Allah's Angels: Chechen Women in War

Mention the title of this book, Allah's Angels, and the thought is immediately of "black widows," the Chechen female suicide bombers who have blown up stadiums, subways, and planes in Moscow and elsewhere. Murphy does deal with this subset of Chechen women, but his angels comprise all categories of Chechen women -- on whichever side of the violence. Indeed, the first and second Chechen wars imposed all manner of cruelty on the women of the region: they were wounded or killed by indiscriminate bombing and shelling, kidnapped for ransom, tortured as suspected terrorists (by Russians), murdered as suspected collaborators (by Chechens), robbed, raped, burned out of their homes, and targeted in honor killings. Yet they also stood up -- sometimes as furious packs descending on those who had seized an innocent person, at other times in small nongovernmental organizations struggling to focus attention on human rights abuses. In smaller, more lethal numbers, they have also fought back as so-called white stockings, female snipers whose ranks include even a few non-Chechen biathletes, who joined the cause out of sympathy or for money. Murphy describes all these women in mind-numbing detail, one personal story after another, and with stomach-turning precision.

Latest Commentary & News analysis