Editorial: Lotuses in Terror Ponds

Terrorism is no more discriminated by a particular religion or gender. When women are found to be complicit in acts of terror, torture, and even rape; society asks, ‘How could this happen?‘. The answer is, as to be expected, complicated. Female terrorists are hardly a new phenomenon. From the militant women of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s to the all-female suicide bombing units of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers in the ’90s and ’00s, women have played critical roles in terrorist organisations across the globe for decades. And while the women pledging their allegiance to ISIS aren’t necessarily joining their male counterparts on the battlefield, their involvement in the terrorist group is paramount: They recruit new members, helping ISIS become a bigger and deadlier force.

Dr. Katherine Brown, a lecturer in the department of Religion and Theology at the University of Birmingham, specialising in gender, jihad, and counter-terrorism, and an expert witness to the UK High Courts, quoted that “women join radical Islamist groups that promote violence for a combination of personal and political reasons.” Both men and women are motivated by emotional appeals, but “for men it’s an opportunity to display their prowess, to defend their women, and to have a life that’s more fun than the Call of Duty computer game. For women the journey is presented as cleansing and exciting, an opportunity to help those suffering, and a chance to have a shape history.

ISIS creates propaganda that specifically targets women, and sells them a different message that it’s their religious obligation to join the Islamic State. Men are marketed the chance to prove their faith by joining the fight and women are marketed the idea of sisterhood and the opportunity to marry a jihadi fighter, thus supporting the cause by raising the next generation of militants. ISIS has at least 40 media organisations pumping out videos, audios, and written materials. According to Humera Khan, executive director of Muflehun, a think tank specialising in counter terrorism. But the materials intentionally skirt the more extremist side of ISIS culture. “Instead, they’re talking about everyday issues, what life is like. It’s very warm and fuzzy stuff,” Khan says. “Only a tiny percent has anything to do with religious ideology and a tiny percent has anything to do with violence.” Quite a perfectly thoughtful mastermind.

For the organisation itself, however, the use of women actually has a strategic advantage over the use of men: women can more easily evade detection and security measures, and their deaths, Brown said, secure eight times as much media coverage as that of their male counterparts. Terrorist organisations are able to manipulate our sense of outrage about the deaths of women in order to publicise their cause.

There’s a priority for the Islamic State to attract females because it offers stability. If you want people to see you as a nation, a legitimate state, it’s important to attract females and have them start families,” says Veryan Khan, editorial director of the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC). “It’s not like women are an afterthought. This is a strategic move.” But while women have always been valuable targets to terrorist groups, ISIS is now pursuing a chilling new strategy: recruiting teenage girls online.

In October 2014, three high school girls from Denver cut class to catch a plane to Syria after chatting with ISIS supporters online. In May 2015, Jaclyn Young, a 19-year-old former honor student and cheerleader from Mississippi, was arrested on suspicion of attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS with her American boyfriend. Young sent messages to FBI agents she thought were ISIS members, saying, “I cannot wait to get to Dewlah i.e. ISIS territory so I can be amongst my brothers and sisters under the protection of Allah swt to raise little Dawlah cubs In sha Allah i.e. God willing.

Even asking the question, “why do women become suicide bombers?” or “why are women committed to violence?” implies that there’s something normal about male violence. Not only do deeply ingrained gender biases and caricatures of women as non-violent lead us to the assumptions that women shouldn’t do this, they also subtly excuse male violence. Rape, torture, and violence should not shock us more merely because the perpetrators are female. The reason that they do is in part due to historical precedent: for example, criminologists agree that murder is a largely male phenomenon. In general, when women do kill they are more likely to murder those closest to them. Its not about how a lady joins terrorist organisations, it more about why she finds a need or a point to walk forward to it. Terrorism must be suppressed and  finished from the root. I must say these are the lotuses in terror ponds, awaiting to be rescued. Youth, teenagers, women, widows, poor and under privileged group must be groomed so that there would be no temptation towards terrorism. We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational, and so disciplined they can be free. Governments and states should perform together as one nation against terrorism and save the generations from the filth.

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