sector and civil society, digital authoritarianism and cyber sovereignty are significant obstacles to collective international efforts. There is an urgent need for a human right to the Internet and digital democratization should complement this. This paper explores digital authoritarianism and cyber sovereignty highlights discourses on a right to the Internet and considers new approaches to protecting Internet freedom. Its purpose is to encourage further research into a right to the Internet.
... The LTTE's military power was heightened by its well-trained cadre, including a sea tiger wing, air tiger wing and the use of (female) suicide bombers (N. de Mel, 2004; K. M. de Silva, 2012;Weiss, 2011). ...
Thesis
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Article
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Article
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With their post-9/11 emphasis on international conflict, the U.S. news media have noted women's involvement with terrorism and tried to explain the motives of female suicide bombers. This qualitative study examined the motive explanations in broadcast and print news from 2002, when a woman detonated a suicide bomb in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through October 2004, after Chechen women participated in the Beslan school siege. The study found five motive explanations: strategic desirability, the influence of men, revenge, desperation, and liberation. The study considers how news coverage of suicide bombers reinforces or challenges popular beliefs about women and war.
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This book offers an evaluation of female suicide bombers through postcolonial, Third World, feminist, and human-rights framework, drawing on case studies from conflicts in Palestine, Sri Lanka, and Chechnya, among others.
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Article
In the three decade long civil war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government terrible atrocities were committed on the minority Tamil community by both the parties involved. This period of Tamil nationalism saw constructions of Tamil nation which were grounded on the construction of an ideal “Tamil Woman.” The period also witnessed a variety of cultural responses, including those by women poets. This paper broadly tries to elucidate how poetry was used to act as a witness to the experiences of the Tamil women during the Sri Lankan Civil War and how they responded to the Tamil nation making process. This paper will argue that the witnessing of war is “gendered” as can be evidenced in the critical reading of poetry written by Tamil women in Sri Lanka. Specifically the paper will look at how the figure of the mother has been used in this gendered witnessing. Different kinds of motherhoods were mobilized in Sri Lanka through the course of the war, namely the valiant mother who encourages her children to die for the country, the suffering mother and the mother who resists power for the sake of her children. One of the key constructs of women in Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka was of the figure of the “Veerathayar” – the brave mother, who is the reproducer of the nation. In the context of a war fought over competing nationalisms, the figure of Veerathayar was constructed through reimaginations of the mythic characters from the old legends and classics. A much more radical positioning of the mother figure was seen in the 1980s with the construct of “social motherhood.” Even though social motherhood appealed to the naturalized and essentialized construction of women as mothers, it also revealed the transgressions of the Sri Lankan State and the LTTE which otherwise valorized the nurturance role of mothers. Set against this context, the paper will examine how the figure of the “mother” has been used by Tamil women in their poetry to write their experience of the conflict. This is done through a critical reading of their poetry by giving attention to the ways through which they have used the construct of mother to subvert the dominant notions of being an ideal “Tamil Woman” as perpetuated by Tamil nationalism.
Article
In the late twentieth century, the rise of the female suicide bomber phenomenon was prevalent in Chechnya, Lebanon and Sri Lanka. Arguably, in terms of academic engagement and visibility within the wider public consciousness, the first wave of Palestinian female suicide bombers during the second intifada (2000–05) encapsulates particular notoriety in relation to the perceived deviance of Palestinian female participation in political violence. Key to this construction is the role of news media as an agent of power. This article examines coverage of Palestinian female suicide bombers during the second intifada period within the scarcely examined medium of British terrestrial broadcast news media. This article determines the impact of individual journalists' gender in producing forms of discourse that delegitimize political agency. In particular, it shall establish if female journalistic voices are complicit in communicating intersectional gendered and Orientalist frameworks.
Chapter
INTRODUCTION Despite considerable progress made in the past few decades, women in the Western world still suffer discrimination and are not treated equally to men. Consider how much more true this is in the developing world, where the gap between the treatment of men and women is a yawning chasm. These facts illuminate any consideration of women’s criminality, the particular nature of their criminal victimization, and their treatment by the criminal justice system. In addition, women’s unequal status has repercussions for their employment in the criminal justice system as police officers, prosecution or prison staff, and court judges and magistrates. It even helps to explain the nature of their involvement in transnational and international crimes, whether as offenders or victims. These are the topics explored within this chapter. WOMEN AS OFFENDERS Surveys and police records of crime in Western nations show that women still constitute a small minority of offenders, but they are becoming increasingly involved in crime. Women are mostly involved in common crimes – minor thefts and frauds, low-level drug dealing, prostitution, and misdemeanor assaults against their mates or children – and are far less likely than men to be involved in serious crime.
Chapter
What is most disturbing to me about Paul Greengrass's 2006 film United 11, which dramatizes the events of September 11 aboard the doomed titular flight, is the way it begins. The opening bears an uncanny resemblance to the first scene in the horror classic The Exorcist (Friedkin 2006), which starts off ominously with the sounds of an Islamic chant before we witness a scene of an archaeological dig in Iraq, where we first encounter the ancient presence of the devil. Although United 11 shows no desert landscape filled with mysteriously veiled women and turbaned men, it evokes the same racialized otherness in its opening shots by depicting Middle Easterners (the infamous September 11 hijackers) who prostrate themselves in prayer before an open Koran that historic morning. When we consider that both movies are concerned with the overwhelming forces of evil-the unforeseen terrorist attacks in the 2006 film and the grotesque scare tactics of the devil in the horror film-it is difficult to overlook the demonization of Islam, which has become such an acceptable trope in Hollywood cinema.
Book
“Neloufer de Mel's Militarizing Sri Lanka radically advances our understanding of the cultural consequences of violence. This tour de force should be read by all who want to understand the subtle effects of political violence on all aspects of culture, not only in Sri Lanka but elsewhere too.” —Elisabeth Jean Wood, Professor of Political Science, Yale University Militarizing Sri Lanka is a study of the militarization that has buttressed the war between the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE for over two decades. It highlights militarization as a process through which the ideology of militarism is shaped and shared in a manner that makes militant solutions to conflict a part of institutional structures and ways of thought. It foregrounds militarization as activity and agency, capable of adaptation and transforming society in significant ways; and as a deeply gendered, contingent and shifting process. It also analyzes both the construction and resistance to militarization and militarism, but in a manner that draws attention to their relationality rather than as self-evidently oppositional categories. Through case studies of military advertising, disabled soldiers, children in the conflict zones, the LTTE femail suicide bomber, censorship, the archive and feminist work, Militarizing Sri Lanka also foregrounds the crucial role of popular culture, memory and narrative in how attitudes to militarism, war and peace are mediated. Key Features Draws on cultural, feminist, communication, psychosocial, anthropological, film, theatre, and political economy studies; Highlights how the ideology of militarism is shaped and shared in a manner that makes militant solutions to conflict a part of institutional structures and ways of thought; Shows how militarization works through the popular media, advertising, theatre, film, literature, and memorialization; Uses case studies of military advertising, disabled soldiers, children in the conflict zones, the LTTE female suicide bomber, censorship, and archiving; Illustrates how militarization represents war and martial virtue as valour, heroism and masculine pride, and categorizes their opposites as cowardice, treason, and feminization Intended Audience: This book is a valuable resource for social and political scientists and activists, and all those wanting an insight into militarization in the Sri Lankan context from the late 1980s to 2006. © International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo and Neloufer de Mel for 'The Promise of the Archive: Memory, Testimony and Feminist Domains', 2007.
Chapter
This chapter1 focuses on translating the texts of ‘terror’ which remain offered to us in various modes. We have the frequent productions of the oral/visual texts as with the jehadi fatwas of Osama Bin Laden. The bodies of suicide bombers and their victims, and the countless number of those incarcerated just on suspicion of terrorism, provide another series of texts of ‘terror’. And the bodies at war in Iraq speak to us of the meanings of the two ‘terror’ wars — the wars ‘on’ and ‘of’ ‘terror’. The texts of the war on ‘terror’ are consistently produced by the mass media reportage and in some new languages of the law, politics, and the construction of the political (that is constructions of truth, justice and rights). This contribution looks at some texts of ‘terror’ addressing two forms of translation: translation as domination and translation as transgression.
Book
As media coverage of terrorism and terroristic acts has increased so too has the discussion about the identities, motives, and gender of the perpetrators. Over the past fifteen years, there have been over 150 reported suicide bombings committed by women around the world. Because of its prominence in media reporting, the phrase "female suicide bomber" has become loaded with gendered notions and assumptions that elicit preconditioned responses in the West. Female Suicide Bombings critically examines and challenges common assumptions of this loaded term. Tanya Narozhna and W. Andy Knight introduce female suicide bombings as a socio-political practice and a product of deeply politicized, gendered representations. Drawing on a combination of feminist and post-colonial approaches as well as terrorism studies literature, the authors seek to transcend ideological divisions in order to enhance our understanding of how gender, power, and academic practices influence our perceptions of female suicide bombings.
Article
This article examines the lingering presence of the female militant figure in post-war Sri Lankan women’s writing in English. Through a careful demarcation of the formal–aesthetic limits of engaging with the country’s competing ethno-nationalisms, the article seeks to uncover the gendered hierarchies of Sri Lanka’s civil war in two literary works: Niromi de Soyza’s autobiography Tamil Tigress (2011) and Nayomi Munaweera’s debut novel Island of a Thousand Mirrors (2012). The reading draws attention to the writers’ attempt to “historise” the LTTE female fighter and/or suicide bomber within Sri Lanka’s complex colonial past and its implications for the recent history of conflict. The individual motives of the female fighters to join the LTTE, the article contends, remain ideologically susceptible to, if not interpellated by, the gendered hierarchies both within the military movement and Tamil society at large. A literary portrait of such entangled hierarchies in post-war Sri Lankan texts, the article reveals, helps expose the hegemonic (male) discourses of Sri Lankan nationalism that tend to undermine the war experiences of women.
Article
The politically charged narrative of Mani Ratnam’s 1998 thriller Dil Se focuses upon center-state tensions in India, as well on the conscription of women into the violence of those tensions as combatants and victims. By examining a series of interlinked questions about the film’s narrative gaps, references to historical events, and female protagonist, I argue that Ratnam, through his adoption of a Bollywood idiom, attempts to fashion a visual and narrative vocabulary that addresses the appropriation of the female body as agent and object of state and insurgent violence, resulting in a series of cinematic compromises. Ultimately, although Dil Se’s critique of the militarized Indian state does not fully sketch out India’s political landscape or emphasize women’s political agency, Ratnam’s film acknowledges the destructive potential of ignoring such narratives that, for now, cannot be contained within a cinematic frame.
Article
Abstract: What are the affects of violence and what do they do, particularly with regard to literary representations of women insurgents in political conflicts? Do the affective forces of militancy lie only in pain and horror? In this essay I explore the links between a Deleuzean notion of becoming and the literary portrayal of militancy, death and sacrifice of a woman suicide bomber, while remaining cognisant of the intersectional politics of race, class and sexuality that constitute her subjectivity. I suggest that while, on the one hand, women suicide bombers raise profound questions regarding the forced death and dismemberment of their victims; on the other they reimagine subjectivity that exceeds the limits of a politics of continuous becomings. I end the essay on a speculative note. I ask how a feminist analysis of excess and embodiment can move beyond considering suicide bombing as the limit case of, or outside of, the meeting between subjectivity and the political. This, I contend, opens up another question: whether suicide bombing presents a form of ambivalence that feminist analysis - for all its celebration of fluidity, excess, and fragmentation as necessarily and subversively feminine - is still somewhat reluctant to take up: that of a becoming that necessitates death and violent corporeal fragmentation.
Article
Women have participated in political violence throughout history, yet the concept of women as active proponents and perpetrators of political violence and terrorism is not widely accepted. Viewed as being forced by partners, sexually abused or brainwashed, the possibility of political motives is not often considered. Paige Whaley Eager addresses this to establish whether the stereotypical view is misplaced. She utilizes a framework to analyze women engaged in political violence in different contexts in order to examine structural variables, ideological goals of the organization and personal factors which contribute to involvement. Case study rich, this informative book provides an indispensable guide to examining women’s role in left/right wing engagement, ethno-nationalist/separatist violence, guerrilla movements and suicide bombers.
Article
Public Culture 15.1 (2003) 65-89 In the days that followed the Israeli army's reinvasion of the West Bank in March 2002 and the resultant destruction of the embryonic elements of a sovereign Palestinian society, I, like many, sat in my office fuming, e-mailing with depressed friends and colleagues to express our helplessness and despair at the unbelievable injustice of it all. Besides the death and devastation, most depressing perhaps was the mediatic normalization of the very idea of a nation's military rampaging virtually unopposed—like Genghis Khan in tanks—in another nation's cities and towns, leveling entire streets, destroying homes. It was for all of us an absurdly anachronistic form of violence: a medieval mode of warfare outfitted in modern technology. I took it upon me to send Arab, Jewish, and other concerned friends an e-mail that attempted to think through the nature and ramifications of this violence. While addressing the Israeli government's use of Palestinian suicide bombers (PSBs) as an excuse for transforming cities into rubble, I pointed out that to a large degree the Israeli government shared with the suicide bombers a lack of concern with the humanity of the people murdered in the course of the conflict. In a communal Us versus Them logic, the dehumanizing gaze that saw Them as a nondifferentiated entity (Israel/the Palestinians), abstracted from the particular human beings that constituted it, is often accompanied by an equally self-dehumanizing, abstracted vision of Us. I knew very well from my experience of the Lebanese civil war both as a participant and a student that when a logic of communal war prevails, neither of the warring sides really cares for the actual material human being-ness of the situation. More "important" things like "communities" and "nations" are at stake. I argued that given the prevalence of that logic, "the bombs of Hamas against civilians might outrage the humanists among us for being precisely that: bombs against civilians," but what was more important for the Israeli colonialist government was that these bombs showed the Israeli Us to be vulnerable, which is also what the suicide bombers were trying to demonstrate. The day after I sent my e-mail, I was surprised to receive a long rebuke from a colleague on the Jewish left. In an e-mail, he informed me that he was "sad to see that these days scholars speak in strangely brutal language" and that he could not The moralizing nature of the reply took me aback. I could not believe that I had become someone who endorsed the "horrendous path of voluptuously violent martyrdom," someone faced with either exploding himself in Palestine or acknowledging his moral cowardice. I wondered how my matter-of-factly stated observation about the political imaginaries behind suicide bombing, regardless of whether one agrees with it, was transformed into support for "voluptuously violent martyrdom." It was as if the moral neutrality of my statement was itself self-condemnatory. Indeed, as I was later informed by a mutual friend, my colleague felt that the real issue was whether I "absolutely condemn" suicide bombers. Apparently it is crucial to "absolutely condemn" suicide bombers if you are going to talk about them, otherwise you become a morally suspicious person. This immediately raised an issue for me. As I only mentioned suicide bombing in relation to what I thought were the inhumane acts of violence Israel was perpetrating through its reoccupation of the West Bank, I wondered why it is that suicide bombing cannot be talked about without being condemned first. After all, we can sit and analyze in a cool manner the formidably violent colonial invasion without feeling...
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