They are forbidden to leave their homes without a male escort, or they will be beaten.
Their eyes must never be seen. Without a double-veil, they will be lashed.
Shrouded in darkness, they’re forced to wear black.
Over 550 Western women have traveled to Iraq and Syria, burned their passports, and joined the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
While the ideology of ISIS is repugnant to most people, the desires of the women who join ISIS are universal.
They are in search of who they are and where they belong. ISIS draws them in with a warped Islamist brand of feminism.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think-tank based out of London that works to counter global extremism, published a study about female foreign volunteers explaining that the motivations for women to join ISIS are nearly identical to those of men.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue listed “push” and “pull” factors that lead to the radicalization of Western women.
The factors that “pull” women to ISIS appear to answer the longings that “push” them toward radicalism.
- Feeling lonely and isolated
- Believing that the Muslim community is being persecuted
- Anger at the failure to address the perceived grievances and persecution
- Wanting to be a part of a utopian Islamic state and fulfill religious duty
- Becoming a part of a community and a sisterhood
- Seeing a romanticized portrayal of ISIS and life within it
Female foreign volunteers view ISIS as the solution to their grievances.
Many of the foreign volunteers who join the Islamic State either are ignorant about religion or are recent converts to Islam.
ISIS targets these women through social media, portraying a utopian Islamic state, and idealizes the role of women in the caliphate to their potential recruits. They also train new female recruits in computer skills and social media so they can recruit more women to join ISIS.
Female volunteers then utilize Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Ask.fm to connect with young girls ISIS recognizes as potential recruits.
Through social media, ISIS is painted as a utopia among brothers and sisters.
They create memes that are idealistic snapshots of life in the Islamic state. Female volunteers even give packing and travel tips to help women join ISIS.
Young women are deceived by what they see online, at a time when they are trying to figure out who they are and what their purpose is. Female volunteers tell them ISIS is the answer.
What if women could break the cycle of recruitment?
Women need to speak out against the propaganda of ISIS. Potential recruits need to hear answers to their questions; they need to hear a message that counters the twisted Islamist feminism of ISIS. That is precisely what some Muslim women are working to accomplish.
A group of Western mothers of foreign volunteers worked with religious scholars to write an open letter to their children who joined ISIS.
They wrote the letter to rebut the ideology of ISIS and discourage others from joining ISIS.
Chris Boudreau is one of the mothers whose children died fighting with ISIS.
“Communities and society need to work together to reach out and develop resources to help guide and counsel our youth,” Boudreau told the Washington Post. “If we can at least stop some from leaving or have some reconsider and come back, then it is doing what we want [the letter] to do.”
The so-called caliphate is not the utopia that’s portrayed on social media.
After experiencing the harsh reality of life in the Islamic State, a woman believed to have had a senior role within ISIS has defected. She is now speaking out under the assumed name Um Asma.
Um Asma is a 23-year-old who was part of the all-female Al Khansa brigade that ensures that women comply with Sharia law, punishing those in violation with lashings. She used to help smuggle girls, mostly from Europe, across the Turkish/Syrian border and into ISIS.
She is warning Western women that ISIS is not what it appears to be.
Um Asma is quoted in the Daily Caller saying, “The caliphate is not what you think it is. Women are whipped, sold and stoned. Corpses are on display publicly for weeks.”
It is nearly impossible for women who join ISIS to defect; they are forbidden to go outside without their male escort. Those who have been able to defect need to speak out, like Um Asma, about the cruel reality of ISIS in order to dissuade women from joining in the first place.
It is human nature to ask the question of our individual purpose and identity; women need to hear that ISIS is not the answer.