Saturday 23 February 2019

Recruiting female jihadists in the West

Patricia Casey
Patricia Casey

Patricia Casey

The image of three British female teenagers at an airport, last week, making their way to join ISIS (Islamic State) was deeply disturbing. The story has dominated the headlines for over a week and people are aghast that recruits to ISIS would come from Western countries and from our neighbouring island.

The fact that this revolution is so bloody and so graphic, causes people to question how well-educated young women could travel to the most dangerous place on earth to join in a revolution that engages in atrocities against men, children and women themselves.

Beheadings, crucifixions and burnings are unfamiliar weapons in the West, and these images are reminiscent of 17th century or even more ancient practices. By contrast, the use of social media by ISIS is very modern and Twitter has been used extensively to spread its message and recruit followers.

Young European men are attracted to ISIS and related organisations fighting for what they see as a Holy War. If men are joining, why should we be surprised if women also do? According to experts in this area, they do so mainly for the same reason as men.

All of the women who have left their homes to join ISIS are young and many are teenagers. They could almost be regarded as ISIS groupies.

The attraction to warriors has always existed and fighting a revolutionary cause seems to intensify the appeal. Revolutions always attract energised followers; they wouldn't nor couldn't happen otherwise. So there is no gender distinction in the willingness to participate in revolutionary struggle.

In Ireland women played a role in our struggle that has only been recognised in very recent years. For example Cumann na mBan was formed in 1914 to support the aspirant leaders of the 1916 Rising. And some women actively participated in it. These include Countess Constance Markievicz, Kathleen Lynn, Elizabeth O'Farrell, and Margaret Skinnider while the elderly mother of Thomas Kent reloaded his rifle for him.

In the French Revolution it was a woman who assassinated the Jacobin leader, Marat, while the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women supported the radical Jacobins, staged demonstrations in the National Assembly and participated in the riots, often using weapons.

Teenagers are vulnerable and easily swayed. The constant images of an organisation like ISIS, fighting against an internationally recognised tyrant, such as the Assad regime in Syria, is on the face of it, compelling. These teenagers, be they male or female, want to be part of something new and unique that the organisation promises - in this instance a caliphat.

The young women we read about see themselves as the founding mothers of a new state in which they will have a role, propagandising and recruiting other women. According to Katherine Browne, a lecturer in Defence Studies at King's College London, many are responding because they see it in romantic terms as a new Utopian project. They can envisage a "new version of a political Islamic 'good life' based on a particular idea of Islam and Shiria law" in which they can be significant actors.

Brown also notes that the online accounts given by these women portray them as feeling let down by Western culture in not providing them with a sense of purpose and belonging, as Muslim citizens.

They are saying that with ISIS they believe 'we take you seriously' in contrast to the West where they perceive themselves as unimportant, young Muslims. Some identify that the clothes they wear, such as the veil, are prohibited in certain countries.

Yet their alienation isn't stemming from poverty, poor education or other social disadvantage since most are well-educated, very bright students. It is more a spiritual and personal sense of otherness and disenfranchisement from the Western culture in which they live.

For less idealistic young women, their commitment to ISIS may be a naive desire for adventure or romance. The individuals in a revolution are often powerfully charismatic and exude sexual attraction. Che Guevara is rumoured to have been a womaniser who constantly had admirers swooning before his good looks, wit and bravery.

The hooded men of ISIS, whom we see grotesquely parading their human spoils, may emit an aura of mystery and power that is alluring, even if it is preying on the gullibility and inexperience of these young women who are being actively encouraged to become jihadi.

A website dedicated to finding wives for ISIS fighters has recently been established, while 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood, a woman originally from Scotland, now with ISIS, writes a regular blog on Tumblr advising would-be recruits on how to pack and travel to Syria while extolling the benefits, in this life and in the next, of joining the jihadists.

Social media that these young women use are the recruiting grounds and women are the operatives.

Finally, the potency of the power that ISIS is now achieving cannot be underestimated. After all everybody wants to back a winner there is little doubt that ISIS is on the march in the Levant, and as a result, is winning the hearts and minds of some of Europe's young women.

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