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Western states must actively fight Islamic State propaganda aimed at young Muslim women

20:12 | 23.07.2015 | Analytic

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23 July 2015. PenzaNews. The Western states must undertake more active measures to fight propaganda of the Islamic State, including that aimed at young women, concludes Dymples Leong, research analyst at the Center of Excellence for national Security at the S. Rajaratnam School for International Studies (RSIS), in her article titled “Why ISIS appeals to Muslim women in Western countries: Need for counter message” published in the foreign media.

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Since the formation of the Islamic State, over 500 women from Europe and the US decided to leave for Iraq and Syria to join the terrorists, she points out.

“These suggest that IS has managed to win a significant following among many young Muslim women in the West. Another significant phenomenon is that many of these women are educated, come from middle-class families, are well-integrated within their societies, and have similar socio-economic backgrounds,” the author stresses.

From her point of view, the number of media reports about young men and women who try to reach the territories occupied by the terrorists contradicts the theory that IS mostly attracts the poor youth.

“In fact, research has shown that IS supporters and sympathizers, regardless of gender, tend to be well-educated, young, social media savvy and socially-mobile,” Dymples Leong writes.

According to her, the success of the well-developed propaganda system of the Islamic State is driven by the fact that their recruiters are working with each potential victim personally and exploit various methods of suggestion.

“The first is the perception that Sunni Islam is under attack, and Sunni Muslims around the world are being persecuted and marginalized. The ongoing Syrian conflict has been portrayed as a key example of this, and although IS emerged as one of the armed opposition groups to the [Bashar] Assad regime, its extensive territorial gains in both Iraq and Syria enabled it to portray itself as a vanguard against the forces that were trying to contain or oppress Sunni Muslims,” the analyst for RSIS points out.

She notes that the promise to help the creation of a new ideal state, the Islamic State “caliphate,” is on its own a strong point of attraction for many young people, including women, and the IS recruiters skillfully exploit this point through calling for them to become doctors and wives for the terrorists.

Moreover, according to the author, the effect is further exacerbated by the social standing of Muslim women in Europe and the US, where many of them struggle with discrimination and constant conflict with the Western values and way of life.

“Contrary to feelings of alienation and marginalization, camaraderie, belonging and sisterhood between women in IS are constantly emphasized in IS propaganda,” Dymples Leong stresses.

Moreover, according to her, some are attracted to the Islamic State by promises of adventure and prestige that the terrorists’ wives allegedly gain.

“Becoming a bride of an IS fighter has been touted as an important element in sustaining the IS’ caliphate. By marrying a foreign fighter and setting up a family, young women are made to believe that they are fulfilling a sacred duty,” the author writes.

At the same time, she notes that some young women continue to believe the propaganda of the Islamic State even after learning of the bad experience of the others in person.

“There is evidence of their plight. The all-women Al-Khansa Brigades, for instance, was created to enforce Sharia law and assist with overall security among women in IS-controlled territory. They reportedly undergo fire-arms training as well as self-defense courses, and are also deployed at checkpoints to help conduct body searches of women, which men are not permitted to do,” Dymples Leong explains.

According to her, even though social networks allow the IS recruiters to work with particular effectiveness in spreading propaganda, it would be unwise to counter them only through technical measures such as account bans, as such steps will force the terrorists to seek new ways to influence the youth through modern technologies.

Moreover, as the expert thinks, information warfare with terrorists has no place for traditional measures of influencing the target audience directly.

“Counter messaging from the state may not be effective as many might feel antagonistic and distrustful of authorities,” thinks the analyst at the Center of Excellence for National Security.

From her point of view, protecting young Muslim women from the ideas of IS requires the accent on the members of the Muslim community, especially those who have influence on them in their families and religious circles.

“Hence, the engagement of young women and their families by trusted religious leaders in the Muslim community should be of utmost importance. Muslim community leaders can raise awareness about social and economic situations that young Muslim women are facing, and increasing engagement with young women may alleviate the social disconnect that they feel,” Dymples Leong writes.

Moreover, the points out that the parents of the young women can influence them with equal effectiveness.

“Mothers, in particular, are an influential force in most cases, and as such, should be co-opted in prevention and de-radicalization initiatives. The UK police for instance, launched a campaign in March 2015 encouraging mothers to observe their daughters for behavioral changes that might signify their intention to join IS. Fathers, too, can play a vital role in this regard as that special bond they share with their daughters makes them highly influential,” the author adds.

In conclusion, she points out that the current situation requires the authorities of many states to develop effective measures to help Muslims get accustomed in their communities and counter extremism propaganda in the nearest future.

“While traditional counseling and de-radicalization programs have tended to focus more on young men, it is necessary to focus on young women as well,” the expert states.

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