The Islamic State, commonly known as IS, and synonymous with ISIS, has garnered attention in the media lately for recruiting women for their campaign. These women are groomed online, and are then convinced Syria positively awaits them. Along with audio and visual presentations ISIS posts online to promote their lifestyle with, the group has also created ‘jihadi’ websites (jihadi being a traditional term for fighter) that provides online support for Muslim women. With the one-on-one conversations women have with these individuals, it is easier for the women to become radicalized, as well as convert to Islam. That being said, it is young Western women who are leaving for Syria, and no one knows why this is the case. One confirmed reason is the radicalization occurring online. It is easy to argue that ISIS is technologically advanced, and this has allowed for the globalization of terrorism to occur.
ISIS does not display their lifestyle truthfully online. The recruiters make the lifestyle seem inclusive and nonviolent, and as it is directed towards women, children are included in the videos to further assure that joining the caliphate is safe. This evokes maternal sensations within women, which could explain why there have been cases with mothers leaving for Syria. For example, Tareena Shakil of Britain left for Syria with her 14 month-old child in October 2014, but returned home in January 2015, and was later convicted for terrorism. Sophie Kasikie (a fake name she uses to protect her identity) from France left for Syria with her four year-old, but also returned home after witnessing the reality of ISIS. Although both cases involved women returning home, they were still radicalized enough to consider making their children into fighters.
The most interesting dynamic of this issue is ISIS has achieved the globalization of terrorism through social media, which is a Western institution. The majority of young adults today are heavily active on social media and this online identity makes it easier to get influenced, not to mention that it is easier to brainwash younger individuals.
Through globalization, Muslim women from around the world can connect online. However, through the jihadi websites, authoritarianism has been taken online, and girls with insecurities and identity crises end up on these websites. These insecurities are what ISIS preys on, and thus radicalization is more likely to be successful. Stories regarding women joining ISIS are so present in the media today, yet it is still not having any effect on the girls continuing to leave for Syria. Although it is common to hear from older generations that the Internet is taking a toll on the millennials, it is a true statement. Everyone is so absorbed in the online world, and this realm becomes a breeding space for terrorism. Websites and social media accounts affiliated with terrorists and its organizations have been closed numerous times, only to be recreated. These endless possibilities the Internet has to offer does not prevent this issue of online radicalization from happening. It is easy to suggest strong monitoring of websites, but it can start a debate in regards to personal security and protection of the average citizen.
Even though women are evidently just as active online as men are, is this issue a feminist problem, or something else? The point of feminism is to encourage equal opportunities and autonomy, as well as to protect women. However, this is undermined when studying ISIS, because equality does not exist in their agenda. If it does, then it is an alternative form of equality that no cultural or political discourse has been able to defend. In 2015, 17 year-old Samra Kesinovic fled to Syria. She was reported to have been a sex slave amongst the fighters, and was later beaten to death for trying to escape. Earlier this year, a 21 year-old Yazidi women named Nadia Murad escaped Syria, where she was held captive as a sex slave for the group. Although Murad was not radicalized, Kesinovic, along with several other girls from Europe whom have also been in the media, have been radicalized online and fled to Syria to marry a fighter. This is not what feminism defends.
In 2014, Khadijah Dare of Britain became an ISIS bride, and has voiced her opinions on executions online. The Daily Mail reported in September 2014: “Hours after the beheading of American journalist James Foley at the hands of a British jihadist, Dare gloated on social media at his execution and vowed that she would be the first British woman to kill a US soldier.” These women are active on social media, and their profiles are often public for everyone around the world to view. In today’s world, every word typed online is monitored. Any threat or violation becomes a state issue immediately, and this is exactly what ISIS is aiming for. The manipulation of women calls for the manipulation of the Western enemy into fearing the organization.
This act of enslaving women can be seen as a strategy to weaken the enemy. An article published by The Guardian reads: “…[ISIS] has used rape to exert control and spread terror through communities. It has imposed draconian limits on women’s freedoms to work, speak or be seen in public, policing these controls through violence. [ISIS] has abducted women and girls, sometimes by the busload, and sold them into sexual slavery.” Rape is being used as a tool to weaken the Western enemy. The unfortunate part of this situation is that the only way to end this is by having a supranational organization get involved. However, organizations such as the European Union or the United Nations (specifically the Security Council) cannot easily get involved because ISIS is trying to rid of Western influence in their region. This is a very sticky situation for both sides of the globe.
In most events in the West, feminism is there to protect the women. However, it is difficult for feminism to be a defense when dealing with states deeply rooted in an oppressive nature. Feminism cannot defend individuals online both because everyone is anonymous, and holds a different identity than their public one. Other states have been desperate to stop ISIS, but defeating the organization is a difficult task when there is an East/West dichotomy present.
Western Muslim women who feel oppressed in any way look to ISIS because they have marketed themselves as authentic. We could blame this on Western consumer culture, but how can we change something that has been implemented in such a way for decades to stop something that has only been developing over the past two years? By changing marketing tactics, perhaps. But it is more than just things viewable online or on television. Western Muslims face a different kind of oppression in general due to the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding their religion. Islamophobia and oppression in Western communities needs to be prioritized on their “To Fix” list in order to tackle this subject matter.
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