ISIS: No paradise from a female bullet; the myth

On Monday the 27th April the well respected ABC Four Corners programme aired a documentary on ‘fearless’ Kurdish female fighters taking it to ISIS calling the programme, no free steps to heaven‘ actually it should be paradise.

Kurdish female fighter

The programme opened with the following lines … and the full version can be seen here.

“We are ISIS’s nightmare.” Ahin, female Kurdish guerrilla

“They should fear me… What I have and they don’t is a purpose worth fighting for… I’m here to protect my existence.” Zozan, female Kurdish guerilla

These highly effective female fighters are taking on Islamic State forces in northern Iraq and Syria as part of the Kurdish guerilla army.

However what the programme failed to report was that ISIS too has its female fighters, known as  “al-Khansaa” and “Umm al-Rayan,”

ISIS female fighters

ISIS female fighters

bizarre meme going around claims that ISIS is really afraid of fighting all-female Kurdish military units. The theory is that ISIS fighters believe that if a woman kills you, you don’t get to go to paradise.

The truth is that ISIS’ approach to women is much more complicated — and troubling — than Western stereotypes about Islamists would suggest. ISIS has its own female brigades, and the group uses them to enforce its deeply misogynistic ideology.

The “ISIS is afraid of female fighters” theory comes from a stray quote in a Wall Street Journal piece about Kurdish advances against ISIS.

It quotes a female Kurdish soldier as saying “the jihadists don’t like fighting women, because if they’re killed by a female, they think they won’t go to heaven.”

Note that it’s not an ISIS fighter, a scholar, or necessarily someone who’s interrogated an ISIS fighter: just a random Kurdish soldier, who may not be super-familiar with ISIS’s ideology.

What we actually know about ISIS’s approach to women, however, paints a rather different picture. ISIS has all-female battalions, called “al-Khansaa” and “Umm al-Rayan,” that operate in Syria. ISIS female fighters wear full burqas and carry rifles; they exist to force other women to comply with ISIS’s vision of sharia law. “ISIS created [them] to terrorize women,” Abu al-Hamza, a local, media activist, said in an interview with Syria Deeply.

ISIS’s use of women is part of a rising trend of jihadist women claiming roles in violent Islamic extremist groups. “There is a process of female emancipation taking place in the jihadi movement, albeit a very limited (and morbid) one,” Thomas Hegghammer, an expert on violent Islamism at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, told The Atlantic. “Many of them are eager to portray themselves as strong women and often make fun of the Western stereotype of ‘the oppressed Muslim woman.'”

ISIS is dedicated to oppressing women, and uses rape as a weapon to terrify the population into submission in territory it controls. Somehow, perversely, it has managed to enlist large numbers of women to help in that awful effort.

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