According to the latest report released by the UN, more than twenty-five thousand foreigners from over a hundred countries have already joined different Islamist groups, including Al-Qaeda and ISIS. What is particularly disturbing is that 71% of them have gone radical in the last year. Against this background one should note that there’s an ever increasing number of young women also joining ISIS ranks. It’s not mere hundreds, but thousands of girls, therefore the situation is quickly becoming epidemic, since it may have far reaching consequences for both Muslim and European communities, with a potential of reaching the United States, Canada, and Australia. Thus, according to the London-based Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD), the better part of ISIS members of the “fairer sex” came from such countries as the UK, Denmark, USA, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Austria, Russia, Canada and Australia.
Research centers from across the globe are desperate to determine what is causing an ever increasing exposure of women to the radical concepts of ISIS, and what are the possible measures that could be taken to prevent this epidemic from spreading any further.
According to various European studies, women ISIS can generally be divided into the following age groups: 15-18 years old, 20-21 years old, 25-26 years old, and 43-45 years old. Most of them – represent middle class women, but a certain number of women are from poor families that spent their entire lives in the suburbs or in the countryside, but each of these groups have their own motivation for becoming terrorist members. As noted in a paper drafted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue together with the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, women are attracted to ISIS due to various factors, including their sense of isolation, assumptions that the international Muslim community may be in danger and the desire to find spiritual sisters (this is particularly important for teenage girls).
A certain number of young women follow their boyfriends who have decided to join terrorist ranks, while others seek to nurture their own sense of independence or fulfill their own Islamist ambitions that they acquired from ISIS recruits operating across various social networks. It should be noted that in recent years a wave of young emigrants from the Arab world and Africa have come to live in Europe, so it’s a pretty common situation for young Western women to study the particular brand of Islam brought with these emigrants. And there’s little doubt that ISIS recruiters are taking full advantage of this situation, since they can discuss certain negative aspects regarding the vices of the modern Western world, in particular the decline of traditional family values, and with young women in particular, stressing the fact that Islam is waging a relentless fight for the preservation of its universally recognized principles. Unfortunately, such discussions are followed by the distribution of radical ideas to which young people are extremely susceptible.
As a result young women convert to Islam or abandon agnostic or atheistic views of their families to help “fellow Sunnis” in the “holy war” in the Middle East, eager to fight alongside men. The idealized image of an ISIS man who goes to his death to demonstrate the strength of his faith and belief, is the key element in bringing those girls to ISIS, since they feel surrounded by seemingly timid, spineless and effeminate men at home. Women are forced to believe that an ISIS militant, who embodies all the virtues of a man will eventually become an ideal husband in the growing instability of the modern world. More often than not these women do not accept an independent and individualistic concept of relations between men and women that prevails in today’s society, therefore they are looking for something a little more traditional to find it in the most dreadful place of all – ISIS ranks.
Quickly the romantic concept of love in such situations is being replaced by the thirst for war and violence. It’s rarely mentioned that ISIS is not the first terrorist group to use women for violent terrorist activities, previously a number of “revolutionary” extremist groups regularly used women in Germany and other European countries. For instance the Rote Armee Fraktion, a German radical left terrorist organization that operated between 1968-1998 serves as a perfect example.
In its propaganda campaign aimed at young women ISIS is using all the means that may allow it to attract even more followers. In February CNN claimed that ISIS terrorists were making images with kittens and Nutella to show potential members of this organization that their life in the field is not much different from day-to-day lives of ordinary people. The unusual devotion for Nutella that ISIS members have been displaying was reported back in August 2014, when the media drew attention to the fact that terrorists like to publish their pictures together with Nutella jars.
The initial wave of Western women that joined ISIS is now fulfilling the roles of recruiters and overseers for “heretics” which are women that ISIS captured in their advances to fulfill their sexual needs. For a Western woman to be entrusted with such duties she must have already been converted to Islam and be a member of the Al-Hans brigade that should ensure all women are following Sharia law. Members of this brigade are getting a salary of 200 American dollars a month. Their primal duty is to check cars at road blocks and search women, since, according to Sharia law men are forbidden to even touch female strangers. It’s not a secret that this “Women’s Battalion” was created so that no one could enter or flee Islamic State territory disguised in women’s clothes.
A significant number of Western Europeans that are joining ISIS display the desire to fight at the front, but the interpretation of Sharia law that is getting promoted by ISIS is not allowing this. All the same, these women are getting extensive military training. They are employed in certain ISIS operations since it’s a misfortune for a Muslim to die at a woman’s hands, therefore it’s a powerful psychological weapon.
Against the background of a constant stream of new recruits coming to ISIS from Europe and other developed countries, it’s imperative to prevent the radicalization of the young, especially girls and young women by taking certain anti-propaganda measures, for instance, by exposing the reality of life under ISIS rule, as opposed to the utopian images that are being distributed by this terrorist group. It is also desirable to employ more women as teachers and social workers to assist vulnerable young girls and women to find their place in today’s society.
Vladimir Odintsov, political commentator, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.