I suppose I have to explain the title for this blog. I recall reading a book by English author H.E. Bates called Fair stood the wind for France back in high school about a British pilot that crash lands in Nazi-occupied France in WWII and ends up falling in love with the daughter of a farmer’s family who takes him in to protect him. The name of this piece is a play on the fairer sex, members of which sometimes engage in violent jihad. I don’t know if the analogy works or not but I have already used this imagery once before so I will stick with it.
A few weeks a truly bizarre story broke in Toronto. A woman entered a Canadian Tire (a ubiquitous hardware store across Canada) in Scarborough, picked up a gulf club and threatened staff, then took out a concealed knife and wounded one person before the shocked workers were able to subdue her until police arrived. Initial reports noted that she had been wearing ‘Islamic State’ clothing, whatever that means. She has been arraigned on 14 charges (four charges of attempted murder, four charges of assault with a weapon, three charges of carrying a dangerous weapon and two charges of carrying a concealed weapon). When she appeared in court she immediately blurted out that she pledged allegiance to IS leader (now ex-leader if reports of his demise are true) Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. All in all pretty weird at first.
We now know more thanks to an RCMP investigation. 32-year old Rehab Dughmosh apparently tried to travel to Syria in April 2016 with the intent to join IS but was ‘intercepted’ in Turkey and ‘sent back’ (hence the 14th charge: leaving Canada for the purpose of participating in a terrorist group). Interestingly, she left her two kids and husband behind and the latter has unsurprisingly sued for divorce (“Hi honey, how was your day?” “Great! Downloaded IS beheading videos and yelled ‘death to the kuffar’ all day while playing with the kids”!”).
In court appearances thus far Ms. Dughmosh’s behaviour has been telling:
- she refuses any legal representation and has tried to plead guilty
- she has renounced any ‘man-made’ law
- she believes only in divine law as dictated by Allah
- she wants to revoke her Canadian citizenship
- she has promised to carry out violence ‘again and again’ if released.
What we have here my friends is a very deeply radicalised woman, an Islamist extremist through and through. Much of this case recalls elements of the trial of Chiheb Esseghaeir, found guilty in 2015 for his role in the 2013 VIA passenger train plot. To those who retort that Ms. Dughmosh (and Mr.Esseghaier for that matter) have ‘mental health issues I respond ‘so what?’ (if true: I am not a psychologist and I have yet to see an official diagnosis). Having ‘mental issues’ and being an Islamist extremist are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the few reliable studies that exist clearly demonstrate that few terrorists are mentally ill.
Ms. Dughmosh shows evidence of classic signs of Islamist extremist radicalisation: the rejection of Canadian law, the belief in some kind of divine justification, a desire to kill, an attempt to join a terrorist group abroad. What is missing is how, and with the help of whom (not her husband apparently), she radicalised. We know that no one really ‘self-radicalises’ so I will be watching for what else we learn about her case in the weeks to come.
While this is not the first case of female jihadism in Canada – Amanda Korody was found guilty of plotting a terrorist attack in Victoria on Canada Day 2013 (and inexplicably exonerated on appeal in 2016) and three young Brampton girls were interdicted in Cairo in 2015 – it may be the most significant in that the accused actually carried out an act of violence. I do not know whether she was ‘known’ to CSIS or the RCMP before her attack: maybe we’ll find that out too.
What this all means is that Islamist terrorism still defies characterisation. It is NOT all about disenfranchised people and it is NOT all about young men. We really need to eject these unhelpful and inaccurate stereotypes and accept that anyone can radicalise in the right conditions. Now let us increase our knowledge about what those conditions are, and much more importantly what the signs of violent radicalisation are (there are ALWAYS signs, trust me).