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Jihadi brides

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Fawad Kaiser

As many as 500 European Muslim girls have made the journey abroad from their homes to join the IS. Why Western women find it attractive to join the IS remains a topic of debate. They join the IS for the same reasons that men do. However, there seems to be a universal factor that drives both women and men to the IS: the promise of an adventurous life in a religious outfit, fulfilling the need for excitement while appearing to give life meaning. Once again, the IS presents a glorified picture, and women travel to the IS’s zones with an idealised image of life in Syria and Iraq. This life, however, is portrayed with noticeable differences to that of seen in reality. As such, women tend to join the group for a multitude of reasons; including a sense of dissatisfaction with the way the West treats Islam, a desire to contribute to the building of the Caliphate, and an aspiration to belong to a movement or a sisterhood larger than themselves. Women of the IS, many still in their teens, are influenced by the social media activity of those who have already joined the IS, and post online idyllic pictures of a fun, harmonious life within the Islamic State. They tell stories of happy families, post pictures of cats on Twitter, and share recipes. They use social media to express their grievance at the treatment of Muslims across the world, and their perception of the IS as a truly Islamic society, built on sharia law. Each seems convinced that there could be only one valid interpretation of Islam and of sharia law, and that it lay in whatever appeared to be as anti-western as possible. To find it, they had to erase their inherited identities. Joining the IS offered them an opportunity to do so.They hate disorder and ambiguity; the clear-cut doctrines issued by jihadist ideologues appeals to their political sensibilities. Opposing the west is their measure of religious authenticity. They spread the belief that it is a feminist duty of all female Muslims to travel to the IS areas. They believe that in this world they will get everything they need, not only a man that loves her, children, a beautiful house, but also recognition as women warriors fighting alongside men on the battlefield for a just cause. Some of the girls travel from the West to meet militants they encountered online.These women were joining their foreign fighter husbands or looking to find husbands in the IS, further perpetuating the myth of the Jihadi bride. The fact is that, while a relationship or marriage to a male the IS fighter facilitates their presence in the IS territories, it is often not the reason they travel. Many have made the decision to travel without the association of husbands or partners though they may become attached to a male fighter after their arrival. Like the young western men travelling to fight for the IS, young western women are also lured by the promise of a politically and religiously pure Islamic society. Some are also attracted by the promise of adventure. Push” factors from the West and “pull” factors from the IS stimulate women’s motivations for joining the IS, and are exemplified in social media posts by the women who have joined. the IS recruiters do an excellent job of building on “push” factors and then targeting women in unique ways. Women are drawn to join the IS because helping to develop the so-called Caliphate offers both a sense of religious fulfilment and a strong bond of sisterhood and community. Recruiters have been largely successful at “romanticising” the female experience of marrying the IS fighters and becoming the wives and mothers of the Caliphate. They use women as inherent “pull” factors, convincing other women around the world that joining the IS will fulfil personal and, above all, religious duties. Melanie Smith of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue calls the “caliphate utopian ideal” one of the common key pull factors that draw women over.

They imagine a world in which there are little poverty and inequality, governed with perfect fairness under clear-cut, divine laws that work to the advantage of all. It is a vision that makes no allowances for the ambiguity and variety of traditional Islamic legal interpretations, or for the disorder of real life. But there are also push factors that drive women away from their homes in the west: often loneliness and alienation. The IS propaganda is designed to appeal to people who feel like outsiders in their own homes.

Jihadi brides becoming female terrorists phenomenon is confusing when viewed through the western cultural lens. It is difficult to comprehend why young women who have been raised in the west and enjoyed the benefits of women’s rights would want to leave all that equality behind and migrate to a society in which they face the possibility of sexual servitude and oppression. Problem is that this lens has defined much of the way in which the west has viewed Muslim women throughout history. The culturally inherited stereotype of the oppressed Muslim woman continues to define the way in which Muslim women, and indeed Islam generally, is understood.

Contrary to popular belief, pro-Islamic State women serve as more than just “Jihadi brides,” and their online activities and influence make them crucial to the organisation’s survival. It also makes the case for why engaging these women should be adopted as a counter-terrorism strategy. Regardless of the method of communication, women in extremist networks have “superior network connectivity” to men and while men dominated in numbers women had superior network connectivity at the collective level, passing along recruitment messages, files, prayers, video and audio propaganda, connecting distant parts of the network and channeling funds, making them essential to the survival and durability of the whole system.

The phenomenon of the so-called Jihadi brides does not necessarily fall back on the rhetoric of the angry and oppressed Muslim men and women. It is important to move beyond stereotypical images of women as victims when addressing the issue of western-raised women travelling to the IS.

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