Bennetta Betbadal was born in Iran in 1969, but lived there until she was 18, long enough to suffer under a regime that severely oppresses women and Christians. She was both. A faithful Roman Catholic, after her escape to the West she married an American police officer. She lived in New York, but settled in California where she and her husband raised a family. She took a degree in chemistry, and worked as an inspector for the local county government.
She was killed during the San Bernidino shootings that left 14 dead at a California holiday banquet. She is survived by her husband and three children. A memorial fundraiser page, with all proceeds to go to her children, mourns that it “is the ultimate irony that her life would be stolen from her that day by what appears to be the same type of extremism that she fled so many years ago.”
Yet that may prove to be only the penultimate irony. The ultimate irony is that she may well have been killed by another woman from the radical parts of the Islamic world, one whose story mirrors hers in a number of ways.
The female shooter in the San Bernidino massacre, whom we will not name, likewise grew up in a society that practiced a form of radical Islam. It was a different form, to be sure, a difference that goes all the way back to Islam’s first civil war (though far from Islam’s first war): the war that divided Sunnis from Shi’a Muslims. She was from a family of landowners who were very well off by the standards of Pakistan. Later they moved to Saudi Arabia, a country where women are forbidden to drive or to leave home without the escort of a suitable male relative. Failure to attend to the dress code required of women in that nation is often enforced by the whip.
She returned to Pakistan to pursue a degree in pharmaceuticals. Afterwards, she attended a very conservative school to take classes in Koran. She failed to obtain her degree in Koranic studies. Two months later, she left for Saudi Arabia again, where she was joined by her future husband who spent some time there before bringing her to America.
Like Betbadal, she had known the oppressions of radical Islamic sects upon women. Like Betbadal, she had obtained a scientific degree at a university that would have allowed her to get good work in the United States. Like her victim, she had escaped to California, a land where women are free to live according to their individual consciences in whatever manner they please.
Unlike her victim, she chose to become part of the system of oppression. She chose to sacrifice her life just so that she could help enforce those radical codes upon other women.
While it is unclear at this time whether she or her husband shot Betbadal, she was an active participant in the life of preparing for jihad. She helped to carry out the attack. And, as is common for these radical jihadists, she was as willing to shoot other Muslim women who did not live as she felt they ought as she was to shoot anyone else. Anies Kondoker, who attended the same mosque as the shooters and whom they must have known and recognized, was shot three times but thankfully survived. Now her family in Bangladesh wants her to return.
It is easy to understand women like these, for whom escape promises liberation and freedom of conscience. Here at IranTruth we have reported on Iran’s use of rape and sexual torture as a method for oppressing women. We have reported on the cases of Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousav, two poets — one female — who have been sentenced to 99 whiplashes each as well as lengthy prison terms for expressing criticism of the regime. Likewise Atena Farghadani, the cartoonist whose punishment for criticizing the regime was extended to 12 years for the “additional crime” of shaking her male attorney’s hand.
What is harder to understand are the women who elect to participate in these radical Islamic systems of oppression for themselves and other women. Women like Marzieh Afkham, who give cover to the Iranian regime by taking symbolic appointments that allow Iran to pretend to respect women. Women like those who participate in the Revolutionary Guards’ “Women’s Corps.” Hardest still to understand, women like this female shooter in California.
All these at some level freely elect to participate in these systems of oppression. The existence of rebels like Ekhtesari and Farghadani show that resistance is possible even in Iran. The existence of the California shooter shows that the danger of radical jihad threatens women even in America.