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‘Female lovers of martyrdom: An example of jihadi feminists?’

Sep 23,2017 - Last updated at Sep 23,2017

The title is not mine. It is the title of a book by Mohammad Abu Rumman and Hassan Abu Ghanieh, which purportedly studies key cases of women from the West who joined Daesh.

The book, presented in two quite distinct parts, is an effort to derive conclusions about the socioeconomic and political contexts that contributed to the evolvement of these women before they become actively embroiled in the radical politics of the movement.

The two authors clearly wrote the book also in an effort to draw a conceptual framework around this phenomenon that grounds itself in theories of radicalisation and feminism.

I cannot claim that this is a book review. For one, I did not really spend too much time reading the part dealing with the conceptual framework and focused, instead, on reading the case studies.

What I wanted to do was to read and look at these women without the influence of the writers’ opinions and conclusions.

My emphasis, therefore, reflects my impressions as a liberal, secular woman with knowledge of gender issues.

Reading the case studies put forward by the book provided several key thoughts worth mentioning.

These women were not what I would describe as “lovers of martyrdom”. They did not seek death, they sought a unique brand of women “agency” that qualified them to lead and become change agents themselves, albeit within the confines of radical Islam and specifically within the Daesh movement.

In that journey to leadership, they use the men in their lives as “agents” or “conduits” for their change from the lives they lead in the West to their radicalised status. But then, in the stories cited by the authors, almost all men are then relegated to the almost negligible status of martyrs.

The men die prematurely and unceremoniously, but the women surge forwards and continue rising higher in the echelons of power within Daesh as an organisation.

A significant thesis by the authors is that Daesh allowed women — and in some cases sought and recruited women — to become political leaders, unlike Al Qaeda, which, as a political movement, relegated women to the role of companions for their male guardians and offspring.

Importantly in support of this “leadership” thesis is the identity and persona that they acquire and metamorphosis into as they find their footing within the movement.

The authors refer to the “imagined identity” in the “promised state” that grows within the “imagination” of the Western women who leave their home to take up their duty and role in the formation of the utopia of a new, pure religion-based state. But then, regardless of the environment they come from — whether it is the more peaceful politically embracing British background or the more violent and politically alienating French, the outcome for these women’s political development and growth is radicalisation and violence.

The book is an important effort to begin to tie the strings around this phenomenon, and has within its folds nuggets of information and analysis that will take the study of women in radical movements an important step forward.

Yet, it felt rushed, skimming over much-needed detail and information, an effort I believe was sacrificed in order to put together the book and publish it as quickly as possible. It was also clear that the book desperately needed a pre-publication review or research and analysis support from gender or feminism expert.

The language it was written in was either gender insensitive or blind assumption of facts about the motives or behaviour of women, which is unacceptable from authors that claim to be making a contribution to feminist knowledge.

What I sincerely hope will happen now is that this book be picked up by dedicated researchers — and especially experts in feminism, gender studies, colonialism and radical movements — and further investigated in order to test the hypothesis put forward by the authors.

I would however start by changing the title from “Lovers of Martyrdom” to something that would more appropriately describe their journey to power.



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