By Farhana Qazi
Violent extremists are masterminds at exploiting empathy and giving girls and women a false sense of hope. Over the past five years, an astonishing number of girls and women have joined violent groups. Statistically, the numbers are low and no more than fifty females have tried to join ISIS or offer ideological, material, and financial support. While the number may seem low, it is a sign that the trend continues, an argument I made after I left the US government and published my first op-ed in December 2006 in The Baltimore Sun.
Fast forward to 2018 and the international community is still trying to make sense of girls and women seeking an alternative reality when they join violent terror groups.
The Ultimate Goal is Paradise
There is no greater dream for a believing Muslim than the desire to enter Paradise. The ultimate goal is to breathe heavenly air and recline in gardens from which rivers flow, as the Quran promises, with a tribe of family, friends, and all of God’s Prophets. How one achieves that dream is determined by actions in this life. A believer is told that the hereafter is for those whose acts of charity are stacked higher than the sins of a mortal. But the Afterlife, though an attainable goal, is not without the tests of faith that a Muslim endures on earth.
In an era of romantic terrorism, the rules for entry into Paradise are constantly rewritten, and a Muslim’s rights and responsibilities are redefined. For nearly twenty years, I have witnessed the semantic folly that terrorists use to seduce seemingly innocent girls and women to resolve a grievance. For some women, the decision to join religious extremism is voluntary and is often driven by personal reasons, including the need to belong, to be loved, to be purposeful, and to offer a helping hand to a Muslim community suffering the barbarism of war.
Male terrorists use a gamut of tricks to lure women into their organizations and justify violence to vent frustration in a cause where dialogue and negotiation are nonexistent.
Worse, terrorists flirt with the language of the Quran and a history of traditions to attract the attention of potential female recruits.
The Three As
As a terrorism analyst and scholar, I’ve seen numerous models or frameworks that “dumbs down” the complex and complicated trend. The most common rationale are as follows:
Attention: Girls want to live for something more than themselves; they dream of shedding their ordinary lives and look for something that is extraordinary. Females seek attention from the group–their new family–and the man (or men) they will marry. Attention is why terrorists exist.
Acceptance: Girls join violent groups to gain acceptance, much like attention, from God. They believe that supporting, direct or indirectly, a violent group will offer them the ultimate acceptance by their Creator and thus, grant them a place in Heaven–the ultimate goal. Acceptance by God is everything.
Altruism – Girls respond to the call to justice and many say that they believe they are doing good when they join violent groups. Which is how they justify violence: it is a means to an end and will allow for the fantastical Caliphate to be born. Altruism or the concept of charity is a powerful motivator and a fundamental concept in Islam.