The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has answered the call to fight ISIS with the first woman pilot joining in the attack. It might seem like the UAE found the perfect way to anger the Islamic extremists, if bombing alone wasn’t bad enough — but it might not be that simple.
For weeks after President Obama announced that a coalition of middle-eastern countries would join the fight against ISIS, pundits questioned the level of commitment to the point of wondering if it could be called a coalition at all.
The UAE answered back with its first woman pilot leading aerial assaults. Her name is Major Mariam Al Mansouri, 35, and she commands a squadron of F-16s. Her unit has attacked ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.
— Ali R (@Baahirezaman) July 31, 2014
Although her dreams were always of being a pilot, she didn’t join the UAE military until 2007, when the chain of command would finally allow a woman to go to the Khalifa bin Zayed Air College. Last year she officially became the first woman pilot in the UAE airforce.
Her group joined on Monday night when the U.S. and five Arab countries began an aerial campaign to cripple the terrorists. She led three other UAE F-16 pilots in the mission. Emirati Ambassador Yousef al Otaiba told the story of how the U.S. first learned Mansouri was in the attack.
“The U.S. tanker pilots called in for air refueling and asked for the UAE mission and when they heard a female voice on the other side they paused for 20 seconds.”
Her presence is one more challenge to the patriarchal norms typical of the region, but ISIS has it’s own female fighters.
According to Vox, ISIS has all-women brigades called “al-Khansaa” and “Umm al-Rayan,” where the members fight with rifles in full head-to-toe burqas. They operate to try and force other women to believe in ISIS’ strict misogynistic view of Sharia law. Ironically, ISIS does use rape as a weapon of war, but that doesn’t keep down enlistment. Islamic terrorism expert Thomas Hegghammer explained.
“There is a process of female emancipation taking place in the jihadi movement, albeit a very limited (and morbid) one. Many of them are eager to portray themselves as strong women and often make fun of the Western stereotype of ‘the oppressed Muslim woman.”
The story of the Al-Khansaa ran counter to the Wall Street Journal, which claimed ISIS was afraid of the Kurds because they too have woman soldiers and all female units.
Essentially, the Middle East is home to many proud fighting women. The problem is they still face enormous obstacles and discrimination, despite carrying a gun, or in Mansouri’s case, a multi-million dollar fighter jet.
[Image Credit: David Raykovitz/Wikimedia Commons]