‘Jihadi brides’ is a term I never thought would exist, but in November 2013, 21 year-old Aqsa Mahmood fled from her privileged background in Glasgow to reside in Syria, where she is now married to an IS fighter and takes great delight in encouraging Brits to replicate the murder of Lee Rigby (nice), and praising terror attacks such as those in Tunisia and France.
Aqsa was followed by young schoolgirls Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana (Kadiza is now dead).
However, these aren’t the only young girls hellbent on living in a warzone.
It is estimated that 1 in 8 British jihadis in Syria are women, although despite this being a fairly significant amount, media representation of these so-called ‘missing girls’ or ‘Jihadi brides’ is skewed.
Whenever the media covers stories about young girls joining IS, it is with somewhat of a sympathetic tone. It is emphasised that they are intelligent, well behaved and come from good families. The New Statesman described Shamina Begum and pals as ‘popular, straight-A students.‘
Their young age is repeatedly stressed, as if teenage rebellion can explain away their decision to travel halfway across the world to join a barbaric organisation.
Young men on the other hand, do not get the same treatment. Whenever a teenage boy is identified as having joined IS, he is butchered in the media. He is on the receiving end of murderous rage from the entire nation.
And so he should be.
Anybody that turns their backs on their country to aid and abet a terrorist organisation such as IS should be held accountable for their actions, so why are our ‘missing girls’ given special treatment?
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioner of the Metropolitan police, announced that if Shamina, Amira and Kadiza were to return home they would be treated as victims and would not face prosecution.
These girls are not ‘victims.’
Jihadi brides are sentient beings who are capable of knowing right from wrong. They have voluntarily joined a murderous cult, just like their male counterparts, and should be treated with the same contempt as them.
They should not have sympathy doled out to them just because they are women.
Gender bias works both ways, and the notion that Muslim women are passive and oppressed beings who meekly go about their lives being coerced into doing whatever the Evil Muslim Man wants them to do has to be stopped.
If we are ever going to have a meaningful dialogue about why our disaffected youths are travelling to Syria en masse to fight for IS, then this ridiculous gender stereotyping must go.
We have to recognise that Jihadi brides have just as much agency as males, and are not simply wooed by promises of kittens and Nutella, as the Daily Mail reported.
Indeed, a study by The Institute for Strategic Dialogue entitled Becoming Mulan found that Western women who migrate to IS-controlled territory do so for much the same reasons as men, which of course makes sense, seeing as they share the same political culture.
They believe that Islam is under attack, they want to contribute to the building of a new society and establishment of the Caliphate, and they believe in their individual duty to migrate to the Islamic State.
When you add all of this to the desire for a politically and religiously pure Islamic society, the belief that Sunnis are being widely persecuted, and the strong desire to be an influential part of something, it is not difficult to conceive that our ‘missing girls’ are not so naive as we may like to believe.
When it was reported that Samra Kesinovic had been beaten to death after trying to flee Syria, people were actually sad. Comments on social media bleated that it was such a shame that someone so young and with so much potential had to tragically die so soon.
Of course, it helped that Samra was pretty, white, and – oh yeah – FEMALE. I doubt that people would have been so ready to mourn her death had she been an Asian guy from Bradford.
To be honest, the only people that I feel sorry for when a young jihadi dies is the families. They are the true victims.
These teenage Jihadi brides did not simply ‘make a mistake.’ Making a mistake is forgetting to turn the TV off when you leave the house.
Rocking up in Syria to marry an IS fighter and recruit others to do the same does not count as merely making a mistake.
Teenage rebellion can be excused if it consists of swigging bottles of WKD in the park. It is not an act of teenage rebellion to run away to Syria and join a terrorist organisation.
Just because these girls may look as if butter wouldn’t melt, doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t jump at the chance to to blow your head off.
Although they are forbidden from fighting, Western girls are the chief recruiters, groomers and propagandists of the ISIS regime.
It is British women who have been appointed the chief roles in the al-Khanssaa Brigade (Sharia police force) because they are seen as the most committed of the foreign female fighters.
It is British women who enforce Sharia law on civilian women, which includes wearing a niqab and not leaving the home without a male escort.
It is British women who are forcing thousands of captured Iraqi women into sexual slavery at brothels used by IS militants.
British women are the online matchmakers, creating romance narratives that convince other young Western girls that they will live a life of luxury married to a hero if they pack their bags and make the trip to the Islamic State.
It is British girls who have released a 10,000-word manifesto advising that there is no need for women to ‘flit here and there to get degrees and so on just so she can try to prove that her intelligence is greater than a man’s.’
Need I go on?
Jihadi brides are not innocent little victims.
Female jihadis are political, educated and committed to the cause. Their gender does not set them apart from the male fighters, and assuming otherwise just infantilizes them and reinforces false gender stereotypes.
If we are ever going to come close to understanding young people’s motives for joining the jihad, then we must abandon our gender bias and get real. Jihadi brides need to be held accountable for their decisions and actions.