Teen girls joining Isis jihadis | Inquirer Opinion
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Teen girls joining Isis jihadis

Psychologists, sociologists, political analysts and experts on religion and spirituality should be outdoing one another to find reasons why female teenagers barely out of their childhood years are leaving home and country to join Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). This group is considered to be a terrorist threat with intent to rule the world by creating a global caliphate.

Isis, through mainstream media, continues to show the world the cruelty and barbarity it inflicts on those it considers antipathetic to its cause, especially Christians who, simply because they were Christians, were beheaded for the world to see. These Coptic Christians were not even armed fighters against Isis.


But social media is where recruitment happens. Vulnerable, impressionable and disaffected teens can get fascinated by the idea of joining and fighting for a bloody cause that attaches a religious value to it, an eternal one at that. (Twitter recently removed Isis accounts and, as a result, received threats from Isis.)

I found a recruitment video on the Internet, one that showed armed jihadists with gentle faces and modulated voices repeatedly invoking the name of God and speaking persuasively about why joining Isis would give meaning to one’s life (lush greenery and soft chanting in the background). The gist of the message is this: Jihad does not need you, you need jihad, and God does not need you, you need God. The recruiters also mention the countries where their recent recruits are from.


Compared to Isis’ beheading videos, the recruitment video is not blood-curdling but a soft-sell. But listen to the words.

There are many opposing and overlapping views on what Isis is, how it came to be, or what spawned it. In his controversial article “What ISIS really wants” in The Atlantic, Graeme Wood said: “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse.”

Haroon Moghul hit back with his “The Atlantic’s big Islam lie: What Muslims really believe about ISIS”: “But for every deluded soul ISIS ensnares, or who seeks them out, countless more condemn them, oppose them, reject them or fight them. It’s beyond a stretch to argue that ISIS represents Islam, is grounded in Islam, or justified by Islam. That’s not to say they don’t claim religious mandates, or exploit religion to enable their savagery. It’s that no one’s buying it.”

Whatever Isis is in one’s Islamic spectrum, the grim reality is that it has succeeded in luring young people to join them, like the three British school girls who, it was discovered too late, were on their way to the Middle East. How and why they made that step, their parents have no clue. Then there was this pregnant Austrian teen who left all to join Isis.

Read The Guardian’s “Schoolgirl jihadis: Female Islamists leaving home to join Isis fighters,” which is about “hundreds of girls and women … going missing in the west, reappearing in Iraq and Syria to bear children for the caliphate.”

But in the Vox website, lawyer Amada Taub says that The Guardian “doesn’t explain why a surprising number of women in the West have been leaving their homes to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria.” She cites Dr. Erin Saltman, who researches processes of political radicalization, and who estimates that one in 10 of Isis’ foreign recruits from the United Kingdom are women.

“[Saltman] sees three reasons that ISIS may be appealing to some women in the West; the first two are gender-neutral messages that reach women as well as men, but the third may be targeting women directly.


“The first reason, Saltman said, is an ‘adventure narrative’ that encourages young women to think of traveling to ISIS’s territory as not just a religious obligation, but an exciting expedition to a ‘Muslim utopia.’

“The second narrative has a humanitarian appeal, which presents ISIS’s struggle as an effort that began as a fight against the oppressive Bashar al-Assad government and is now even more necessary because ‘global powers’ are turning against Muslims.

“And finally, Saltman said, ISIS has successfully targeted western recruits via ‘romance’ narratives. Some of those are directed at women, promising them that they will find a ‘strong Muslim man, who is a true Muslim, who is fighting for this very heroic cause.’ (Similar appeals directed at men, Saltman said, talk about how foreign fighters are marrying ‘young, nubile local women.’)

“None of this is to suggest that ISIS does not violently oppress women (it does) or that its behavior towards them should be condoned (it should not be). But understanding ISIS’s appeal to women is crucial to understanding its popular support in Iraq and Syria. The Obama administration has said that it is hoping a second ‘Sunni Awakening’ of Sunni civilians will drive ISIS out. If ISIS’s female members are part of its strategy to maintain its power and popular support, we should pay attention.”

I have the book “Cults in Our Midst” by Margaret Thaler Singer which explains thought reform and brainwashing in cults. Is Isis’ recruitment process through social media perhaps not too different from the way religious cults operate? Cults usually have strong leading figures—charismatic, if you like—that prey upon persons “in search of” something and with belongingness needs (to borrow from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) who would give up all for some kind of spiritual utopia. In the case of the young Isis recruits, for the added delight in not just being with celebrity “Jihadi John” the beheader, but in having an active part in bringing about the apocalypse.

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