More DW Blogs DW.COM

Women Talk Online

A forum for women to talk to women

Female “Islamic State” Supporters – The West Needs to Rethink Its Strategy

women jihadist

The news that at least 12 young Australian women from Melbourne have attempted to join the so-called Islamic State demonstrates its enduring attraction on young impressionable Moslem women in western countries. It is time to rethink western strategies, writes DW’s Grahame Lucas.

Australia is not the only western democracy to be facing the problem of trying to prevent young, often well educated female Moslems from joining violent Jihadis in the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of young women from Germany, Britain, France, to name but a few, have in recent months found their way to the self-styled caliphate. Other countries around the world have also been affected.

So far no western government has come up with a way of deterring young women from joining IS and supporting the bloodshed. What is becoming obvious is that these young women take IS propaganda at face value. By all accounts they willingly believe the highly idealistic and romanticized picture of life in Islamic State disseminated via slick social media campaigns. But they are also embracing the violence. Without doubt the Islamists are winning the war of words. But why? This issue has now been explored in depth by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at London University.

IS frauenIS has murdered some 1500 captives in the last year through beheadings or other bestial forms of execution. It rules with an iron fist tolerating no deviance from its ideology. Those factors should on their own be enough to deter any normal person who has grown up in a western society. But clearly it is not.

What is perhaps surprising is that these young Moslem women are demonstrating a propensity for violence on an unanticipated scale. They are taking on front-line roles in logistics and as paramedics and are also involved in intelligence gathering. There are reports of women pressuring the IS leadership for more executions and bloodshed and demanding that no mercy be shown to non-believers. Justification of violence in pseudo-religious and ideological terms is a classic sign of totalitarian ideology.

But women are not only supporting the violence, they are also the driving force in attracting new female recruits with promises that they will be well looked after in the caliphate, helping it to grow into a Islamist utopia by bearing the children of jihadi fighters. They have been instrumental in selling the idea to many young women that by marrying a jihadist fighter and supporting Islamist ideology they will be empowering themselves as women. There are promises of sisterhood and membership in a close community characterized by shared beliefs. And, significantly the prospect of freedom from discrimination and isolation often felt by young Moslem women in western countries is powerful. All of this creates the impression that young women travelling to Iraq and Syria to join the caliphate will be granted special treatment and a new more meaningful and fulfilling life in a community set on realizing the true Islam.

When compared with the reality of IS, this is of course ridiculous, so ridiculous in fact that so far the authorities in western countries have not taken such a complex set of desires and motivations into account. Rather, they have focused on the somewhat simplistic notion – disseminated by the media – that young, innocent and naïve Moslem women seek nothing more than to break out of their strict family environments to become the brides of manly jihadists.

IS womenGovernments clearly need to focus more on the reality on the ground. According to women from 15 countries contacted for the study on radicalization, life in the caliphate is hard, very hard. There are reports of women being forced into marriage with jihadi fighters, living in squalid accommodation with little to eat and poor health care. By all accounts their freedom of movement is heavily restricted and anyone caught making critical comments is immediately silenced. But despite this there is not a flood of returnees, which suggests a much stronger, ideological commitment to the cause than previously thought possible. This needs to be fully recognized as it constitutes a serious threat.

So far western security forces have tended to regard men returning from the caliphate to be the main threat as potential terrorists. But the idea that women returning to western countries can be more easily reintegrated into society on their return is clearly far too simplistic and could possibly have fatal consequences. The West urgently needs to rethink its strategy towards this young women, both in turns of prevention and with regard to how they are treated if they ever return.

Author: Grahame Lucas

Editor: Marjory Linardy



What you should know about the Islamic State

Here are facts you should know about the Islamic State and why they are a threat to women. (From August 20, 2014)

Fighting to keep Islamic State militants at bay

Kurdish female fighters are the “Women of the week” in Women Talk Online. Female fighters play an important role in the Kurdish “Peshmerga” army, which is fighting tooth and nail to keep Islamic State militants at bay in Iraq and Syria. (From October 8, 2014)

In Allah you must believe

Women in Pakistan are no strangers to discrimination. However, violence against those belonging to a religious minority is neither acknowledged nor unequivocally condemned. (From May 14, 2014)



29.05.2015 | 21:17