Tanya Silverman, Project Coordinator and Christopher J. Stewart, Programme Associate argue that with recent news that Lorna Moore has been found guilty of not reporting her husband’s plans to join ISIS the discussion around women’s roles in violent extremism seems to remain pervasive. This guilty verdict given to Mrs Moore follows the UK’s conviction of Tareena Shakil for joining the terror group. As more and more news pops up, so do studies that try to understand women’s motivations for joining violent extremist groups and their roles in them.
Throughout modern history there have been numbers of women that have been a driving force for their respective violent extremist groups: for example, the IRA’s Mairead Farrel to the Japanese Red Army’s Fusako Shigenobu. However, a wannabe female jihadist flicking through an issue of a popular Islamist extremist magazine is unlikely to see themselves on the centre-spread wielding weapons like their male counterparts. Instead, women are generally recruited for more functional and “traditional” roles.
Realising the need to get women involved for state-building, groups like ISIS have upped their female-focused propaganda. Earlier issues of their publication, Dabiq, barely mentions women: a quick glance through their launch issue Return of the Khilafah has no mention of the word females, women, or girls. Now, their online magazine contains manifestos for women, dedicated to these “sisters of the Islamic State”. They devote whole articles to women to explain that they can have a fulfilled life being the wives of jihadi fighters.
From ISIS’s Dabiq and al-Qaeda’s Inspire, five examples that illustrate how Islamist extremist women can please their husbands:
- “Have loads of children”. The 11th issue of ISIS’s propaganda magazine, Dabiq, is more focused towards women than previous issues, urging women to care for their jihadi hubbies. Women are the child-bearers of the future – the mothers of ‘lion cubs.’
- “Be positive of polygamy”. In the middle of Issue 12 Dabiq, aptly titled “Just Terror” in the wake of the Paris attacks, a few flowery pages stand out from the otherwise gruesome imagery. Female columnist Umm Sumayyah al-Muhajirah advises her fellow women that “when her husband wants to marry another woman, it’s not obligatory for him to consult her.”
- “Mourn his death appropriately”. Even after a husband’s death, women can show their support to their martyred “warriors”. Issue 13 of Dabiq, called “The Rafidah: From Ibn Sa’ba to the Dajjal”, offers its female readership advice on the correct ways of mourning a husband’s death (ihdad). The glossy pages recommend that less is more and that widows should stop adorning themselves with jewellery “or anything else meant to beautify oneself.”
- “Encourage him to fight”. al-Qaeda’s Inspire has more representations of women than its ISIS contender. They are still expected to confirm in every way to traditional views of a woman’s place in her Ikea style jihadi home. A woman’s role in jihad is limited to arousing the determination of “heroes” and pushing them out into battle.
- “Be supportive”. This should indeed be common to any happy marriage. However, Issue 12 of Inspire reminds wives that whilst their “husband may be at the top of the most-wanted list” or even “imprisoned” it is important to remind them they win; either by victory or martyrdom.
With such a focus on females joining Islamist extremist groups the conversation has turned to them. However, in amongst race-bashing, White resistance forums like Stormfront and Vanguard News Network remain popular places for questions about wifedom and motherhood. One user asks “How many children should White people have?” whilst another weighs-up the pros and cons of having an East Asian wife. Users of far-right forums appear to take a less accepting view of polygamy. However, the general outlook on the role of women is comparative to that presented in Islamist magazines. Women are mothers and carers to the next generation, and committed wives to their husbands.
Extremist groups are unlikely to change the view of women in their state-building missions. As such, articles on the role of women will continue to appear in online Islamist magazines and on far-right forums. Potential female recruits searching for tips on how to be the best women in an Islamic caliphate, or a far-right white utopia, will continue to see the female role as that of a doting wife and a diligent mother. Expect a new instalment of ‘how to be a woman’ in the next issue of Dabiq. Available online, and in high resolution.
Image taken from the 12th issue of ISIS’s propaganda magazine, Dabiq. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisation.