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.”
Roundtable Lunch Discussion
The Future of Gülen Movement in Europe: Influence of Turkish Politics After the Coup Attempt
With Prof. Johan Leman, KU Leuven University
& Prof. Thijl Sunier, VU University Amsterdam
Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Beginning as a grassroots community in Turkey in the 1970s, Hizmet (a.k.a. Gülen movement) is a transnational social initiative active in education, interfaith dialogue and humanitarian aid over 180 countries including Europe.
Accused by president Erdogan for overthrowing his government first in 2013 after the corruption scandal and then failed coup attempt in July 2016, Gülen movement has been declared as terrorist organisation by the Turkish state and all of media, schools, universities, dormitories, associations and foundations affiliated with Gülen movement shut down by decree of law. Tens of thousands of people from the movement are in jail now and their private properties/companies are confiscated. The conflict between Erdoğan’s Turkey and Hizmet is extended and spilled into overseas. In some countries such as in Pakistan, Somalia; Erdoğan’s efforts to close down Hizmet schools were successful.
Facing the challenges coming from Turkey, the crucial question is to understand how the post-coup process is shaping the future of the movement, especially in Europe? Could movement sustain its activities outside Turkey?
Anthropologist Prof Sunier and Prof Leman have made the following presentations at the event:
Prof Sunier thinks that Hizmet Movement differs from other Islamic movements rooting to mystical tradition of Said Nursi. Nursi rejected himself being defined as Sheik (or master) and rather try to to balance the positive knowledge and religion. Fethullah Gulen is however not an exact follower of Sait Nursi. He managed to develop his own way formation on the route of faith.
Gulen Movement is not against the system nor in struggle to defeat it, but in favour of contributing to fix its moral building. According to the movement being a good Muslim is not enough. You should be successful in life as well. This recalls the active engagement in this world of Weber.
The coup in 1980 is milestone in Turkey’s economic development. Before 80s, Turkey suffered a weaker economy and was an insignificant country, however the economic development after 80s made it a part of world economy. Societal development is not unrelated to this economic development and Gulen Movement is part of this. Gulen Movement tried to engage with politics rather than opposing the developing system. Islam is known to be in the rural life which is backward. Cities traditionally belong to nearly only seculars. 80s economic developments and migration to the cities created new urban middle class bringing people to cities. Both AKP and Gulen Movement are part of this social development.
After 80s, Religious Muslims engaged in bureaucracy which belongs exclusively to non-religious before 80s. The followers of Gulen got positions everywhere in police, judiciary, academics, hospitals, army, schools and other state institutions etc. This is not infiltration but normal change in the course of socio economic development. This socio economical extended to Europe, causing similar impacts among the Turks in Europe.
Gulen people established institutions across Europe and this change was interpreted differently by European countries. Some welcomed this but some others didn’t. Until a few years ago German government was very happy with the developments in this respect. However Dutch government was always cautious. Two models of Islam in Europe being one the Mosque the other dialogue and education. Dutch Government prefers The Mosque model.
Prof Leman is in favour of dialogue and education as he thinks the Mosque is closed and incommunicable where dialogue and education is open to communication. Other social dynamics that will shape the future of current trend of social change in Europe include economic situation of Turks. Most Turks and Moroccans living in the West Europe lost their connection with their home lands as being already third generation immigrants. This caused gap between Turkey and local context.
The second is with the development of technology they can commute easier with their homeland ie planes etc. Local dynamics of Western Europe influence the religious life of Muslims in European context which creates differences the understanding in their homeland.
Prof Leman thinks that the Hizmet movement has certainly come a future but they need to be engaged in its core. He argues that even before the coup there were some challenges of Hizmet Movement. Leman says that whether they are good Muslims or not they are civilised. The other thing, dialogue and education are their pillars. Leman knows the movement and its founder well.
In May, two months before the coup, he was in the US have met with Fethullah Gulen. At the meeting in May 2016, Leman asked Gülen what should remain in the movement after his death. Fethullah Gulen’s answer was “the schools and interreligious dialogue”. According to Leman that’s also one that exhibits Hizmet must focus outside Turkey. “If you’re doing that, the Belgian and other Western governments will not adversely treat you”. He also said “there should be a way of communication with Muslims. You can’t communicate the Muslims in the mosque because they are closed but yes you can communicate with Muslims in schools through dialogue. If you can’t go into mosque system, stick to dialogue and education”.
Leman also quoted from journalist Nedim Sener who is hardcore anti-Gulen movement . He said “Sener divides Hizmet people into 3 categories: 1) Sympathizers. These are not necessarily in the movement actively, they observe and appreciate activities undertaken. He adds “I should be in this category” 2) Core people. Hizmet people support the movement actively, financially, mentally etc. 3) Hidden imams. These are people allegedly managing the movement who I never saw one. He also added this has been a tired as repeated for long time but there is no ground and evidence for this. If these do not exist stop saying that.
“Gülen himself is not responsible for the coup” is the opinion of Leman. “Just physically he was not able to do that.” He suspects earlier that “the coup was the work of a disgruntled, pluralistic grouping of Kemalists, among others, soldiers and, yes, some Gulenists. There were unavoidably Gulenists involved. There is no other way when you are in many positions in all sectors of society.”
Leman stressed that to be a multi-religious world movement, the Gulen movement must stay away from domestic Turkish politics and advised to the movement to stick to the core values.
Leman put some critics to the movement for not being more transparent mentioning the schools in Belgium not declaring its affiliation publicly. Furthermore “Hizmet behaves sometimes vague, almost mysterious, for example when it comes to the number of sympathizers they can’t give exact figures. When Dutch government asked the number of mosques in the Nederland the figures are clear but when you asked the GM institutions unclear. Do not do that. Be open. Trust the future of democracy. Otherwise, it would look like a sect.”
The event has continued with an hour question and answer session after the presentations as above.
The Hizmet, also known as Gülen Movement, has been started as faith based religious community in the 60’s in Turkey around Mr. Fethullah Gülen’s ideas. During the 80’s with the momentum of political and economic liberalism in Turkey, it has been become a nation wide religious movement. In 90’s, it extended its education activities cross-borders and transformed from a grassroots community in Turkey to a wider social effort around the world through opening non-denominational educational institutions and dialogue centres. It has been evolved from a religious community to a transnational faith inspired civil society movement.
The movement has been attracted scholars in the last decade for its activities, mobilization capacity, educational institutions, media outlets and dialogue centers. The main focus of the movement is education and interfaith and intercultural dialogue. It has been very active in Turkey and also in many continents especially in Africa.
However, the rift between Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) put the movement in a challenging and problematic position in Turkey and elsewhere. The conflict between these two actors has been dominated the Turkish politics in last three years. Erdoğan’s war against Hizmet is resulted as a social purge against Hizmet participants in Turkey. President Erdoğan blamed Hizmet for the failed coup within hours of the start of the coup starting a massive purge in no time. He declared the movement as a terrorist organization. Turkey officially designated Hizmet as top one terrorist organisation along with PKK and ISIS, and persons who government deem has affiliation with as terrorists for guilt by association. The failed coup of 15th July 2016 gave him an opportunity to extend his war not only against Hizmet people but also targeting other different groups such as Kurds, Alevis and secular people in Turkey.
The Turkish state shut down all of media, schools, universities, dormitories, associations and foundations affiliated with the Hizmet Movement by decree of law. Business people’s companies are confiscated. Many people from the movement are in jail now. The conflict between Erdoğan’s Turkey and Hizmet is extended and spilled into overseas. In some countries such as in Pakistan, Somalia; Erdoğan’s efforts to close Hizmet schools were resulted successfully.
Facing this reality and challenge coming from Turkey, the crucial question is to understand how the post-coup process shape the future of the Movement, especially in Europe? Could movement sustain its activities outside Turkey? The movement has started its activities in the beginning of 80’s with first migrants Turks in Europe. There are a couple of networks in the movement lead mostly by the second generation of Turkish descendants: schools, dialogue centres, women associations, charity organizations, and tutoring centres are some of the institutions that are developed in last decade.
The first networks were established around the first Turkish migrants people in different European cities. Following the same legacy and logic of the migrant movements, the movement started up its own institutions via associations and cultural centers. The project-based institutions has been emerged with the second generation and spread in many European countries. The institutionalisation of the movement in local contexts is a recent phenomenon for the Hizmet. Mostly the first institutions with few exceptions are business associations that later become the financial source of the movement and tutoring centres that resulted as schools. The project based institutions answer the need of migrant people in Europe. They have firstly and mostly educational problems. The tutoring centres were opened and supported by the Hizmet to struggle with the lack of education and early drop out in education. The centres are providing tutoring for students and families. In the beginning, the first institutions were opened and run by the Turkish origin people.
As a consequence of these first initiators, the Turkish identity is very present in the institutions. However, with the arrival of the second generation who knows very well the local needs and problematic issues that they face such as employment, discrimination, they developed more a local understanding of Hizmet. At the same time, the Hizmet movement keep its transnational ties for long time. It becomes more cosmopolitan-transnational and global. This global and transnational aspect of the movement affects also Hizmet activities in Europe. The emphasis has been remained on local activities and depend the national contexts.
The Movement has different settings and adaptation model in different contexts. In Europe, local and national circumstances shape the movement’s strategies and aims. In that sense, there is not one movement but maybe one can talk about several movements. The adaptation and integration to the local contexts has been already on the agenda of the movement, however the ‘Turkish problem’ force the movement to re-think its activities, networks, structures.
Are schools, dialogue centers, women associations, charity organizations, tutoring centres functioning as previously or is there a change in their organizational structure and ideology? The Turkishness is seen in most part of the movement, especially in leadership in schools, associations. Some scholars define the movement in terms of Turkish Islamic movement. Is there a change? The institutions define themselves as neutral establishments, not present themselves directly affiliated with the movement. There is no clear attachment and formulation about the definition of the Hizmet inspired organization. As the movement is widely known in Europe via media and tragic harassments against Hizmet people happened after coup attempt in several European cities, is this hesitation about the structural identity going to be continue or how will the institutions respond to this challenge of self-identification?
The religious inspiration and motivation is always an important element to understand movement’s objectives and activities, however during the last decade, the cosmopolitan understanding of Islam and also human values are developed among Hizmet followers. The crisis with AKP as political Islam opens the doors indirectly to reconsider what is Islam and how a Muslim lives faithfully in a secular context in Europe. The clash between two actors is also perceived as a problem within Islam and the clash of two Islamic understanding. What will be the relation of Hizmet with Islam? Is it a crisis of Islam or a local problem? How does the movement react with this specific question if it is a problem within Islam ?
Professor Leman and Professor Sunier have explored some of the challenges and questions with regards to the above matters and the implications of the coup on Hizmet in Europe.
To watch the discussion please click here