Wanted: vi­o­lent Mus­lim women

The Miracle - - Opinion - By: Rafia Zakaria The writer is an at­tor­ney teach­ing con­sti­tu­tional law and po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy.

IT was only a cou­ple of months ago that the Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP) came out with its women’s magazine. Ti­tled Sun­nat-i-Khaula, the magazine at­tempted to ap­peal to Mus­lim women, of­fer­ing first-per­son sto­ries of a fe­male doc­tor who gave it all up to travel to ‘Kho­rasan’, an in­ter­view with the wife of a com­man­der (he did the dishes and helped around the house), and even a sup­pos­edly in­spi­ra­tional por­trait of a child sol­dier. The ob­jec­tive was sim­ple: brand ex­trem­ism as heroic, join­ing up as a duty of faith pos­si­ble for all sorts of women; they could go them­selves, or send their hus­band and even their baby sons.

Last week, the mil­i­tant Is­lamic State (IS) group, which has long been in the game of re­cruit­ing women and has a whole bri­gade com­prised of them, re­newed its call for ac­tion. Un­like prior at­tempts at re­cruit­ment that have ap­peared in Dabiq, the group’s English-lan­guage magazine, this lat­est one was is­sued in its Ara­bic news­pa­per un­der the ti­tle ‘Wa­jib un-Nisa’.

Un­like pre­vi­ous at­tempts at swelling the num­bers of women in IS-con­trolled ter­ri­tory, which hinted at fight­ing as an op­tion for women, this lat­est call de­mands it, call­ing it an obli­ga­tion and a duty. Specif­i­cally, it says, “To­day, in the con­text of the war against the IS, it has be­come nec­es­sary for fe­male Mus­lims to ful­fil their du­ties on all fronts in sup­port­ing the mu­jahideen in this bat­tle”, and that women should “pre­pare them­selves to de­fend their re­li­gion by sac­ri­fic­ing them­selves [for] Al­lah”. To bol­ster the le­git­i­macy of its com­mand, the di­rec­tive points to the women who were com­pan­ions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and who (ac­cord­ing to IS) fought along­side men, and also to fe­male war­riors in the golden age of Is­lam.

With so many men leav­ing, the mil­i­tant Is­lamic State group is quite pre­dictably turn­ing to women. Un­like the TTP, whose open at­tempts to re­cruit women sur­faced only very re­cently, IS has been tar­get­ing women as re­cruits for some time. Even in the ini­tial days of the group’s takeover of Raqqa in Syria, its ef­forts were di­rected at women who were re­cruited into the Al Khansaa Bri­gade, which went around dis­ci­plin­ing and ab­duct­ing women who did not con­form with the group’s stern di­rec­tives.

Women with­out a full-face veil, women with­out guardians, and even women talk­ing loudly were all sub­ject to the wrath of this wan­der­ing all-fe­male moral­ity po­lice. On so­cial me­dia, the group’s fe­male re­cruits, par­tic­u­larly those from the West, took on the task of wheedling oth­ers to join, talk­ing about how lovely life was in daula [the IS-con­trolled ‘state’] and what a grand time was to be had in liv­ing in such a pure place. Even then, the group man­u­fac­tured a ge­neal­ogy for the fe­male war­rior. Al Khansaa, orig­i­nally a fe­male po­et­ess, and Nusay­bah, a fe­male war­rior, were se­lected from his­tory for this pur­pose.

Pro­pa­ganda for ter­ror­ism was thus couched in re­li­gious duty, a re­turn to Is­lamic au­then­tic­ity, both of which had been honed to per­fec­tion in the group’s re­cruit­ment of men. The small dif­fer­ence was in the de­tails, men­tioned here and there: that women were to have a ‘sup­port­ing’ role whose fo­cus was the im­ple­men­ta­tion of de­ci­sions by men. So it was un­til this sum­mer, when IS be­gan to lose. As the re­ports of the group’s losses mounted and fight­ers were lost, more were re­quired. The desperation was ev­i­dent in the group’s pro­pa­ganda; an ar­ti­cle in Ru­miya, an­other of its pro­pa­ganda pub­li­ca­tions, asked women to “rise with courage and sac­ri­fice in this war”.

Per­haps pre-empt­ing that this could be con­sid­ered a ca­pit­u­la­tion to the fact that no male fight­ers were avail­able, the au­thor went on to add that this call to women was “not be­cause of the small num­ber of men” and that women should join ow­ing to “their love for ji­had”. The ar­gu­ment that turn­ing to women does not come from the sur­ren­der of men would be harder to make now. Last week’s call to women to ful­fil their obli­ga­tion for ‘ji­had’ and un­der­take ter­ror­ist at­tacks came in the wake of enor­mous losses suf­fered by the group. Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, more than 1,000 IS fight­ers sur­ren­dered en masse to Kur­dish mili­tias. Their com­man­der had told them to make their own de­ci­sions and they had cho­sen to sur­ren­der, they said, be­cause it meant they would have some chance at sur­vival. With so many men leav­ing, the IS is pre­dictably turn­ing to women.

The whole story proves only one thing: ter­ror­ist groups, whether they are the TTP or IS, ma­nip­u­late his­tory and text and faith, all to serve their own de­sire for power. When the groups take over ter­ri­tory, women are deemed worth­less, sen­tenced to iso­la­tion, ban­ished from pub­lic space and treated like an­i­mals. Other women are re­cruited to carry out th­ese degra­da­tions, to beat and search and im­prison oth­ers.

In those mo­ments, faith to th­ese groups means seg­re­ga­tion, seclu­sion and de­ri­sion, a rel­e­ga­tion of women to the sta­tus of lesser be­ings. When they are los­ing, so too does the re­li­gious de­mand, and sud­denly, women are duty-bound to be in the bat­tle­field fight­ing along­side men and car­ry­ing out at­tacks. All the rea­sons pre­vi­ously of­fered to keep them hid­den and at home and sub­ject to the whims and di­rec­tives of guardians dis­ap­pear in an in­stant.

Mus­lim women are smarter than Mus­lim men. The sly ma­nip­u­la­tion of faith that lies at the core of all ter­ror groups and that is so use­ful in re­cruit­ing men is un­likely to be quite so ef­fec­tive in draw­ing in women. Un­like Mus­lim men, Mus­lim women know and re­mem­ber that the vi­o­lence now be­ing de­manded of them by IS is a mere re­di­rect­ion of the vi­o­lence that is in­flicted upon them.

Men who jus­tify beat­ing women, mis­treat­ing women and abus­ing women as a re­li­gious right, are now ar­gu­ing for the same women to take up arms so that they may re­turn to power and to the task of sub­ju­gat­ing women. Whether it is IS or the TTP or some other mil­i­tant group, Mus­lim women are not fooled, not duped by the pro­pa­ganda that in­sists that mur­der is a re­li­gious duty.

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