ISIS Targets Women—As Recruits

Nicole Miller – Women In Leadership

The notoriously violent, ruthless, and extremist terrorist group ISIS has given itself the mission of targeting women—but not just as victims, as recruits. Aside from the fact that ISIS is an extremist faction of Al Qaeda—that’s right, ISIS was too extreme for Al Qaeda—that tasks itself with violently dismantling the western world, one innocent civilian at a time, it is common knowledge that Islam and countries under Sharia law are especially oppressive towards women. In countries under Sharia law (the “divine law” defined by the Quran), women are not allowed to drive, or allowed to leave the house without accompaniment of their husband or son. They do not work and it is widely believed they are to stay inside the house. So why, then, would any woman be compelled to make the dangerous journey to Syria to willingly join this openly oppressive (let alone violent and extremist) group?

The rise and recruitment practices of ISIS present such an interesting case of study because it is the first movement of its type to utilize the Internet and the relatively new phenomena of social media as a tool. Through blogs and standard social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), women supposedly living in Syria as members of ISIS communicate directly with potential recruits. They reach out to these potential recruits by offering glimpses into what their daily life is like. Reading such accounts offers an interesting combination of offensive and grotesque displays of approval for violence towards westerners that seems highly disjointed from our world. However, other posts are eerily familiar to anyone from the west with posts like pictures of sunsets, food, Nutella, and even “selfies”. They encourage potential recruits to make the journey to Syria by vehemently insisting their decision to do so, while difficult, was “the best decision” many of them have “ever made.” Women in ISIS on social media even assist with the recruitment process by offering detailed step-by-step travel instructions, and one post refers to the use of the social media outlet Kik to communicate directly with those seriously considering joining.

Social media and the apparently candid and first-hand look into the lives of these women it seems to provide has created the ability for ISIS to appeal to women through romanticism. Through social media, women in ISIS convince potential recruits they are happy with their limited rights, are fulfilled by their duty to serve their “warrior” husbands and sons, and lead relatively regular lives of cooking and coffee dates similar to those of western women. Their lives only differ from women living in the west when it comes to issues of Sharia law, when images of dead westerners, various weapons, and hate speech are interspersed with their otherwise seemingly normal posts.

ISIS has found a very effective method of recruitment by communicating with women directly at their homes through social media. Through romanticism, they draw women’s attention and use a clever combination of a seemingly western lifestyle mixed with an anti-western sentiment to encourage women to join ISIS, and then use the same social media outlets to assist these women with travel plans. The world has never before experienced such a direct, wide-ranging, and seemingly unstoppable recruitment practice such as that of ISIS and its use of social media to recruit women.

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