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IS’ radical recruitment tool: Love

IS’ radical recruitment tool: Love

IS’ radical recruitment tool: Love

News has broken that three British teenage girls are on the run from the Iraqi Islamic State having fled after being married off to Isil militants. These girls are believed to be about 16 years of age and IS is relentlessly searching for them in Mosul, Iraq. Due to the limited description of the fugitives it is believed that they are the three Bethnal Green schoolgirls that went missing in February.

Kadiza Sultana, 16; Shamima Begum, 16; Amira Abase, 15 said that they were going for a day out but instead flew to Turkey, slipped across the Syrian border and joined Islamic State. Since their disappearance, these young women have been untraceable except for footage discovered of them in a Turkish hotel atrium and Syrian intelligence that three British girls had crossed the border.

The news of their escape from IS was posted on Mosul Eye’s Facebook page, an Iraqi blogger who opposes IS. All of the information about the girls’ escape is sourced from this page.

The flight of the Bethnal Green schoolgirls to Syria fits into the larger narrative of a growing fundamentalist sisterhood. Radicalisation is so often associated with males due to the gender politics of Islam and men are seen naturally as more natural fighters; a notorious example of this is university educated Jihadi John. However, awareness has increased surrounding the growing number of young British women who have joined IS, including Scottish 20 year old Aqsa Mahmood, accused by BBC’s This World of being a IS propaganda mastermind and Manchester twins Salma and Zahra Halane, aka the Terror Twins. Already, an estimated 200 to 300 European Muslim girls have left their home countries and travelled to Syria to join IS. Why are they doing this? Why is this happening?

Although reductive, there may be some truth in the term ‘jihadi bride’. This term has been objected to and rejected by many critics because of its misogynistic connotations which reduce these women to merely wives, ignoring the possibility that they have gone to Syria for their own ideological reasons. BBC reporter Razia Iqbal spoke to a woman, originally from Somalia, now living in Sweden, who said that her daughter fled to Syria because she fell in love with a man fighting for IS. This mother claims that IS are manipulating the powerful effect of love on young women in order to recruit them. Another mother, from Belgium, told Iqbal that her daughter fell in love with a senior figure in IS and she still communicates with her daughter regularly via text. The tragedy in this case is that the daughter though that this was a good way of life for her, but the brutal reality soon became too much for her. She tried to leave after the birth of a son but was treated violently by the man she thought loved her.

It is easy to forget in the media coverage of the brutalities of the conflict in Syria that IS is fighting for a cause, that cause being the creation of a global Islamic State. If there is ever to be a ‘state’ as we recognise the term, then it needs to have subjects and citizens, as well as fighters. In short, it needs women to create more IS citizens. It needs women to join the cause in order for this radicalising machine to continue to work, for it to perpetuate itself but also to become more appealing to would-be-radicals who are shown that they can still have a life and a wife with IS. Indeed, it is apparent that the three British girls got married very quickly and then tried to settle into some kind of domestic life within the turbulent world of IS.

Why then, are young women going? The three British girls; Kadiza, Shamima, and Amira are clever, promising students. The CCTV footage of them at Gatwick airport shows determined, focused women, not scared at all. Certainly, they are impressionable. When I was 16, in the midst of revising for my GCSEs, I would do anything to improve myself, to gain extra attention and credit. I would have believed anyone in authority, not because I was particularly gullible, but because I had not developed the critical capacity to question authority. Shamima’s twitter account gives us some insight into her psyche as she followed many IS accounts, a number of which were women recruiters.

All three girls attended Bethnal Green Academy and are described as ‘straight-A students’ by the east London school. A fourth girl from the school is believed to have made the journey to Syria in December 2014. The school’s principal, Mark Keary, claims that there is no evidence to suggest that the girls were radicalised in the school. However, in March the passports of four other students at the school were confiscated by a High Court judge.

The problem is that the weapon being used to radicalise such young women is the power that these fundamentalists have to tap into the emotions of vulnerable young women. At once, they romanticise the life a would-be ‘jihadi bride’ will lead in fighting God’s battle and they provide what many young women so desire; the security of a real life romance with a man who will provide and support a ‘jihadi bride’. Indeed, this prospect must be much more enticing to a 15 year old than going to school, especially if, like other kinds of sexual grooming, the victim genuinely believes in the reality of their relationship.

The fight is a fight against radicalisation in order to protect the victims who are sacrificing their lives to engage in warfare in the Middle East. It is also one of increased education on internet safety, social tolerance and of self-esteem and confidence. For these young women, a life in Syria is more appealing than a life in East London. Something is definitely wrong here, especially considering the vast numbers of young people migrating from the Middle East and into Europe, it doesn’t make sense that these women should willingly enter the eye of a storm that others are drowning in the Mediterranean to avoid. The UK is failing these young women in some way, and while I won’t lay all the blame on them, I do feel that this is about as good a time as any to revise the way in which marginalised, young, vulnerable people are treated. Of course, the problem is so vast that it would be impossible to cater for every situation but I do feel that the net could be tightened in order to protect known-at-risk citizens from leaving.


Clearly, if the girls that IS are looking for are the Bethnal Green trio, the jihadi dream is not everything that it promised to be. I hope that these young women are safe and find refuge and that they will return back to the UK safely and will be able to tell the truth about how un-Islamic IS is, about how much of their recruitment was a lie, and so will be able to dissuade others from following them. I cannot imagine the world that they are in now. May they be returned soon.


Madeleine is a final year student at the University of Exeter studying BA English with proficiency in French who has developed her writing and editing through her involvement with Her Campus Exeter. In her free time, Madeleine loves discovering new music in preparation for the UK festival season and searching for opportunities which can broaden her horizons, most recently this was volunteering as a teacher in Beijing, China, where she was immersed in Chinese culture and tradition. There are few things in this world that bring Madeleine more joy than glitter, velvet and sequins and her ideal dinner party guests would be Queen Elizabeth I, George Orwell and Taylor Swift. Currently, with graduation looming, Madeleine is exploring the idea of taking time out to travel the world on a shoe string before embarking upon a career in international humanitarian aid.


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