The radicalization of women: a worrying trend – Analysis – Eurasia Review
A former part-time religion teacher and housewife in Singapore was arrested in April this year for planning to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group. In August last year, she was deemed radicalized by her Malaysian husband and supported her intention to travel with their two children to join IS.
While her husband was arrested and deported to Malaysia, she was placed under a Restriction Order (RO) to which she was subjected to certain restrictions such as applying for permission to travel abroad instead of be detained. Since being subjected to the RO, she has remained grounded in her radical convictions and has persisted in communicating online with IS supporters abroad. She also refused to make any real effort to participate in the rehabilitation program.
This is not a new case where women are influenced by radical ideology in Singapore. Before that, several other women had been arrested and detained for supporting terrorist groups.
A CONCERNING TREND
While today we celebrate the multiple roles of women in societies in many fields, there are still a handful of women who are influenced by violent extremist ideologies. There is a growing trend of radicalization among Muslim women locally and globally.
Earlier this year, nine women suspected of plotting to blow up military targets in the southern Philippines were arrested. Security forces seized bomb-making equipment from their homes. The women were also accused of channeling financial and logistical assistance to the Abu Sayyaf group. Three of them are the children of former Abu Sayyaf ruler Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, accused of plotting the deadly attack on Jolo Cathedral in 2019, which left 20 dead and at least 100 injured.
In recent years, Indonesia has seen an increasing number of women involved in violent attacks across the archipelago. Two attacks in Makassar and Jakarta earlier this year involved two women appearing to be inspired by ISIS. In Singapore, at least 24 women have become radicalized since 2015. Most of them have been arrested and detained for showing their support for ISIS.
THE INFLUENCE OF PROPAGANDA IS
Violent extremist narratives like ISIS propaganda are very appealing and capable of attracting the attention of many, regardless of their background, including women. Despite the loss of physical territories on the battlefront, ISIS’s main strength lies in the dissemination of its stories in the virtual world, including websites, newsgroups, forums and social media. Internet and social media remain the main platforms allowing IS to reach a wider audience. This is done in such a sophisticated and attractive way. The message conveyed is aimed directly at Muslim women at all levels.
The use of social media websites is used by IS as one of the methods not only to radicalize but also to recruit new members. The recruitment and radicalization process on social media has led to changes in the traditional role played by women in the issue of terrorism. Previously, women’s participation in ISIS took the form of domestic support such as educating and preparing the next generation of combatants and did not involve taking up arms.
Today, they play a variety of roles including online recruiting, online fundraising for operations, and even participating in suicide bombings. By expanding the role of women beyond domestic chores, ISIS certainly sees women as just as important as its male fighter. In fact, ISIS continues to disseminate accounts claiming that the involvement of women is also jihad and sacrifice on the religious side that promises divine rewards.
WOMEN AS THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
Despite the growing trends of radicalization of women through terrorist propaganda, this does not exclude their role from being involved in the fight against terrorism. In fact, women play a huge role in the fight against terrorism and radicalization. Women, especially mothers and wives, are known to be key agencies in helping to prevent the radicalization process from happening in the family. They should be the first responders to detect suspicious behavior among family members.
One of the main roles played by women is to protect family members, especially their husbands and children, from getting caught up in the process of radicalization. They must protect their husbands and children by giving them advice and prevent them from falling prey to terrorist propaganda. This includes reporting the misconduct of their family members to authorities if deemed necessary.
The role of women as the foundation of the family structure must be strengthened. Women, as wives and mothers, generally have an intimate knowledge of their immediate family members. They are able to detect any change in attitude or behavior. In summary, women play a major role in preventing the radicalization process if they:
(1) always on the lookout for suspicious behavior from family members
(2) be aware of the telltale signs of a radicalized individual
(3) seek help from accredited institutions and share their concerns
(4) report to the authorities if the advice and warnings given to them previously do not yield positive results.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN
In general, women have a role to play in creating an environment that rejects any adherence to extremist ideology or support for terrorist activity. They play an important role in encouraging their children to adopt positive attitudes and values such as tolerance, forgiveness, mutual respect without distinction of religion or race.
In doing so, parents can reduce the risk of radicalization of their children by cultivating the nature of understanding, respect and even tolerance towards other human beings. Indirectly, this can strengthen their children’s resilience to be influenced by extremist narratives.
As mothers and fathers, they should also constantly monitor their children’s online activities and educate children about the dangers of radical ideology plaguing the online world.
Women play an important role in the formation and development of families and communities.
The great role played by the wives of the Prophet Muhammad and the Companions in supporting Islamic religious activities led to the formation of an Islamic First Nation in Medina.
Due to the high esteem of women in Islam and also the nature of the gentleness that God has created in them, women have a huge role to play in bringing peace to the world and not the other way around.
The trend towards radicalization of women in today’s societies is of great concern. It should be treated even more seriously with an effective and long-term strategy.
Hopefully with this awareness we will be able to produce a generation of women who are key advocates for peace and can play an important role in ongoing efforts against terrorism and extremism.
*Mohamed Bin Ali is Assistant Professor and Ahmad Saiful Rijal Bin Hassan is Associate Researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Both study Islamic law at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and are advisers to the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG).