February 27, 2015
This week, investigators confirmed that three British girls who flew into Turkey have indeed crossed the border into Syria to possibly join militant group ISIS.
As a young Muslim woman, I am left grappling with confusion after reading stories of western youth— especially women— becoming radicalized. According to a recent study by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue in London, among the 3000 foreigners who joined ISIS, more than 500 of them were women.
These women are not just putting their lives at risk, they are also forsaking their rights and liberties for the sake of a narrow and constrained ideology. ISIS is known to use brutal tactics like rape and torture to subjugate women. Last December, ISIS published a pamphlet detailing how women slaves should be treated once they are caught by the militant group. In it, ISIS declared that it is permissible to rape, beat or trade women if they refuse to cooperate.
According to the ISD study, women who willingly join ISIS are used to spread propaganda, bear children and do housekeeping. They are essentially responsible for creating a new breed of terrorists who will be expected to carry on the responsibilities of ISIS. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you are a captive or an ISIS bride. The future of any woman living in the vicinity of ISIS’ brutal regime seems dismal.
The three teenage girls who traveled to Syria last week were straight A students. It is simply astonishing that western women who join ISIS do so at the cost of walking away from privileges like education and the right to be their own person in life. They actually prefer restriction of freedom over liberty. This type of behavior is not only abnormal, it warrants a psychological examination. Some also believe that ISIS is successful in recruiting youth because young Muslims are lured in by a desire to serve God and to live for a higher purpose. But ISIS’ very ideology goes against the teachings of Islam.
The Islamic scripture, Holy Quran, teaches us to be more compassionate towards one another (16:91). It encourages peaceful coexistence and discourages the idea of war and violence (7:57). The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) commanded both men and women to seek knowledge even if they have to travel very far in search for it. Islam teaches tolerance and promotes education because these two elements are significant to achieving peace and stability.
The teachings of my faith are the reason why I find it difficult to relate to these incidents of so-called “Muslims” joining ISIS. This behavior is as alien to moderate Muslims as it is to non-Muslims. We also feel incredulity and shock when we read stories of youth becoming radicalized at the hands of ISIS.
I am not an expert on radicalization, but I think Muslim communities around the world can benefit by investing in youth empowerment programs. As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, I can personally attest to the success of such initiatives. My Community’s women’s auxiliaries throughout the United States have started programs to harness and guide the tremendous potential of young people.
“Youth programs are a platform where young people can engage in dialogue about issues relating to their lives and work to hone their potentials in order to become useful members of the society,” said Aziza Faruqi, president of the Austin, Texas chapter of the Women's Auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
As a teenager, I was often lost and confused when I moved to the United States a few weeks after 9/11. But I was fortunate enough to have the support of my community, which saved me and thousands of others from venturing into a dark territory. Growing up in a community where everyone feels cherished creates a special healing process from outside prejudices. It instills confidence in youth and enables them to take pride in their identity. But if Muslim communities are devoid of love, outside discrimination and stigmas can often leave populations susceptible to violence. Muslim youth today need empowerment and encouragement. They need to know that their voices and concerns have value.
We cannot stand by idly as more and more Muslim youth join ISIS. Muslim communities must work together to create a stronger bond of love and kindness by staying united and rejecting sectarian violence. It doesn’t matter if you are a Shia or a Sunni or an Ahmadi. Everyone has a part to play in preventing our youth from joining ISIS or other militant groups. We are united in our struggle against extremism.
Huma Munir is an ESL teacher in San Antonio ISD, Texas and a member of Teach for America, San Antonio. She serves as the local media secretary for Ahmadiyya Muslim Women Association in Austin, Texas. You can follow Huma on Twitter.
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Terror. Just the word conjures up images that have splashed across your screen for two weeks. Terror. CNN has devoted literally over three-hundred hours to the Charlie Hebdo attack in France recently. Terror: an enterprise that does not exist without attention. Terrorism is more spectacle than reality in the United States. And the incessant obsession with terror, narrowly defined as any criminal act carried out by any Muslim, insures that terrorism will happen again, sooner or later. Yes, the media shares responsibility for terrorist acts.
As I said, terrorism is a spectacle in the United States. A conversation carried out in both horror and security, like one does with fellow passengers as you slow down past a car accident. You all recognize the horror and remain grateful that its not you, but could have been. Then, with the spectacle behind you, you speed up never thinking you will suffer an accident that day - or ever.
No one presumes an accident is inevitable. In fact, people rarely concern themselves with accidents, but driving is far more deadly than terror. The chances of dying in a car accident are 1 in 19,000; of drowning in your bathtub 1 in 800,000; of getting struck by lightning 1 in 5,500,000. The chances of being killed in a terror attack? 1 in 20 million. That’s right, 1 in 20 million. You have a significantly higher chance of being killed by lightning than you do a terrorist, but you wouldn’t think that watching CNN this past week. Even in Hebdo coverage hour 299, CNN was still reporting the attacks as ‘breaking news.’ If you really fear for your safety, the Weather Channel is of more use to you than any ‘terror analyst’ on CNN.
From the Twin Towers to the Twin Dummies
On September 11, 2001, in a dramatic way, terrorists (who happened to be Muslim) made an impression on television with the attacks on the Twin Towers. Notwithstanding the extent to which the Bush administration exploited 9/11 pursuant to the invasion of Iraq; the quantity of media coverage was natural, the attacks were a spectacle and surprising in scope and destruction. Over thirteen years later and all it takes is two guys with assault rifles to turn the entire world upside down. I will get to how this perpetuates terrorism later, but I just want to remind the reader, two guys with assault rifles. It has been said with all seriousness that freedom of speech is under threat as is all of Western Civilization.
Will world leaders and journalists really stand by the assertion that freedom and civilization are under threat because the dead-end twins managed to acquire a few rifles? It is all too easy to acquire weapons and kill and if that is all that is required, it will happen again. Terrorism is an enterprise and it requires money and success. Western media in its self-importance and correlating racism made the Charlie Hebdo attacks spectacularly successful; which brings me to my next point, anything that commands the kind of attention the media has devoted to terrorism will assuredly generate more acts for such attention. Let me be clear, as I do not want to be equivocal – the media is in large part responsible for terrorism. Two dead-end losers in Paris, two men who have done more harm to Muslim interests than anything, two men who would have lived and died completely unknown, are now known across the world. Their photos, their bios, their love lives are associated with an imagined and fantastic ‘existential’ threat to Western Civilization.
The Paris shooters have much more in common with the Columbine shooters psychologically, though their cultural references differed. And just as media coverage spurned copycat attacks, it will be likewise with terrorism.
Terrorism as Enterprise
For terrorist organizations to flourish, they require success and money. They require success in order to generate money. This type of attention is by definition success. If the Hebdo attacks were reported on the ticker at the bottom of our screen, we would not have noticed and thus cared. We would have dismissed it as a statistic, as we have the countless lives lost in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria during the same time frame. If the Hebdo attacks garnered little attention, they would have been a failure and would not have inspired re-enactment. During the first few days of the Hebdo incident, a white Parisian took over a post office and held hostages for hours. You never heard of it because he was white and the media is selective. But his timing was obvious; he thought by taking hostages two days after Hebdo, he would command the same type of attention (he was upset because his girlfriend left him).
CNN has to explain how as a world news organization it can legitimately devote over three-hundred hours to Hebdo at the expense of everything else that has happened in the world in that time. It really does. Anything that commands the kind of attention that this incident has insures replication – the act and the empowering attention are too lucrative. And CNN has become terror’s number one fundraiser.
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