“[They] took me by hand in iron cuffs, to torture me. They spread my arms wide and hung me by my forearms and wrists, held by the iron cuffs, from a steel bar. They left me there for around two hours. I had so much pain, and started to cry many times from the pain in my hands and my body. I cried and shouted. They did this again the next day and I cried and shouted again throughout the day and night” (Informant, Abu Walid)
It’s hard to believe anyone would give up their life, family and comparative luxury of Australia for a country so damaged and war torn as Syria. And yet it is estimated that over 600 western women have joined ISIS in the past decade, a number that continues to rise, despite warnings in the Koran not to follow the militant group.
But is it just, as reports have often stated, a matter of intense grooming over the internet and promises of a better life? Or is it a measured decision motivated by religion and personal ideology?
It is easier to assume that these women are being coerced by outlandish promises and long and intense periods of grooming over the internet, but many if not most of these ISIS brides or “lionesses of Allah” are driven by personal belief and political creed, just as the ISIS men.
Of course, this varies person by person.
Image: Still from National Geographic's The State
Western teenagers are targeted by ISIS over social media streams and online. Propaganda portraying a perfect community and sisterhood are pumped over the web. Promises of love, marriage and wealth are fed falsely to unsuspecting, naïve children. Which is why in October 2014 three high school girls cut class in Denver, America to catch a plane to Syria after contacting ISIS supporters over the web. One young woman, a 19-year-old cheerleader from Mississippi sent a message to an undercover FBI agent, she believed was an ISIS supporter:
I cannot wait to get to Dawlah [ISIS territory], so I can be amongst my brothers and sisters under the protection of Allah swt to raise little Dawlah cubs In sha Allah [God willing].
The community and initial popularity over social media makes an awkward teenage feel part of something bigger, something Mia Bloom author of Bombshell: Women and Terrorism calls “love bombing.” From there the target is sent personal messages, and the conversation will continue over instant messaging services like WhatsApp. Until the woman is seduced by the thought of living in Syria, enough to move her whole life.
This may be the most comprehensible reason for any western woman to join ISIS, that they were somehow hypnotised or tricked into it, but this is not the case for many women and overlooks individual motive and choice. A report recently released by New America uncovered that one in seven members of ISIS from the West were women.
Mostly French, it is estimated that there are around 220 French women in Syria and Iraq in the ISIS group. As mentioned above the tricking or coercing of young naïve women is a misconception, many women join for same political reasons as men.
A paper written by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue explains that women wish to fight (symbolically) against the oppression faced by Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. They want to be empowered by the ability to practise and live a Muslim life unrestrained by western opinion and discrimination.
Image: Still from The State
Islamophobia rears its ugly head in australia, even in parliament and is intrinsically linked to a young radicalised woman’s decision to join Isis, this and the growing hate crimes against women who wear the burqa or hijab across Europe are all contributing to the movement and resettlement of western Muslim women.
They are, like their male counterparts seeking a community free of discrimination.
According to the report Perspectives on Terrorism published by the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Centre for Terrorism and Security Studies, women who join Isis are not limited to being just “jihadi brides” but rather have other roles including being a part of the hisbah, a policing unit that upholds and protects women and their morality. Western women of the hisbah have more power and are allowed to carry firearms. According to one witness account Abu Jamal, (not his real name):
Hisbah are like the Shariah Police…If there is a woman with no niqaab and no socks, or if a colourful garment under the niqaab is showing, they take her to court, and she receives a sentence from ten to forty lashes” (Abu Walid). Most persons who fail to follow the strict rules of IS are punished in public, as an example to others.
But again, this reality is a tough one. Many women who join the movement are subjected to hideous and vile treatment. Regardless of motivation life as Jihadi bride, or lioness of Allah is not how it is portrayed. Australian defector and isis defector, Amira Ali was gunned down alongside her husband in 2014 in Aleppo.
Informants and witnesses who contributed to the Perspectives on Terrorism report warn against such involvement in the Isis group stating separately:
“ISIS is not helping the Syrian people.”
“Don’t come here; you won’t be able to leave,”
“They are brutal, horrible rapists,” “This is not the true Islam and not the Islamic State,”
“Don’t be fooled; they are liars.”
Abu Walid from the report believes that the Isis group is like that of the renegade tribe at the time of the prophet that also practised takfir or excommunication, stating:
“They are the Khawarij tribe. I believed when they came to Raqqa that they are not good. They kill anybody from us, just like the Khawarij did. They existed during those times the same [in the times of the Prophet Mohammad]—with black clothes and black flags. Our scriptures warn us:
When you see them don’t follow them.
Header: Still from The State, starring Ony Uhiara as Shakira.