Why Do Women Become Involved with ISIS?

Why Do Women Become Involved with ISIS?

The terrorist group ISIS has been actively recruiting for years, and Western women have been the targets of recent attempts to join the group. Over social media, women currently in ISIS have lured hundreds of girls to Syria and Turkey to join their forces, and it’s shocking to see the methods they use to do so.

Of the hundreds of girls that have fled to the Middle East in recent years, most answered the call that they felt on platforms like Twitter and YouTube. The people who run these social media accounts try to make themselves as marketable and relatable to young women as possible, preying on insecurity and the usual teen worries as a way to get through to them. Alienation in countries like the U.S. and England can be brutal on young Muslim women, who are often the targets of remarks about being associated with terrorism and hostility. While most do not identify at all with radical Islam, the few who do, do so as a form of solace following rejection by their peers.

Those who contact these young women are also trained to respond empathically to their worries – about finding a good husband, leaving the life they lead, and whether or not this cause was truly worth living and dying for. Their assurances that yes, this is the only righteous lifestyle, and that it is ultimately worth it to be dying in Allah’s name, feed off of instability and insecurity at home. While some join because they wish to experience the gruesome violence that happens as a part of ISIS, many fall prey to those words.

On Twitter, women like Aqsa Mahmood reach out by asking young women “sincerely interested in hijrah (the journey to join the Islamic State)” to direct message (DM) or kik them. They appeal to the idea of forming a sisterhood, outlining all the steps necessary to cross over into Syria, and imploring women to think of the greater good. While many critics in the U.S. think that those fleeing to the Middle East to join ISIS are simply in search of a husband, those joining are doing so in search of serving jihad, also known as holy war. Those who join the Islamic State don’t simply do so to become housewives, but can even become fighters.

It is important to remember that radical Islam and the Islamic State is not a true portrayal of Islam. The religion’s rich history is not as constraining as the media portrays it to be, and it’s demeaning to think that it can be simplified to what we know from news about the ongoing conflicts in the area. Sexual slavery and forced marriages are associated with the radical side of the religion, but those who practice Islam generally don’t engage in such practices. Women are well-respected in the religion otherwise, and while there may be some cultural difference in misogyny towards women, we should keep in mind that cultures around the globe can still mistreat women, and we should work to change that.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.