A Brief Meditation on the Women Supporters of ISIL
The name ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) elicits many reactions from us – primarily those of fear, devastation, and (very rarely) relief. Fear, of course, because it is a rapidly growing organization of people who kill other people, with often irrational motives: unpredictability plays a major role here, because we as human beings need to observe a pattern in order to trust. Devastation, because most of us detest the idea of death, fear it. Yet relief is something we allow ourselves to feel, primarily because we don’t live around their areas of influence. Of course, there is some apathy peppered among these reactions, a very convenient reaction when we live far away from it all – in our comfortable houses, classifying our cellphones running out of charge as the worst thing to have happened to us in a day. We do, after all, collectively love speaking in hyperbole (something I’m not fond of).
But now, we give way to another reaction – pity. We pity the forcibly kidnapped, the young Yazidi girls and women. With a cursory glance through the grisly details of how ISIL mujahideen treat these women, we cringe, look away, and pity.
Next, we see stories surface on the internet of many American and British women moving to Syria and voluntarily marrying ISIL fighters, and we are left incredulous, shaking our heads in disbelief at their decisions. We simply can’t get our heads around the fact that they left their very comfortable lives in first-world capitalist nations, to pursue whirlwind (and often short-lived) marriages with ISIL mujahideen in Syria. This puzzles us, and occupies more space in our minds compared to the aforementioned feelings of fear and pity.
As we observe the social media accounts of women claiming to be the members of ISIL, as we read cheerful posts about the rare availability of electricity, their wry observations about the conditions of life in ISIL-controlled Syria, and the degree of reverence to their husbands – we find a sliver of relatability. After all, social media is a relatively large network, and something most of us share as an indispensable part of our lives now. We can now view these women as other (albeit markedly radical) owners of social media accounts.
Now that we have established some sort of a connection with these women, we pause and wonder about their motives, and by extension, ask some questions: In a largely apathetic, self-centered world, how did these women discover radicalism? Even from a religious perspective, how did they suddenly transition from belonging to orthodox Christian families to abandoning them for Islam?
As everything else, we can find answers in the internet.
In doing my research, I went through certain Twitter handles and Tumblr accounts (with some amount of mortified disbelief, I won’t lie). The Twitter handles had motivational speeches (confined to a hundred and forty characters) about the pleasure of becoming a mujahid’s wife, and their elevated status as they worked and served their brave husbands according to the will of God.
The Tumblr accounts were a little more explicit, as they explained in great detail about the routes of travel to Syria, and propagated the illusion of increased accessibility to these problem areas. Most of these were conciliatory in tone, some encouraging, and of course, like everything else, they had their own fair share of memes.
Here, I found two very prominent traits – the lack of questioning, and the lack of fear. The lack of questioning was disconcerting, to say the least. Then subjectivity dawned, as I realized I would probably be the same if I had something I wholly believed in. However, the lack of fear is something I fail to understand completely. I understand in parts how religion is supposed to alleviate fear, spawn unconditional trust. But I still fear many things, and I can’t even begin to understand how these women can leave everything behind to pursue a life of violence and frequent death, to the point where their tweets about death are cold sentences about how their husbands would attain the highest positions in Jannat.
We could attribute these to them lacking something in their pre-ISIL lives, a goal maybe, or the power to take control of their own lives. However, the human mind is vast, and poses an ever-growing range of problems. The inherent contradictions that exist in the minds of these women belong to an area which I have yet to explore and analyse. The relative youth of ISIL as an organization poses more problems, when we factor in this recurring problem – the problem of unpredictability. I end with a Twitter post that seems to sum up the attitude I have just described:
‘Day 2 no electricity, winter is coming. We know jihad is hardship but the reward makes it easier. #US and #allies u can’t kill our spirit.’