By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
3 November 2014
The recent Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) video in which a group of fighters brag as they discuss enslaved women and sell them as if they were cattle begs the question about this group’s barbaric practices, from beheadings to using children as suicide bombers.
No enslaved women were shown in this video on slavery but knowing the organization, we accept that everything discussed is true. The difference between the old al-Qaeda organization and the newly-born ISIS group lies in the declaration of crimes. Previous investigations revealed the role of sex in motivating the youth to join such militant groups and many reports have noted that fighters in jihadist camps engaged in quick sexual relations within the Islamic context. However, al-Qaeda concealed this absurd aspect of its fighters’ lives and presented them as jihadists loyal to their cause and preoccupied with fighting and praying.
Conversely, ISIS fighters are not ashamed of their acknowledgment of exploiting women and they tend to publish news of these women - whether they’re fighters or captives. They have shown women either as being tied by ropes and enslaved or as bearers of arms. These female fighters come from Central Asia, Europe and Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, and they brag about how some of them succeeded in fleeing their countries with their children to join the group.
Author Fadila al-Jaffal has a decisive opinion on the matter. She says sexual repression in Muslim communities is the foremost reason behind these terrorist organizations’ popularity. In her opinion "the thinking of ISIS is inherently sexual. Sex is a great promotional weapon. [ISIS] markets itself by exposing its self-indulgence as bohemian acts or as legitimate and [noble] ones committed under the cover of jihad.”
The discussion among the readers of Jaffal’s article reflects the controversy surrounding the ISIS phenomenon and its strange practices. A critical reader wrote: “Fear God when you write… [So] these people sold their souls and left their homes, wives and luxurious lives to look for sex?!” Another reader responded: “No one forced them to sell their families and souls…These bring shame to the religion of Islam.”
But whether ISIS is a sexual and not religious phenomenon and whether it simply reflects the nature of the organization’s members – mostly males under the age of 30 - debauchery is clearly a weapon in our battle today.
However, we must note that cheap sexual exploits are available almost everywhere and their cost is less than the cost of traveling to Syria. So It’s not just about sexual temptation in al-Qaeda and ISIS camps. There is also the aspect of religious legislation which sanctions lust according to Sharia law, as those who issue such fatwas (religious edicts) allege.
ISIS is a group with a political agenda and it uses women to promote itself. It thus markets women as an award to be received for fighting in its ranks. This is one of the oldest and most efficient tricks in the art of marketing. The fact that a few hundreds of fighters came from Western liberal societies does not mean such a marketing approach is not needed because those tasked with recruiting youths address each category according to what appeals to its sentiment. For example in Europe, they talk about the persecution of Muslims while in Syria they promise youths freedom from the Assad regime and also voice doubt regarding the aims of other groups engaged in fighting. In other countries, they talk about the women they have enslaved in wars and the promise of virgins in paradise.
However, the weapon often backfires on its owner regardless of the motives behind the surge to join these groups. News of slavery will weaken the organization’s alleged rhetoric on religion, jihad and support of oppressed brethren.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.