By Rafia Zakaria
December 6th, 2014
There are the chefs of foreign food channels that shop at picturesque farmers markets for delectable fruits and vegetables; whipping them up into drool worthy creations in shiny pots and pans; dipping into one and then another ceramic bowl for this spice and that sauce.
Then, there are our home-grown Pakistani variety, the cooking oil Apas and their lesser kin; conjuring up novel curries, and filling up the intervals of sautéing and frying with household tips and some spiritual advice.
In recent months, a new entrant has entered the realm of culinary warfare.
In the midst of murder and pillaging, the Islamic State (also known as Daish or ISIS) has gone ahead and launched their very own cookbook. See the Arabic version here.
This recipe compilation is a product of the Islamic State’s Al-Zawra School, whose mission is to educate the wives and daughters and sisters of Islamic State fighters “for the battlefield of jihad.”
The cookbook notes the importance of being well-versed in the kitchen because the women are going to be engaged in the important task of “cooking for Allah’s soldiers”.
Of course, not every woman with jihadi cooking aspirations can make it out to Raqqa and the territories of the Islamic State, wed a fighter and set herself to the task of cooking for him. For those left behind, or for those who simply want to give a jihadi cooking a shot, the Islamic State has released its very first recipe to anyone who can access the worldwide web.
Easy to make and packed with calories, “Mushy Date Balls” are said to be a favourite of the men of Daish as they raid villages, grab hostages and burn homes.
Their manufacture requires dates, millet and butter, which in successive steps can be mixed, mashed up and then rolled into balls. Portable and not easily spoiled, date balls are a perfect snack during breaks in battle; more importantly, they make the women left behind feel useful.
Making fun of the recipe recommendations of the Islamic State is easy enough; here is a group responsible for massive carnage, directed mostly, but not exclusively, toward fellow Muslims, who seems to think that a few well-crafted public relations stunts will direct attention away from their genocidal realities.
What better than the veneer of domesticity, the propagation of recipes to pander to those that believe that the superficial acts of imitation, the eating of dates and the wearing of beards will make them the legitimate heirs of the Islamic Empires of the past.
It isn’t entirely futile considering that much of the Muslim world is routinely wrapped up in considerations of the minutia of ritual than the quality of spirituality.
For those that believe that the length of a trouser and the fabric of a veil can make a person pious or impious; consuming mushy date balls prepared per the instructions of the Islamic state may render the contents of their stomach holier than perhaps the usual rice and lentils.
The jihadi cookbook project is, however, craftier than that.
In appealing directly to women in such a public and concrete way, the Islamic State is charting new ground in the realm of militant recruitment.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban for example, has never made an effort to do anything similar, limiting their interaction with the female to shootings, stoning and general expulsion from the public sphere. Similarly, other Pakistani militant groups, who do have women’s wings, have kept their activities surreptitious and their recipes secret. If they are making mushy date balls for their suicide bombers, no one knows how they go about it.
But beyond the infantile appeal to the domestic impulses of homebound women, the Islamic State’s strategy is quite an old one. The British employed it a while ago selecting some of their brown subjects to insure that the mechanics of colonial enslavement worked without problems.
Armed with jihadi cooking recipes, the Islamic State’s modus operandi is no different and no better. The obedient women making date balls are cast apart from the dehumanised wives, mothers and sisters that are seized by the fighters as war booty and subject to rape, abuse and enslavement. We are not to think of them, or of those that are stoned, or grabbed off the streets for the crime of being unaccompanied by a man or being improperly veiled.
The good women make the date balls; and it is the Islamic State we have to thank for the favour of reviving the recipe; use one to abuse one.
In the picture of devoted damsels cooking up date balls for their righteously fighting men; is a postcard of a newly resurrected Islamic past, a picture consumed by too many hungry male fools in too many crisis ridden Muslim countries.
But if the men haven’t had the insight to look beyond the obvious, to see the lie in the Islamic State’s fanciful promises of utopia, that challenge can be claimed by Muslim women.
In denouncing the date balls, in standing up for the oppressions and abuses visited upon women living in Daish territories, Muslim women can create a far more useful recipe; one that refuses to allow the misogyny of the Islamic State to be disguised by platitudes to domesticity.