The New New Jihadist Thing
Meeting the ISIS Challenge
The Myth of the Caliphate
The Political History of an Idea
Collateral Damage in Iraq
The Rise of ISIS and the Fall of al Qaeda
State of Confusion
ISIS' Strategy and How to Counter It
The Women of ISIS
Understanding and Combating Female Extremism
Syria's Democracy Jihad
Why ISIS Fighters Support the Vote
How ISIS Makes Bank
ISIS Sends a Message
What Gestures Say About Today’s Middle East
Syria and the Violence in Iraq
Why Turkish Citizens are Joining ISIS
Turkey's Kurdish Buffer
Why Erdogan Is Ready to Work With the Kurds
ISIS Enters Egypt
How Washington Must Respond
ISIS' Next Prize
Will Libya Join the Terrorist Group's Caliphate?
Crime and Punishment in Jordan
The Killing of Moath al-Kasasbeh and the Future of the War Against ISIS
This is What Détente Looks Like
The United States and Iran Join Forces Against ISIS
ISIS Goes to Asia
Extremism in the Middle East Isn't Only Spreading West
Measuring the Threat from Returning Jihadists
Don't Hype the Threat of Returning Jihadists
ISIS' Gruesome Gamble
Why the Group Wants a Confrontation with the United States
ISIS' Worst Nightmare
Why the Group Is Not Trying to Provoke a U.S. Attack
Staying Out of Syria
Why the United States Shouldn't Enter the Civil War—But Why It Might Anyway
The Hollow Coalition
Washington's Timid European Allies
Hammer and Anvil
How to Defeat ISIS
ISIS Is Not a Terrorist Group
Why Counterterrorism Won’t Stop the Latest Jihadist Threat
ISIS on the Run
The Terrorist Group Struggles to Hold On
Ready for War With ISIS?
Foreign Affairs' Brain Trust Weighs In
Reports that women have formed their own brigade within the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have confounded experts -- and worried them. For many, the idea of women as violent extremists seems paradoxical. After all, why should women want to join a political struggle that so blatantly oppresses them?
That question reveals more about the experts than the fighters. Those who ask it assume, first, that women are more peaceful than men by nature; and second, that women who participate in armed rebellion are little more than cannon fodder in a man’s game, fighting foolishly for a movement that will not benefit them. As the women of ISIS prove, both assumptions are false.
To understand the women of ISIS and their motivations, it helps to place them in their historical context, among the legions of women in El Salvador, Eritrea, Nepal, Peru, and Sri Lanka who voluntarily joined violent movements and militias, sometimes even as highly ranked officers. In each of these cases, women joined for the same basic reasons as men. Living in deeply conservative social spaces, they faced constant threats to their ethnic, religious, or political identities -- and it was typically those threats, rather than any grievances rooted in gender, that persuaded them to take up arms.
ISIS’ particularly inhumane violence can obscure the fact that the conflict in Iraq is also rooted in identity: at its base, the fight is a sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, with several smaller minorities caught in between. It makes sense, therefore, that the all-female al Khansaa Brigade of ISIS relies heavily on identity politics for recruitment, targeting young women who feel oppressed as Sunni Muslims. Indeed, anonymous fatwas calling for single women to join the fight for an Islamic caliphate have been attractive enough to draw women to ISIS from beyond the region.
If policymakers overlook such motivations, treating female fighters as nothing more than instruments of male leadership, they will find it difficult to prevent
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