Saturday, February 4, 2023

ISIS or Jihadi Brides: Villains or Victims?

By Lucas White, New Age Islam 04 February 2023 How the current media portrayal of ‘ISIS Brides’ continues to reproduce harmful Islamophobic stereotypes concerning Muslim women Main points discussed in the paper: · Who are these ‘ISIS brides’ or ‘Jihadi brides’ · Muslim Women and Islamophobia · Separating the Muslims from the Villains and Victims ... “It was hugs and tears and it was a very, very emotional moment. It is hard to put into words exactly what you are feeling at that point in time, but intense joy” Kamalle Dubboussy told SBS news after seeing his daughter and grandchildren for the first time in years. But far from being a light-hearted story about a family reunion, this is yet another story exploring the contentious topic surrounding Australia’s position on the repatriation of so-called ‘ISIS brides’ or ‘Jihadi brides’ and their children. As of late 2022, 4 women and 13 children have arrived back from Syria, continuing the ongoing divide of opinions on whether these women pose a threat to the wider Australian community or are themselves, victims of human trafficking, with many now claiming to have been tricked into travelling to Syria. Regardless of where you, a concerned and/or compassionate Australian, stand on the matter, the issue is that the portrayal of these women as either ‘dangerous Muslim jihadi brides’ or as another example of females victimised by Islam, will continue to reinforce negative stereotypes of the Muslim woman in a country where they already experience the majority of Islamophobic incidents. Who are these ‘ISIS brides’ or ‘Jihadi brides’ In June 2014, Islamist extremists seized control of Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, before moving south and threatening Baghdad. These militants, known as the Islamic State (ISIS) declared an Islamic state or caliphate and claimed total theological and political authority over the world’s Muslim population. ISIS then capitalised on the weakened political and military hold in Syria and quickly established a foothold throughout the region. But far from being just another conflict in the Middle East for us Westerners to once again happily ignore, the reach of ISIS was able to extend around the globe and recruit western fighters from even as far as the sunny shores of Australia. Though most western recruits were young men in their mid-twenties, roughly 18% of those who left were women. In fact, of the total 41,490 foreign ISIS affiliates in Iraq and Syria between 2013 and 2018, 4761 were women. These women have been portrayed sensationally in the media in the following years as young women who have absconded their lives in the West to join the killing fields of Iraq and Syria. Either as willing Jihadist contributors who wish to be included in the building of a new caliphate, or as duped or trafficked victims of the Islamic State and Islam’s ‘supposed misogynistic’ nature. This brings us back to the portrayal of these women in Australia and how depicting these women as either the ‘villains’ or ‘victims’ of Islam, is only going to further reproduce Islamophobic stereotypes that continue to plague Muslim women in this country. Negative and unbalanced reporting by the media is widely viewed to have led to an increase in Islamophobia incidents towards Australian Muslims. This is exacerbated further when these media depictions are repeated and reinforced in the everyday rhetoric of the Australian public due to either ignorance or apathy towards Australian Muslims. Now I can’t tell you whether these women pose a threat to Australia or not after repatriation from Syria. There is cause for concern about the actions and motivations of current female jihadists in displacement camps in Syria. With some radicalised women going as far as murder to uphold the ISIS ideologies and norms within the camps. However, I can tell you that these women are not on trial for being female Muslims. Something the media’s portrayal seems to constantly forget. It’s the media’s, intentionally or otherwise, inability to separate the accused with their religion that has the potential to continue to support and reproduce harmful Islamophobic stereotypes of Muslim women in Australia. It is therefore the role of the average western viewer to both recognise and remember that these representations are potentially harmful. Muslim Women and Islamophobia Unfortunately, in Australia, many Muslim women are victims of Islamophobia. This isn’t to say that Islamophobia doesn’t affect male Muslims (it does), but women within the Australian Islamic community seem to be especially susceptible to it. Many Muslim women face what can be described as a ‘triple penalty’ because they are women, from an ethnic minority, as well as being Muslim. Additionally, women in head coverings are often the main target for abuse as their religious clothing renders them visible in public to be identified as ‘Muslim’. Furthermore, there seems to have emerged a dual image in western eyes of Muslim women, neither of which is helpful in combating Islamophobia in Australia. On one side of the binary, we have Australian public discussions focused on Muslim women as victims (of Islamic misogyny or racial violence), forced to wear head coverings as a form of oppression. On the other side, especially since the fall of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the figure of the veiled Muslim woman has increasingly come to signify a threat, no longer a helpless victim but a villain, and a willing conspirator in extremist atrocities. Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t some women who are victims of a misogynistic interpretation of Islam, or that there isn’t a threat in the West from radicalised Muslims, either male or female. However, the Muslim population is extremely diverse, and it is the portrayal of so-called ‘ISIS Brides’ in the media as being either one or the other of these extremes that is the problem, especially as these women are commonly depicted in full religious clothing. This is a concern as women wearing religious dress are already far more likely to be victims of Islamophobia. Again, it is not for me to say if these 4 women that have recently been repatriated to Australia from Syria are guilty or not. Though more responsible and nuanced reporting of their current situation should be considered to distance these women from law-abiding, peaceful, Australian Muslim women. Minimising any potential influence on increasing incidents of Islamophobia. Separating the Muslims from the Villains and Victims With returning ‘ISIS brides’ currently making headlines, and with roughly 40 Australian women and children in Syrian displacement camps yet to be repatriated, it seems like both the media portrayal and public discourse surrounding these women is here to stay for a while and with it increasing public focus on Muslim women. However, it does give the media and the Australian public an opportunity in changing how we associate these women within the context of the wider Muslim community. The two factors in this situation influencing Islamophobia are the long-held western belief that Muslim women are either victims of Islam or are themselves Islamic villains, and the tendency for the Western media to produce negative or unbalanced reporting on Muslims. The first thing that needs to be done is an emphasis to separate religion from the suspected crimes. “But ISIS is Islamic extremists!” I can imagine some of you protesting, “Islam is an integral element in these stories!” Well, yes and no. If these women were willing contributors to the atrocities committed by ISIS, it is important that both the media and the Australian public recognise and promote the fact that these are/were radicalised extremists and do not represent most Muslims. Additionally, if they are the unfortunate victims of human trafficking, or have been tricked, then it should be made clear that they are not victims of Islam, but victims of crimes committed by radicalised extremists. The language used is extremely important in dispelling any potential Islamophobic connotations these stories have on the wider female Muslim community. Even the terminology of “ISIS Bride” or “Jihadi Bride” is unhelpful as it associates these crimes specifically to gender, further painting a picture of Muslim women being integrally linked with the atrocities of ISIS in Syria and the growing feelings of public concern for safety in Australia that repatriation of potential extremists entails. If the media can recognise the potential benefits of changing how they represent repatriated women and children, I would hope that it would go some ways to limiting any potential increases in Islamophobia against Muslim women in our communities, and as such help to dispel the long-held binary view of Muslim women as being either stereotypical victims or villains of Islam in the Australian public discourse. It is also vitally important that we as everyday Australian citizens understand this binary view exists and actively try, either in our own minds or in the conversations we have with our friends and family to dispel such stereotypes. Whether or not you, as a concerned and/or compassionate Australian, think that these so-called ‘ISIS brides’ should be welcomed back, it is important that we all continue to recognise and promote media and public discourses that dispel Islamophobia and continue to make sure that Muslim women, in general, feel welcomed and appreciated in this country. ..... Lucas White is a current Bachelor of Education student. He is one of the students of Dr. Adis Duderija who hopes to promote cultural tolerance and understanding among students of all backgrounds in Australia by working as a teacher. --------- URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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