In the past months, hundreds of women have fled the West in order to bear children for the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Loving Muslim families have been left in hysterics at the news of their daughters abandoning them. The shock felt by the families is a product of their daughters’ “bedroom radicalism.”
By day, these jihadi brides had led very Westernized lives, only to go home and engage with Islamic extremists on the internet, namely through the “Umm network.” Ironically, and almost poignantly because of the Western nature of social media, the “Umm network” is a collection of over one-hundred alleged foreign female jihadists who use Twitter and other forms of social media for the purposes of recruiting their peers to the Islamic State.
Aqsa Mahmood, who grew up in an affluent neighborhood in Scotland, attended a prestigious high school, and cherishes the Harry Potter series and Coldplay, has blogged under the handle of @UmmLayth from Syria, where she's now married to an ISIS warrior. She urges the “Brothers” of those who involved themselves in bombing the Boston Marathon or in murdering innocents in Woolwich to follow suit. She posts photos of guns next to the Quran, asking that violence be inherently associated with prayer. Aqsa’s bereaved parents have pleaded that she come back home, but she replied “I will see you on the day of judgement...I will take you to heaven.” Aqsa believes she must become a martyr.
The IS militants strive to establish a Caliphate: a completely operational Islamic society. This is why the Caliph of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, urges both men and women to join his cause; wives and mothers are a necessary element for any society to function. Women in IS have recruited other women over the internet by presenting the Islamic State as a paradise where one can be a bona fide Muslim surrounded by others who are equally as genuine believers.
In an interview with BBC, Sara Khan argues that this is a particularly appealing option because these women have grown up in a post-9/11 world where they may feel that their ability to dedicate themselves to their religion has been stifled. Some Muslim girls in the West, particularly those who wear the hijab, will have felt the unwarranted and skeptical eyes of a passerby. IS exploits this vulnerability, this feeling of alienation and indignation.
Others are seduced by IS not because they feel alienated by the Western world on the basis of their religion, but rather as the result of a more general disaffection with life. Some have been abused by their families and are desperate to blame the culture in which they currently live, ironic as it may be, for their living conditions. Some, following the path of Margaret Marcus of Larchmont, are mentally ill and feel that, unlike in Western culture, their role as women will not be limited by their mental illness in the Islamic State.
It goes without saying that the actual life of a Western woman lured into IS is far from optimal. They are likely to be a co-wife in a polygamist "situation" (believe it or not, this arrangement does not yield solidarity among the various wives, but often competitive sabotage). It’s expected that a wife will be beaten, but she may also be the victim of an "honor killing," that is, stoned to death or beheaded if her husband feels that she is acting shamefully. It’s also likely that she will undergo genital mutilation, which will prohibit her from ever feeling sexual pleasure, or urinating in comfort, ever again. She will be frequently pregnant, yet her children will never belong to her as they do their father. It will be incredibly difficult for her to leave her husband.
— ام وقاص (@_UmmWaqqas) August 22, 2014
Conversely, her marriage may last only an hour (though, she won’t, of course, have any say in this either). Certain Islamic laws allow for temporary marriages, which enable the passing of a wife from one jihadi warrior to another. Jihadi brides can be put on sex schedules that determine when they should have sexual relationships with designated "holy" warriors. If this does not yet resonate to you as a clear case of sex trafficking, also know that any woman with "large breasts" is at special risk for sale as a concubine in Saudi Arabia, Brunei, or the other Gulf States.
There is something so heartbreaking about the magnitude of women who feel utterly rejected by the Western world. It seems to me that the coverings enthusiastically donned by the jihadi brides, seen above, may echo their desire for a feeling of anonymity that they first felt back home and in bed with their laptops. Be it the alluring image of a romance with a strong warrior or a longing for a "utopia" where all are free to practice a religion in its most fundamentalist interpretation, a considerable swathe of women, growing each day, are convinced that their lives would be better spent in the Islamic State.