Women who adhere to unconventional, radical misinterpretations of Islam are a relatively new phenomenon in the Muslim world. A couple of years ago women would subject themselves to destructive religious views in hopes of avenging their loved ones, but now a new trend is emerging– women who create their own radical groups. In 2014, a few months after the occupation of the Syrian city of Raqqa by the Islamic State (ISIS), it created a special women’s brigade called Al-Khansaa. The brigade, named after the famous ancient Arab poetess, would fulfill a handful of various missions – among them it would patrol the streets of the city to ensure that women conformed to ISIS rules and regulations, while solving all sorts of public relations matters.
As the latest research shows, women make up about 10% of the total number of foreigners that enlist in various militant groups. Upon entering a group they participate in all sorts of propaganda activities, including those across online social networks. An analysis of 40,000 accounts on social networks supporting the actions of ISIS revealed that 16,000 of them belong to women. Thus, these days women play a much more important role in the activities of various terrorist and extremist organizations than was previously believed.
It’s no wonder then that ISIS has been pushing in the media the ideas of sisterly solidarity and camaraderie that exists within its ranks. They create support groups, where women exchange recipes, communicate and instruct new members.
As noted by The Strategist, today ever increasing evidence points to the fact that with each year the number of women willing to commit terrorist attacks on behalf of terrorist organizations steadily grows. At the same time, the very phenomenon of female terrorism is not new. Among the militants of the Basque separatist group ETA there were many female members. Female suicide bombers were used by Palestinians and Chechens, as, for example, during the Moscow theater hostage crisis of 2002.
In 2016, a French group of radical women who adhered to radical views would plan to launch a terrorist attack near the Notre Dame Cathedral. In the very same year Kenyan police officers were forced to shoot three women dead as they attacked a police station in Mombasa armed with knives.
In August 2017 in the UK, three women who planned to perform knife attacks at Westminster were charged with involvement in a “terrorist plot”. A month later during the operation aimed at liberating the Iraqi city of Mosul, a total of 38 female suicide bombers would swarm the positions of Iraqi troops.
In the absolute majority of Muslim countries the situation hasn’t reached a critical point, since the number of women who profess radical views remains relatively small, and experts are convinced that respective governments are taking all possible measures to prevent women from becoming targets of radicalization. However, most experts argue that the root of the phenomenon lies in Muslim society and the place that a woman occupies in it. Most often, an unmarried woman that has failed in finding its place within a society is more susceptible to radical ideas. Moreover, it’s easier to transform a woman into a suicide bomber since she is more prone to suicide.
However, in addition to fulfilling the role of suicide bombers, women play a pivotal role in spreading ISIS propaganda, although the ideology of this group gives females a minimal set of freedom and rights. The analysis of media activities of ISIS shows that, in spite of the dominant role that men play within this terrorist group, women create more reliable connections with other group members, which can allow a number of terrorist cells survive in dire situations, notes Science Advances.
The conclusion that radical ideas show high survivability largely due the role that women play in spreading extremist ideas has been made by experts after a study of how various propaganda videos, including decapitation scenes, were distributed across the Internet. At the same time, it was noted that the supporters of the so-called caliphate exist mainly on Facebook clones platforms, where content is not being reviewed so regularly which allows the footage of violent executions to remain on-line for larger time spans. It is women who are engaged in the dissemination of such information and the establishment of links between the group members and the social network users who are sympathetic with ISIS. So it’s safe to conclude that women play a pivotal role in spreading ISIS propaganda, searching for neophytes and sympathizers, and in restoring ties between members of a terrorist cell after its closure.
Basically, those women who have not found their place in life are more likely to join the ranks of a terrorist group. When a woman is offended, her personality and inner self are infringed which makes her prepared to go to extremes in order to satisfy her ego even if it may result in her death.
When radicals approach such an individual, they tell her that she is smart, beautiful, and has a handful of good qualities which shows her value. The mistake of our society is that we do not know how to approach people positively, leaving them both isolated and vulnerable to such predation.
For ISIS organizers, female recruiters serve as bait for male recruits, but are particularly valuable as mothers who will give birth to a new generation of militants brought up with the ideas of violent terrorism.
Valeriy Kulikov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”