The self-proclaimed Islamic State, formerly known by the acronym ISIS, is actively recruiting Western women and girls. And in the process this “caliphate” that now occupies large swathes of Syria and Iraq is showing, once again, that it’s almost as shrewd with social media as it is ruthless on the battlefield.
The tweets and blogs apparently are written by Western women married to jihadi warriors. They aim to persuade would-be “sisters” in Europe and the United States to travel to the Middle East to help this al-Qaeda spinoff build its extremist vision of an Islamic society.
Potential caliph-ettes (as one is tempted to call them) are told their main contribution to the Islamic revolution will be through matrimony, not martyrdom; child-bearing, not gun-toting. One blogger called “Bird of Jannah” purrs: “Women are not equal to men. It can never be. Men are the leaders & women are [so] special that Allah has given them entire chapter in the Qur’an.”
The propaganda usually eschews the gore and barbaric images often included in the general fare of jihadist online posts, such as the beheadings last month of dozens of Syrian army soldiers after a base was overrun in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa.
Instead, the marketing focuses on what one analyst calls the “private sphere,” concentrating on the joys of jihadist family life and the “honor” of raising new fighters for Islam. The online recruiters stress the pleasure of providing the domesticity that a warrior waging jihad needs and by doing so serving Islam.
“I will never be able to do justice with words as to how this place makes me feel,” tweets Umm Layth, purportedly a British woman in Syria married to a fighter. She cherishes, she says, the friendships she enjoys with “her fellow sisters and brothers in the Islamic State.”
But throughout Umm Layth’s posts and those written by other jihadist women there is a morbid obsession with martyrdom. “Allahu Akbar, there’s no way to describe the feeling of sitting with the Akhawat [sisters] waiting on news of whose Husband has attained Shahadah [martyrdom],” writes Umm Layth.
According to analysts at SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based organization that tracks online activity by terrorists, the recruiting efforts may have had some success. “By creating content specifically targeting female jihadi supporters, the Islamic State is able to establish a pipeline to assist Western women in traveling to Syria to marry jihadi fighters and contribute to the formation of their new society,” the analysts argue.
They add: “Significantly, these online networks have expanded in prominence and sophistication during the summer of 2014, suggesting that the Islamic State has already been successful in recruiting foreign women to leave their lives in the West, and is looking to build upon this strength.”