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Opinion: A Tangled Web of Falsehoods | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Armed policemen cordon the area as fire engulf the International arrivals unit of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)

“Has the British media mentioned that the ‘White Widow,’ the suspected mastermind of the Nairobi Westgate Mall terrorist attack last week, is also a member of the American Tea Party?”

This is how one British woman commented on Twitter about the story that has occupied the Western media.

It seems that a tone of irony and skepticism began to develop in response to the fervor that swept British and Western media regarding British national Samantha Lewthwaite, whom they dubbed the “White Widow.”

The use of the term “White Widow” created a buzz among the public. It portrays a mysterious story of a white woman, whom we have all come to know, and her conversion to Islam. She is also the widow of one of the men behind the bombings in London on July 7, 2005.

There have been security leaks about her involvement in the Nairobi attack, which was claimed by the Somali Al-Shaba’ab movement. Some even consider her one of the most important Al-Qaeda members in North Africa.

But all of these conclusions are not based on solid, tangible facts. Security apparatuses have themselves admitted this. Even the story that went viral and suggested that Samantha led the Nairobi attack turned out to be false.

As one looks more accurately at the leaked information on this woman, one cannot help but think that Samantha’s story has been deliberately exaggerated.

During the 1990s, stories of “black widows” made the headlines. These were written about Chechen females who lost their husbands during clashes with Russian security forces, and who avenged their losses by carrying out attacks against Russian interests. The black widow is also a common name for a particular type of female spiders who kill males after mating. It seems that these two expressions have been taken up and reformulated to describe the involvement of women in terrorism.

Following the first day of the Westgate Mall incident, in which civilians were taken hostage, and the resulting spreading of the name “White Widow,” the British media divulged everything to do with this woman. They dug deep into the stories of her conversion to Islam and her marriage. Some even mentioned her grandmother’s current health condition and the lingerie police found in the London homes where she had previously resided.

But after all this focus on her as a terrorist, the discussion today lies somewhere else. Why was the story of this woman been the subject of such interest and speculation, when it seems that nothing is clear about her yet? Such scandalous news stories have formed a major component in creating fictitious narratives about these terrorist groups.

Samantha is a British woman who converted to Islam. These components are enough to feed the story, given just a small amount of imagination. Doesn’t the exaggeration of sexual jihad in Syria also exhibit this tendency?

Has the Western media not fallen victim to myths spread by media outlets, which have continually opposed the Syrian revolution? It is therefore probable that the case of the ‘White Widow’ is one of the many traps the Western media has fallen into.