By Sabina Khan
November 3, 2014
“Your day will revolve around cooking, cleaning, looking after and sometimes even educating the children … In addition, if your husband gives you permission, then you can go to the internet cafe with a group of sisters or the market if you need anything,” writes Aqsa Mahmood, a 20-year-old British woman of Pakistani origin who left her home in Scotland to move to Iraq and became an IS bride. Her parents have stated that they haven’t been able to identify any signs that could explain how their daughter became radicalised. It is baffling that women like Aqsa are giving up everything to join a terrorist organisation that is blazing through Iraq, whilst beating and raping anyone who stands in their way. What is driving young girls, some with promising opportunities at their fingertips, to join a group that demeans women and treats them as livestock?
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the IS, has issued an order on recruiting more females. The women of IS have responded by blogging, tweeting and posting photos in an effort to increase their numbers. Their online activity isn’t a surprise. The disturbing part of the story is that women from Britain, Germany, Australia, Malaysia and the United States are actually responding to this foolishness. Online accounts of IS male terrorists are overwhelmed with desperate women yearning to be their servants.
Photographs of Burqa-clad women carrying AK47s and holding a severed head have been making the rounds online but these women are banned from fighting and are mostly relegated to cooking and cleaning. Some have been promised cash for each baby they produce. The IS has also assembled some of their women in an all-female unit known as the al-Khanssaa Brigade in Raqqa, Syria. Their mission is to terrorise other local women into covering themselves and preventing them from stepping out unaccompanied.
A total of 200 foreign recruited women are estimated to have joined the IS. In addition, it has kidnapped around 3,000 Iraqi women. Recently, two Austrian teenage girls have made headlines by escaping to Syria and becoming IS brides. However, these two, now pregnant and disappointed by reality no doubt, want to return home. The Austrian government has suggested that these girls would face prison time if they are allowed to return since they participated in the activities of a terrorist organisation.
Even though brides are valued mostly as housekeeping baby factories for creating more IS fighters, many have travelled long distances to undergo wilful radicalisation. Their decision to travel may stem from a naive idea of being part of something bigger — the creation of a utopian Islamic state. Since these women come from such varying backgrounds, it is difficult to generalise their motives. Some women may have simply failed to fit in with the majority of people in Western states. Khadija, a Dutch woman in Syria, stated, “I always wanted to live under Sharia. In Europe, this will never happen.” For others, a romantic notion of war could be their source of inspiration. Many of these girls are very young and still have much to learn. They likely don’t understand the cruel nature of conflict and have proven themselves to be easily manipulated by propaganda. We may never be able to comprehend the motives of these young women but, at the very least, this story should serve as another reason to pay attention to the young people in our own busy lives.