This article originally featured in The Telegraph, authored by Nikita Malik, Researcher at Quilliam.
The number of women arrested for joining Islamic State from Britain has reached a record high. All the more reason why countering extremism should begin at home.
The number of women arrested for attempting to join the Islamic State from Britain has reached a record high.
Some 35 were arrested under terrorism laws last year, meaning figures have almost doubled in just two years.
Most were suspected of trying to join the terror group in Syria as jihadi brides, helping others to flee or were arrested after being stopped for entering the country.
Earlier this year, three schoolgirls ran away – Amira Abase, Shamima Begum and Kadiza Sultana – from Tower Hamlets after being lured by Isil propaganda, reportedly on social media.
But there are other ways in which young women are being radicalised too.
Just this week, we read about 15-year-old girl Lisa Borch in Denmark who stabbed her mother to death after being influenced by an Islamist boyfriend twice her age and with whom she watched Isil beheading videos.
This growing trend of girls, young women and mothers with young children wanting to become part of Islamic State has alarmed police, community leaders and members of the world’s first counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, where I am a researcher.
Studies on why women find terrorism appealing have previously focused on religious ideology, romance, online recruitment, and political grievances.
But an area for further examination is the role of the family. To understand this, we have to deconstruct how much of this radicalisation is shaped by a lack of identity.
For young girls, this is rooted in self-worth and self-esteem – the feeling that they don’t fit into the societies they live in, and are not understood by their families or by the religion they are supposed to practice.
The idea of waging jihad in the Middle East gives these individuals an increased sense of agency over their own lives.
Propaganda used by the Islamic State touches on this. The appeal of joining the global jihadist movement and an ‘Islamic utopia’ is conflated, on social media, with a sense of adventure. Propaganda narratives include elements such as brutality, mercy, victimhood, belonging and apocalyptic utopianism.
By entwining these together, Isil can call for women to join a state-building project, where they can serve as mothers and wives in their new ‘home’ – one which they can control completely.
The reality does not match expectation.
A manifesto released by all-women police force set up by Isil – the Al-Khanssaa Brigade – and translated by Quilliam, explicitly states that women are not to be participants of war or perpetrators of violence.
Many jihadi brides have arrived in Syria from Britain only to find that things aren’t as they expected.
Only this week, Islamist jihadist Omar Hussain – formerly a supermarket guard from High Wycombe – complained that his fellow Isil member didn’t know how to queue, ate like children and stole his shoes.
“Arabs as a whole have a unique culture, which differs dramatically from the western lifestyle,” he wrote on a blog.
If those things are ‘annoying’ imagine what young British jihadi brides are faced with.
It is awareness of this mismatch between reality and fantasy that we must promote among young people at risk of radicalisation.
In understanding that in seeking to join terrorist organisations, many women and girls are simply seeking control over their own lives, we need to stress to them that they also have the ability to inspire positive change in their families and communities by countering extremist ideologies.
A recent report by Women without Borders found that mothers are aware of the sources and dangers of radicalisation – but they are left alone in dealing with the and have little trust in institutions.
We must build on that – so that these mothers are given the authority to intervene within their family and to speak out in public. They need to be encouraged to wield power within their own families.
Establishing a new role for them will then encourage their daughters to do the same.
We must focus on female-based activism: on increasing empowerment, knowledge, and skills to better protect women against extremism – to offer alternatives and build self-confidence.
There is a role for women in community spaces – either within schools, in implementing toolkits, or in extracurricular activities. We need experts to train mothers and other famly members to be able to spot radicalisation and understand what they can do about it.
The aim is to help children in distinguishing between Islam and Islamism – between fact and propaganda. To help them overcome issues of identity and belonging.
Only then will we help young women at risk of extremism create a home of their own, right here in Britain.
To view the original article as featured on The Telegraph, please click here.