Violent Recruitment Online For Muslim Girls Continues

Al Jazeera TV interview

At speaking events, I’m often asked how one connects with religious extremists online and how violent recruitment takes place for Muslim girls. It’s simple. A girl begins by conducting a simple search for propaganda literature such as a film on YouTube. She clicks on the site and hits the “Like” button. Or perhaps she finds comments posted on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites that call individuals to brave death for a cause by migrating to Syria to fight for injustice toward Muslims.

In the virtual world, girls are alone, open to strangers, and free to be a different person.

With enough clicks and posts, as well as questions about conflicts in the Muslim world, it is relatively easy for a male or female terrorist recruiter to flag a potential recruit. Often, girls take pseudonyms that begin with Umm for “mother” in Arabic, even when they are not yet married and have no children. It is a symbol of what’s to come, of the new life they will pursue in the land of martyrdom.

Girls create fictional accounts to hide their true identities and intentions.

It’s also the easiest way for them to conceal their online activities from their parents. With “transient anonymity,” a term coined by Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget, girls are uninhibited on the Internet. In their hyper connectivity, they are free, spending hours of time away from the real world. This organic communication gives Muslim teenage girls looking for a purpose that includes marriage and martyrdom an online community of extremists, who are always available, accessible, and approachable.

Since 2016, at least one hundred girls from Western countries have attempted to migrate to Syria. And there will be more. 

The more I studied violent women, the more I realized that there were multiple, if not parallel, realities, and the best I could hope for was a near-complete story of the women who kill. Trying to figure out the motives of female killers was an addiction, and I was badly hooked. So this is how I began this book: with the belief that the ink of the scholar is mightier than the blood of the sword, an Islamic teaching posted on the wall of my office.

As a Muslim woman with a counterterrorism background, I became obsessed with the question of why now? Why are some women drawn to violence? To find the answer, I started talking to women and their men. I listened to hundreds of people talk about their passage to God. Some chose the path of violence as they struggled with religion and identity, while other women offered solutions for peace and supported women’s rights as a counter to violent men.

I believed I would find the answers to the questions that tormented my childhood and young adulthood if I entered the world of conflict to understand the rationale for extremism. Mine was a personal quest to find the larger, grander narratives of violence; the histories of beliefs contained within families; and the biographies of women that would be revealed in a language of song, verse, and metaphors. I had to accept the way in which stories were enfolded within other stories and learn to listen to the terrible, fatal truths in a time of war.

Which is why I wrote a very personal book about women in violent organizations. Because terrorism is personal, and for most women I have met or studied, their decision is also personal. The more I listened, the more I observed the deeply personal arguments, incentives, and drivers for why some women choose violence or are coerced into violent extremism.

I learned that the intimate details of an extremist’s life are the story of life and death.

Recruits are told allegories of the forever and glorious Afterlife, a Paradise promised to the most honor- able of women and men. It’s the story told by the female propagandist proving the existence of God by exposing her own deep, sad wounds; or by the women, wishing to be soothed by love, who join a savage war to rebel against real and perceived enemies. Lost in the stories of amoral actions intended by violent women is the unspeakable beauty of victims who live on in the memories of survivors.

What is the allure of extremism? To understand the trend, you can read the true stories of violent women in the book, Invisible Martyrs available on Amazon. 

Thank you for reading.













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