Roundtable Discussion on
Brides of ISIS: The Internet Seduction of Western Females into ISIS
with Dr. Anne Speckhard, Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism
Thursday, 16 March 2017
The so-called Islamic State and self proclaimed Caliphate has indeed managed to seduce thousands of young men and women from Europe, the U.S., Canada and other Western countries into its ranks. Of these, it is believed that roughly ten percent are female. And they are increasingly lured into ISIS, not only by men urging them to join and even proposing marriage, but also by their female cadres who call to them over social media and instant messaging. The percentage of French females joining ISIS is believed to be one of the highest in the West—at almost twenty percent.
Once inside the terrorist ranks ISIS women, we are told by those who blog from its inner circles, are expected to marry. Indeed ISIS is in the business of state building and the mujahideen—or “holy” warriors—need wives, if not sex. That is when they are not busied with raping their Yazidi sex slaves—something the escaped Yazidis claim their ISIS “lords” see as a spiritual duty for which they pray before and after assaulting them. This abuse of females apparently is not an issue for the Western female cadres, who like their men, see this all as part of Allah’s grand design.
The Western women who join ISIS, just like the Western men who also join, have by the time they reach Syria and Iraq become true believers—they’ve drank deeply of the “Jim Jones” purple Kool-Aid and don’t mind dying for the cause. In fact they welcome it. Women cadres in ISIS routinely tweet and message out of Syria and Iraq their fervent desire to be “martyred” and await the glory and blessings that they believe will accrue to them if their husbands are “martyred” before they die.
They also dismiss the ruthless bloodshed and sexual violence as necessary for the revolution—much like Lenin’s and Stalin’s purges were seen as cleansing actions to get to the final goal of communism. ISIS true believers trust that with bloodshed they are carrying out the work of Allah in reestablishing the Caliphate and that when it is restored all believers will live peacefully and euphorically by Islamic ideals.
Shannon Conley, on whose case I based my latest book, Bride of ISIS: One Young Woman’s Path Into Homegrown Terrorism was also seduced over the Internet. After converting she fell under the influence of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni American who was droned by the U.S. in 2011 for his instigation and involvement in various terror plots against the United States, including the failed Christmas Day “underwear” bomber who tried to take a plane down over Detroit in 2009. Al-Awlaki now dead, lives on via the Internet and inspires from beyond the grave, convincingly giving out the false message that all Muslims have a duty to go to the battlefield and carry out militant jihad until the End Times, and if they cannot do so must wage attacks at home.
Conley drank the poison and downloaded al Qaeda guerilla manuals, settling on carrying out a VIP attack inside the United States (she lived in Denver) until she realized she would likely not succeed. In the meantime she fell in love with a Tunisian ISIS fighter with whom she carried out a relationship via Skype. When he proposed marriage she agreed to join him in Syria, although she took an Army Explorer’s course beforehand in the hope of gaining skills to assist the Islamic State. Thankfully her father learned of her plans—he discovered her one-way ticket to “hell”—and alerted the FBI who arrested her on the airplane’s walkway.
The roles women take in terrorist organizations vary, but as said earlier, militant jihadi organizations are generally male dominated, and women may only take leadership roles over other women. At this point women joining ISIS may take part in all-female brigades that enforce female morality dress standards and sex segregation, operate checkpoints, and go on home raids. A Canadian woman is believed, based on the movement tracking her phone, to be working as an ISIS spy. Some of the most influential, like a woman who calls herself Umm Layth, have blogged and used social media to seduce other women into joining. Such women paint a picture of life lived according to Islamic ideals, blissful marriages with ISIS fighters, as they hold the hope for “martyrdom” alongside the sacrifices necessary to bring about the hoped-for utopian state—no matter what violence that may entail.
Conservative militant jihadi groups often do not allow females into combat roles or use them as suicide bombers until the going gets tough. In Chechnya, the more liberated roles of women in their society and the deep traumas occurring at the hands of ruthless Russian forces may have caused a different dynamic to play out. Chechen women were the first to carry out suicide missions once the Chechen rebels embraced the “martyrdom” ideology imported into their movement. Chechen women filled out the ranks of suicide bombers at a fifty/fifty ratio throughout their campaign. Palestinian, Iraqi and other terrorist groups with more conservative roles for women did not use them as suicide operatives until there was a clear advantage to doing so. When terrorist leaders found that their men were no longer successfully passing checkpoints that women could still breach while hiding bombs on their bodies, they began to send women.
Chillingly, it has recently been revealed that ISIS now has a new marriage certificate which both husband and wife sign, that declares the final decision over the life and death of the ISIS bride rests with the Islamic State’s leader al-Baghdadi. Under ‘conditions of wife’ it reads: ‘If the Prince of believers [Baghdadi] consents to her carrying out a suicide mission, then her husband should not prohibit her.’ This may suggest that the group is looking ahead to a similar transition in using female cadres for suicide missions.
While some have feared the Western “brides” have been subjected to group rapes, that fate appears to be reserved to Yazidi slaves primarily, and non ISIS local women whose family’s are forced to give them over to ISIS fighters, sometimes to be “married” repeatedly over a short time period by the ISIS cadres. Western women who join ISIS generally Tweet and blog positive statements about their time in ISIS, citing both the hardships and the materials “blessings” of living in the stolen quarters of others, taking over their cars and other material goods. Although it’s clear from reports of those who escape, that Westerners who join ISIS—male or female—are not allowed to leave. Reports of three London girls who joined, reported them in recent months on the run from ISIS, but no clear picture has emerged about their well-being, or lack thereof, in open sources to date.
It appears that as long as the idea of the longed-for Caliphate continues to carry its euphoric power, and ISIS continues to demonstrate some modicum of success in holding and governing territory, young girls who are angry or concerned over geopolitical events, who become convinced that militant jihad is their Islamic duty, and who feel off their track in the West, while simultaneously enticed via the Internet (often in person)—by adventure, romance and the call to live (as they imagine) by Islamic ideals while they contribute to building a longed for utopia—that they will continue to be seduced into the movement, and we will continue to see females leaving the West to become Brides of ISIS.
About the speaker:
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (www.ICSVE.org). She is author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. She also has interviewed nearly five hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters from various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Russia, Canada and many countries in Europe. Her newly released book is Bride of ISIS. Website: www.AnneSpeckhard.com
Reference for this article: Speckhard, Dec/Jan 2016, Brides of ISIS: The Internet Seduction of Western Females into ISIS. Homeland Security Today Volume 13, 1, Pgs 38-40. http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk//launch.aspx?eid=0d492b24-092f-4b2c-8132-b3a895356fc8 #ISIS
I expressed my views on women’s rights in an interview to the Muslim World journal shortly after arriving in the United States.
[00:16] I view woman and man as the two sides of a unity. I view them as two different sides of a whole. Indeed, God has created them as such.
But in different periods she has been limited to a life at home closed to the outer World. Sometimes tyrannical leaders have isolated them and prevented them from participating actively in social life. Hence, they experienced various forms of deprivation.
[00:48] A balance should be sought. That aspect of life has a place and this aspect of life has a place. She has a home. She sometimes will spend time withe her children but there is no obstacle to her participating in social life. She can assume any role.
[01:06] But the World has not yet realized this reality. Leaving reality aside, perhaps they have not even thought about it properly. How many woman chiefs of general staff are there in the World? How many presidents?
In England’s tradition, there is Queen Elizabeth but that is something she inherited from her father.
[01:37] Question: What can be done to ensure that women can have the status they deserve in our society?
This matter should be promoted Worldwide. In Brussels, in Washington D.C., in New York, at the African Union. Events should be organized to express this matter in a universal language around the World. Qualified experts should be brought together, people from among Muslims, Christians, Jews, Budhists, Shintoists and others, should be brought together without excluding anybody to discuss this matter.
This matter should be integrated into school curricula at an age when the children’s subconscious is still developing. Some pedagogists say that is the 0 to 7 years old period.
But experience suggests that the development of a person’s subconscious mind, the development of their neurons, their pituitary gland, thalamus gland, and memory center continues up until the age of 15. This corresponds to the period of high school.
[03:04] This matter [women’s rights] should be made part of the school curricula so that the students will learn them early on. This is the only way to make the desired attitudes on women’s rights to be internalized. Otherwise, if the matter is enforced upon people there can be a reaction. It could lead to a negative, reactionary response. People need to digest and internalize these things. They should make this attitude a part of their character. They need to internalize it. Education is the path to achieve that.
[03:42] As a side note the reason your friends have focused on education is that it is a way to address multiple problems at once. To grant every human being their deserved status goes through education. Elimination of poverty goes through education. Achieving social harmony and cooperation, and the prevention of conflicts go through education. Bringing people together and reconciliation, enabling them to go arm in arm goes through education.
Education is an important factor but it needs a solid foundation in the form of a curriculum. Psychologists and pedagogists should be brought together. I don’t think in our World matters have been analyzed from a pedagogical and psychological viewpoints in the light of our beliefs.
I believe that there is a serious need for a solid study of the philosophy of Prophet’s life by experts in the field based on the lives of Prophets, the Qur’an, the authentic accounts of Prophet’s life. I don’t think something like this has been done yet.
[05:05] If the issue [women’s rights] is integrated into school curricula starting at elementary school, then in middle school and high school, then when a person starts his or her career they will be imbued with the respect for women’s rights.
There can be exceptions but the attitudes of the vast majority of people can be shaped through education and this could be a lasting solution to the issue.
[05:37] Question: Could you comment on education rights of women?
Among the members of the family, if the woman is not at the same level of education as her husband or children, if they don’t understand each other…
[05:58] Rumi has a beautiful saying: Not the ones speaking the same language, but the ones sharing the same feeling understand each other. İf the woman’s level of education doesn’t match other members of the family, a kind of a hidden cast system can emerge within the family without anybody noticing it.
It is very important for people to understand each other, to be able to share the topic of discussion. Women’s education rights should be viewed from this angle.
[06:28] If we consider a family like a molecule, we can view the society as an organism. Members of the society should be able to understand each other as well. They should be able to understand each other’s speech and delve into a topic together. They should be able to share a vision.
Looking at this from another angle, we can consider on the one hand the religious knowledge and the spiritual life and on the other the study of the creation, the study of the universe, the main topics of the positive sciences. Members of a society should be educated at least at the level of high school to be able to communicate with each other. So that when they come together and someone is speaking on these topics the others will not remain at loss.
[07:38] Therefore, if the members of a family differ significantly then a form of social strata like a cast system can form within the family and the society without anybody recognizing it.
These were practices and attitudes during times of Egypt’s pharaohs and the Indian cast system in Ganj valley. Unfortunately, we are still living these partially.
[08:19] Question: Do you have a special message for the International Women’s Day?
Human beings are alive as long as their hopes are alive. I believe the intellectuals of the future will solve these problems and perhaps women will get what they have been yearning for.
I hope that the intellectuals of the future will find a way to grant everybody’s rights without causing a reaction. I hope that there will be a social system where women will be satisfied as well, there will be a world where women will be able to breath, God willing.
In the globalized world, this may happen more easily. Now you can reach the other side of the world by touching a button. You don’t need to get on a horse or mule as in the past. You are able to convey a message to India or Pakistan whenever you want.
[09:30] But we need to start somewhere. If it is started now, it can be realized within a quarter century. Contemporary means of communication and transportation may help realize these goals faster. With the help of God women can be hopeful about the future. As the poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy says, “the dawn promised by God to you is near, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps even earlier.”