It’s paradoxical, and the irony is too painful to make light of. In a totally unexpected shift, it will be the women of ISIS who will be continuing the extremist ideology of ISIS despite the downfall of the caliphate. This article from the Washington Post explains how the women who lived in the Islamic State are carrying their experiences into their new lives in their home countries, and just how powerful of an impact radicalization has on an individual.
Allow me to express my opinion on why this is the most ironic thing in the news right now.
The Islamic State, along with Sharia law, innately limits the freedoms of women. They cannot do things without the permission of their husband or male family member, they are not allowed to wear makeup or show skin, and their primary responsibility is to raise children to become fighters for the Islamic State. Many times, as the article explains, women were forced to reside in the caliphate to be with their fighter husbands. Yet others choose to be there, in an environment that we, as outsiders, look at and see as oppressive. I will not pretend that I can understand how a woman can choose to be a part of a system that oppresses her. There is a certain cultural relativism that one must consider when evaluating these situations, but radicalization is a powerful tool and has certainly done more surprising things in the past.
People’s beliefs are shaped by their experiences and environment: that is what guides their political preferences, social views, and behaviors. So why is it so surprising that ISIS is turning to women to perpetuate their goals? Despite previous views that women should not be involved in fighting or any sort of combat, desperate times call for desperate measures. Heavy losses of male fighters left ISIS with few options, one of which involved reversing on their initial stance on women in combative positions and now encouraging them to carry out plots and train their offspring to be fighters and suicide bombers.
This news is worrisome for a number of reasons. First, there is now a clear heightened sense of danger in allowing ex-residents of the Islamic State to return to their countries of origin, even if they are women or children. That will not only threaten the security of many nations but will bolster the Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric already present there, leading many innocent people to be discriminated against. It sets a difficult situation up for lawmaking officials, who will be forced to make decisions on immigration and grants of asylum that could have the potential for disaster.
If there is anything left to say about this, it is that radicalization has a power much greater than expected, and will certainly have some unprecedented consequences for the women whose lives have been forever changed by their time spent as a part of ISIS.