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The ISIS Effect on Western Girls

In 2015, three high school girls left their homes in London to begin new lives as members
of Islamic State. In February of last year, Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana, and Amira
Abase left ran away to Syria after months of careful planning. By the time police got
involved, it was too late—the three had crossed the Syrian border. The girls were
exceptionally bright and well-liked, raising the question of how they could have been
tempted away from promising futures and loving families.
Experts have noted a deeply troubling pattern of subculture in ISIS propaganda, targeting
Western Muslim women and girls with an attitude of praise for those who support the
male fighters. A twenty-three year old woman in rural Washington State recounted her
story to the New York Times, explaining how a fifty-one year-old English man had
befriended her online and walked her through the conversion to Islam. He urged her to
keep her conversion a secret and avoid contact with Muslims in her community. The man
was later found to have been accused of bomb-making and terrorism support. In this case
as in others, Islamic State has proven its powerful online presence. Recruiters seek out
eligible Western women and girls online in order to convince them to come and marry
jihadists in the Middle East, using tactics such as guilt and the promises of a respectable
and comfortable life.
The rise in female supporters of this trend has been particularly alarming. Online, girls
could easily be targeted by account owners and bloggers who claim to be happy wives of
jihadists, giving encouragement and direction about how to leave home. An ISIS
manifesto, officially titled "Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study" was
translated to English in 2015, detailing the purpose of the ISIS woman in forty-one pages.
The manifesto claims that the marriage of nine-year-old girls to fighters is legitimate, and
discourages women from pursuits “outside the home” and getting advanced education or
degrees in “worldly studies.” It has been speculated that this document was not translated
and circulated by the group in English because the ideals it highlights may not seem
appealing to Western girls, and could discourage them from making the journey to join
forces with IS.
While ISIS puts a continued emphasis on the importance of women in their propaganda,
their actions seem to show a mountain of restrictions on them. The idea of specifically
recruiting women to a terrorist group is fairly new and dangerous. Researchers now are
searching for ways to combat targeted propaganda, aiming to protect young people in
Western countries from romanticized and unrealistic accounts of life in a warzone.