By Karla Adam
May 29, 2015
LONDON - Western women in the Islamic State are playing a crucial role in disseminating propaganda and are not simply flocking to the region to become a "jihadi bride," according to a new British research report.
The report, published Thursday by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College London, calls the view that women are joining Islamic State primarily to marry a foreign fighter "one-dimensional." Women are drawn to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, by a number of factors, including a sense of isolation, a feeling that the international Muslim community is under threat, and a promise of sisterhood, which was especially important for teenage girls, the report says.
"Much has been made of romantic notions in motivating people to go, but we know that reality is very different," Melanie Smith, one of the report's authors, said at a news conference in London.
The researchers said that about 550 Western women have traveled to Islamic State-controlled territory, where their main responsibility is to be a good wife and mother. Some women have expressed a desire to fight on the front lines, but it is not allowed under Islamic State's interpretation of Sharia law.
But Western women are playing a significant role in propaganda and the recruitment of other women.
"ISIS have allowed for, and even relied upon, a decentralized network of messengers to carry and promote their propaganda and proliferate their world-vision," the report said.
Women are also aware that their marriages may not last long, the report says, highlighting the case of "Shams," a Malaysian doctor who is prolific on social media and whose husband proposed on the first day they met. She posted a picture of her wedding, where she wore a white niqab, and wrote a caption on the picture: "Marriage in the land of Jihad: 'Till Martyrdom Do Us Part.' "
Using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Ask.fm, the researchers monitor about 100 women from 15 countries who they believe are living in Islamic State-controlled territory. The majority are in their late teens and early 20s, with the youngest being 13.
And though the researchers said marriage wasn't the only reason women were joining the Islamic State, it was still a factor.
Smith, the researcher, said that the longest known period of a woman living unmarried in the Islamic State was two months.
The report also highlighted discrepancies between the utopian society presented through Islamic State propaganda and the reality on the ground. Women have been increasingly raising concerns, albeit indirectly, about issues including inadequate health care and shortages of electricity and clean water. Some were "considering climbing pine trees to gain Internet reception," the report said.
But such grumbles are the exception.
The researchers said that highlighting the reality - puncturing holes in the utopian propaganda - would help to deter young women from going.