Just when you thought the stories coming out of the ISIS hellhole cannot get any morebizarre, something even more disturbing shows up. A phenomenon labelled Extremist Brides has exploded in most of the western world, predominantly in Europe and Australia.
Scores of women, mostly girls in their teens are flocking to regions in Syria and Iraq under control of the Islamic State, seeking to marry a jihadi and play a part in what they see as a religious war. Most of these women are approached on the internet by the ISIS propaganda machines or are lured into this scheme by jihadi bride recruiters active in many parts of the world.
Ever since the ISIS started gaining territory on ground and notoriety in the mainstream media, young boys and girls belonging to the Muslim community or new converts have been reported to travelling to Syria via Turkey and Iraq to be a part of the infamous brigade. ISIS known for its brutality is also known for the bizarre religious belief its ideologues preach. While taking Yazidi girls as slaves in conflict is commonplace, many ISIS fighters have been marrying girls abducted at a very young age.
It has not been a long time since the reports of three girls aged barely around fifteen making their way to Syria via Turkey emerged. These reports not only cause distress for authorities and the state administration in the UK, but also shocked the family members of the girls beyond belief. In another case twin sisters Zahra and Salma Halane left for Syria following their brother who had gone earlier. The twins are said to have escaped the ISIS stronghold after discovering harsh realities like many others, but there is still no trace of the others.
The biggest roadblock in tackling this problem is that no one can possibly know that an individual is being radicalized. Aqsa Mahmood, a 19-year-old from Scotland, is said to have become radicalized without leaving her bedroom. She like many others who joined the extremist organization, appeared to be just another teenager living in the UK. She would listen to Coldplay and read Harry Potter, there were no signs of her becoming an extremist. Her parents describe her as being afraid of darkness and flying, she was even afraid to speak, there was no hint of her taking such a big step.
How are they lured?
There are many theories about how these girls are lured into joining the conflict in Syria. Many say these women just like men are being fed propaganda which demonizes the western societies they live in and urge them to fulfill a religious responsibility. These youth are mostly contacted through social media portals or by recruiters who operate directly on the ground. In many cases girls are lured by people in their friend circle who are already set to leave for Syria. But it is most importantly the promises of a glorious and free life which captures the imagination of women and triggers a desire to become Jihadi brides. They are often given promises of a land where they can find freedom to practice their religion and will be treated as queens by their future husbands. These promises are far from reality.
A cyber date
He is Abu Bilel, French born, aged 38 and a right hand man of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. She is Melodie, a 20 year old French girl, a solitary child who secretly converted to Islam. But, the only twist in this Jihadi courtship tale is that Melodie is actually an alter ego created by a French investigative journalist to infiltrate the digital hunting ground of Jihadi recruiters. She was contacted by Abu Bilel after sharing his video on Facebook in which he was showing off weaponry. Upon getting in touch with her, Abu Bilel comes straight to the point and invites her to Syria and become his Jihadi Bride. “Are you thinking of coming to Syria?” he asked, “I will take care of you” he said. She covered her hair with a scarf and spoke in a soft voice for their Skype interaction and when she expressed doubt, she was told that she can trust him. He told her if she married him, she will be important and live the life of a queen.
Nutella and Kittens?
In a hilarious turn of events, CNN made the claim that girls were being lured to become jihadi brides by showing pictures of Nutella and kittens and they were not joking. Anchor Carol Costello made a remark on national television that cute kitten pictures were being used as propaganda material to make extremists seem less intimidating and Nutella was being shown in an attempt to portray life in the war zone as pleasant and not much different from western countries. This move invited a Twitter frenzy with ISIS supporters going on to troll CNN with one posting a picture of Nutella and a kitten complaining why he was still single.
Jibe at the first lady
In the latest issue of the ISIS propaganda magazine Dabiq, Umm Sumayyah Almuhajirah, a Jihadi bride and head of the Al Khansa brigade wrote that taking Yazidi women as sex slaves was nothing wrong and that she rejoiced when her husband brought a slave home. She went on to warn that slave markets will be taken to the west and Michelle Obama the first lady of America won’t even fetch the third of a Dinar, which estimates to around $40. Well that was a 'cheap' shot. The way she described her pleasure about girls being taken slaves shows the dehumanization of women in the conflict zone.
Zayn Malik, the anti terror poster-boy
Yes you heard it right, while most celebrities ask kids to stay away from drugs, Zayn Malik will ask girls to stay away from extremists. A new anti terror project is using former One Direction star as the poster boy to discourage young British Muslim girls from joining the Islamic State. The project is a brainchild of Nurun Ahmed who previously starred in the show Apprentice. She says that Zayn who has earlier spoken about the struggles of being a Muslim pop star will act as a voice to prevent girls from joining such organizations. The girls have often been told that groups like IS are their only hope for a future, hopefully such campaigns can tell them otherwise.
The great escape
In fresh reports the Halane twins who had gone to Syria to become jihadi brides have been reported to have fled from their husbands. It is being said that the ISIS are hunting them around Syria. Just as this one, there have been many other cases of women turning back from the conflict zone after finding the reality far from their expectations. Many women have narrated horrific stories of what they saw during their stay. Marriage certificates are being issued with clauses for permission to become martyrs. For teenagers such situations are often too extreme.
In addition to the rising number of women going to the Middle East, there are measures to encourage this practice. The leadership of the Islamic State has declared a 1500 pound bonus for fighters who marry Jihadi Brides. This bonus will be an expense for a short honeymoon in Raqqah which is the stronghold of ISIS in Syria.
The glorification of the conflict by simplifying it as between good and evil only allows extremists to portray themselves as heroes. The trivialization by the media giving extremists names such as ‘Jihadi John’ makes matters worse. As author Zia Chaudhary puts it, these girls feel that they have no stake in the society that they live in. They feel as if they are made to compromise a lot as Muslims and as women.