ISIS and Women
Women and children are often used as instruments in the propaganda techniques of many fundamentalist, terrorist, and secessionist groups. The ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) seems class apart in this regard. According to UK Mirror report in March 2016, the ISIS has 31,000 pregnant women ready to give birth to a next generation of ‘terror killers’, which is undoubtedly “one of the gravest situations on earth”. Considering the organisational and cadre composition of their activities relating to women, especially the al-Khansaa Brigade, the female-militia setup largely comprising educated Western women to monitor indoctrinated females, one would introspect if ISIS is heading for extinction at all.
Women have always been the victims of conflict since ages mainly for their relative weaker position in the society, inherent biological limitations, etc. Masculinity, sexual violence, and rape are used during war as a strategic weapon advertently or inadvertently. Poloni Staudinger et.al in their famous book Terrorism and Violent Conflict Women’s Agency, Leadership and Responses explain how rape has been used as a strategic weapon; how women are seen historically as the possessions of men, and any attack on them can effectively send a threatening message to the opponent.
Generally, women and their safety-security attract wider audience and media coverage, a tool to spread terror in society. More so in the case of genocidal rape, which is not just a sexual act but has genocidal intentions or after-effects as was the case with Bosnian women who were strategically raped and impregnated as a part of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Pakistani troops also used rape as a strategic attack against Bangladeshi women in 1971. The case of Rwanda is another paradigmatic example of genocidal rape, and according to scholars, ISIS is smoothly falling into this category for using genocidal rape tactic in case of Yazidi women.
Like any other militia group, the ISIS militants entertain themselves by the means of rape in order to energise themselves to fight better. They do not abandon these women, rather gains their proprietary as slaves, especially in case of the Yazidi women. The foreign women, as ‘Jihadi Brides’, are given relatively higher position vis-a-vis the Yazidi women. The Yazidi women are given only the status of ‘sex slaves’ as a punishment for being ‘pagan worshippers’ in the eyes of ISIS, thus are forced to undergo abortions. The western women, on the other hand, promote the ISIS ideology in two ways: 1) a few of them manage social networking sites to promote the ‘utopia’ life of ISIS by posting pictures of their bravery by holding and displaying firearms; 2) as ISIS allows premarital sex during wartime and keeps women as ‘sex slaves’ attracts a lot of perverted men.
Women feature noticeably more in ISIS propaganda than other Islamic terror organisations in many different ways. By analysing numerous ISIS propaganda materials available, as Mah-Rukh Ali, a Norwegian journalist, rightly observes, one can categorise them into three clear trends. First is the ISIS guide/manifesto for women consisting of laws on indoctrinated Arabic women as ‘Jihadi brides’. The second is regarding the recruitment of young foreign women, largely from Western countries, also considered as ‘Jihadi brides’. The third case is the Fatwa for men on sex Jihad and the resulting sexual slavery of Yazidi women.
As far as their tactic is concerned, the ISIS recruiters lure young ‘naive’ teenage girls through social media and woo them with romantic ideas on warriors of the ‘utopian Islamic State’. Once they heed, they are promised travel expenses, a house with basic and sometimes modern amenities, financial compensation for bearing child, lucrative salary to marry a Jihadi, etc. The main offer is the honour of becoming a Jihadi wife which is in reality nothing but an offer to become a victim in disguise.
Recruiters for the ISIS reportedly earn thousands of dollars if they are successful in converting their peers into Jihadis. ISIS pays up to $10,000 each they recruit to wage jihad in Iraq and Syria and if he is highly educated, like a doctor or a computer specialist, he is paid even more. Reportedly, most recruits are the citizens of UK, Germany, France, Belgium (so far highest – around 500), and a few from Asia as well.
There are also stories of teenage girls escaping from their homes to join the ISIS as Jihadi brides. Nora el-Bathy, a French teenager (15), was approached by a Jihadi on Facebook. She escaped from house and flew to Syria, eventually marrying one of the militants. However, she soon got in touch with her family crying for committing “the biggest mistake” of her life. Unfortunately she could never return. Two teenage friends, Samra Kesinovic (16), and Sabina Selimovic (15), ran away from homes in Vienna to join jihadis in Syria as well. Zahra and Salma Halane (16), twin sisters, escaped from home in Chorlton, Manchester, without their parents’ knowledge to follow their brother to Syria. A social-media account believed to belong to Zahra shows her in a full veil posing with an AK-47 and kneeling in front of the ISIS flag. In June 2015, three women left their husbands and fled from
Britain to join ISIS along with their nine children. They were not approached by the Jihadis through social media; rather they left their orthodox Muslim families by choice because ‘they felt imprisoned’ in their own houses.
Scott Atran, an anthropologist explained in his speech at United Nations how foreigners who join ISIS unfortunately are not only educated and emotionally stable people, but are also empathetic, compassionate or idealistic youth looking for a new family with whom they can find significance. Some even find it a thrilling cause that promises glory and esteem. Some British women have posted their pictures carrying AK-47s, grenades and in one case a severed head, as they pledge allegiance to ISIS.
The ISIS is not just a bizarre terrorist organisation with lawless system as many would view. Its leaders are certainly serious about the establishment of a so-called ‘Islamic State’ with systematic rules and organisations how much absurd they may sound. For example, it has released a 41-pages long document “Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study” consisting of laws on ‘Jihadi brides’ in Arabic which has been translated by the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based counter-extremism think tank.
The document is purported to be prepared by the al-Khanssaa Brigade (female militia group of ISIS) which emphasises the ideal role of women as homemakers, wives and mothers, heavily criticising Western women and human rights concepts of gender equality. One of the chilling statements given in the manifesto is that “it is…legitimate for a girl to be married at the age of nine.” Apart from this, it also explains how a woman should be fully dressed in black; not suppose to step outside their homes without a man; and should not go for higher education besides the basic learning as the primary purpose and existence of a woman is to serve her husband, bear child, and conduct household activities.
The manifesto is a representation of what is expected of women of ISIS as it directly targets female recruits from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf instead of the West. The manifesto encourages especially the Arab women to come to Syria and Iraq where they can live the “sedentary” lifestyle with responsibilities at home, which is their “divinely appointed right” in line with Shariah “and the methodology of life that was ordained by God”. The manifesto also claims that women in Saudi Arabia have suffered “barbarism and savagery”, been forced into poverty, abused by the criminal justice system, therefore, urges them to migrate to ISIS strongholds.
Further, the manifesto claims that the western model for woman has failed as it forces women to go to work, taking on “corrupted ideas and shoddy-minded beliefs instead of religion”; “the model preferred by infidels in the west failed the minute that women were ‘liberated’ from their cell in the house”. “This urbanisation, modernity and fashion is presented by Iiblis [the devil] in fashion shops and beauty salons.” The manifesto proclaims that the “fundamental function” of a woman is to be in the house with her husband and children; they may leave the house to serve the community only in exceptional circumstances – to wage jihad when no men available, to study religion; female doctors and teachers are permitted to step outside but “must keep strictly to Sharia guidelines”.
There have been incidents where the captives have tried to escape but only a few have been successful. Those who are caught are given harsh penalties. The passports of foreign recruits are confiscated immediately by the ISIS just after they join it. No outside communication including the use of internet is allowed.
The “fatwa’ (legal interpretation issued by a Muslim Cleric) is the law pertaining to the system of rape of Yazidi ‘sex slaves’. Islamic State theologians have issued an extremely detailed ruling on when and how “owners” of women enslaved can have sex with them. Many have been given to the fighters as rewards or sold as ‘sex slaves’.
Especially for the ‘sex slaves’, mostly the Yazidi women, the ISIS has promulgated the Fatwa No. 64 laying the directions and rules for men vis-a-vis their ‘sex-slaves’. It sheds new light on how the group is trying to reinterpret centuries-old teachings to justify the sexual slavery of women in the swaths of Syria and Iraq it controls. The Fatwa provides detailed instructions on ‘how’ and ‘when’ a fighter can rape them, for example a fighter cannot rape a woman if she is menstruating or is pregnant. If both mother and daughter are owned by a single fighter he cannot rape both. It also bans a father and the son to indulge in sex with the same slave. However, on the positive side, it does ask the jihadis to treat the slaves with compassion and kindness and not ‘humiliate’ them. The United Nations and human rights groups have accused the ISIS of the systematic abduction and rape of thousands of women and girls as young as 12, especially members of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq.
Islamic State’s ‘female Gestapo’ called the Al Khansa Brigade, a female-police squad, is assigned with the duty to keep an eye on the women. It was formed with a motive to catch male activists who sometime disguise in women’s clothing to avoid detection at the ISIS checkpoints. The brigade includes around 60 British women. Reportedly, Aqsa Mahmood, the 20-year-old Glaswegian who left her family to join ISIS, is believed to be a prominent figure in this brigade.
The main responsibility of the brigade is to keep a strict check on the practice of the laws pertaining to women, their recruitment process, and make sure the manifesto is rightly followed by all women. They are known to be paid £100 a month for this job. Any disobedience or breaking of laws would invite brutal lashing or biting. Public burial in the sand has been a common method of punishment for breaking the laws. The women are not even allowed to expose their eyes or wear anything else but black. Their voices shouldn’t even be heard publically as they are confined to a position of being a homemaker and a sex object. Another assignment of the brigade is to search wives for the foreign fighters, and recruitment of foreign girls.
‘Cubs of caliphate’
Given the barbaric but ambitious strategy of ISIS by adopting a never-followed strategy of breeding a new generation of killers, one can observe that all this is not done randomly; rather it seem to be a long-term preparation to raise the cubs of caliphate in order to establish their vision of Islamic State. Therefore, they are indoctrinating children from birth using extremism-based education system similar to that was taught by the Nazis, to create a generation “more lethal than themselves”. Reports suggest that ISIS has also undertaken efforts to create a similar youth wing like Nazi Germany’s ‘Hitler Youth’ called ‘Fityan al-Islam’, meaning ‘Boys of Islam’. If the news of 31,000 impregnated women is to be believed, one can easily count the number of ISIS Jihadis in just a decade ahead.
In 2014, the Nigerian based terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped around 276 schoolgirls in order to impregnate them, which is similar to the ISIS strategy, to create their own descendants. Both groups have used women as instrument to expand their agenda. However, Boko Haram was territorial based, whereas ISIS is impacting on a global scale. Interestingly, Boko Haram is known to have joined hands with ISIS.
While the rest of the world is witnessing bigger role of women in every aspect of the society, and the slogan of ‘Save Women and Children First’ is the normal motto during any security crisis, the ISIS is relying on the strategy of attacking women and children first, proving themselves as strongest, extreme and cruel than any other terrorist group. Unless dealt highhandedly at the earliest, the ISIS phenomenon will spill over far beyond the region and entrench deep into troubled areas of the world setting an example for other terrorist groups.
Plethora of surveys and analysis has been conducted inquiring whether the ISIS will sustain for long. Majority of them predict its demise, yet it has managed to grow stronger despite the air-strikes and bombings. Only a few Yazidi women have been released by ISIS in April 2015, but thousands of them still continue to be in ISIS captivity. Many attempts have also been made to rescue them but in vain. In October 2015, the Kurdish army with American special operation forces conducted a raid on an Islamic State prison in Hawija, Iraq, but could rescue a handful of prisoners only. The whole world sympathizes with the victims of ISIS but hardly anyone has taken any concrete action to wipe them out. Given the ground situation today, it would be unrealistic to say that ISIS will completely extinguish in the foreseeable future.
By Simran Parikh
(Author is a student of International Relation Pt. Deendayal Upadhayay Univercity)