Johnny Depp’s portrayal of pirate – captain Jack Sparrow steals the show in Pirates of the Caribbean, while Elizabeth pouts, wears gorgeous dresses and swoons when situations get too sticky for her. Never mind, Will is usually there to save her from mouldy pirates, the un-dead, cursed Aztec gold, and all the other perils one usually encounters at sea. Then there is the Twilight saga, a series of romantic novels which have become an incredible hit for teenage girls in recent years. The story follows the romance between ordinary but beautiful Bella and handsome young Edward Cullen who is a vegetarian vampire so drinks only animal blood, never human. The trilogy follows their Romeo and Juliet styled romance (Edward almost commits suicide when he mistakenly believes that Bella is dead). Angry and jealous vampires and werewolves hunt Bella to lead her to a horrific and gory death, but Edward is always at hand to rescue his fair damsel. The story has a married-and-lived-happily-after ending.
Despite the age of strident feminism and self-assertiveness, teenage girls are clearly enjoying fantasies and romantic escapades in fiction and on cinema. There is something alluring about helpless yet beautiful heroines who need to be saved from a fate worse than death by dashingly good-looking and terribly chivalrous young men (even if they do spend their evenings drinking the blood of cats!).
Scientists inform us that teenage minds are more likely to respond to situations emotionally, with less thought than adults on the long-term impact of their actions. Even Shakespeare comments on this; if only teenager Romeo had not given in to his emotions and waited a day after discovering Juliet’s supposed death, he would not have felt compelled to commit suicide and the two could have married and lived happily.
The dozens of young Muslim girls who are running off to Syria to become jihadi brides and wives of potential martyrs are clearly in love with a death cult that is far more sinister than any vampires or zombies fiction has to offer. I wonder what their motives are for abandoning their parents, friends, education, security and a future for the unknown camps of Raqqa. Are they expecting handsome young men to sweep them off their feet, lift them effortlessly on to the backs of their white Arabian horses and gallop off into the sunset? Are they mesmerized by the images of swarthy young men who train with rifles, march to the beat of soulful Arabic nasheeds, and protect their dew-eyed maidens from blood-sucking heathen vampires?
ISIL clearly targets this thirst for romance and adventure in the minds of young men and women. Why else did the Dutch jihadi known as “Yilmaz” break the hearts of the jihadi women when he announced his marriage last year? Apparently he had received 10,000 marriage requests through the internet while fighting for ISIL. Are the girls running away to Syria looking for fairy-tale romances; is their quest one for love, drama and excitement? Are they bored with their lives, or worried that the men their parents will find them to marry will be dull, provincial and ordinary? Does a life with the fighters seem so glamorous, exciting, dreamy and exotic that to hell with the consequences?
But ISIL do not just entice with visions of well-trained, camouflage-wearing, gun-toting, valiant young men with a mission. They also offer a clear political narrative of grievance. They provide a historical survey of western political interference in and destruction of various Muslim countries for the last two hundred years, including Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, India and so forth. It is a long litany of complaint which will convince their young and susceptible audience that western powers are out to destroy Muslim countries. The radical message is a regular diet, nay orgy, of malicious and vicious hate for others. It teaches a contempt for western policy-makers, for ordinary Jews and Christians, and for ordinary Muslims who do not stand up to the west. It is a narrative of obscene hate. It is also a very superficial narrative that is incapable of analysing the complexity of history and Middle-eastern politics.
The narrative of ISIL dehumanizes its opponents. This is not new, by the way. We have seen what happened at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and countless other places to know that ISIL did not invent this concept. They have simply taken it to an international level and deluded a generation of young non-combatants who are not part of this battle to fall for its propaganda. ISIL teaches that the enemy is not human, is not a man or a woman: it is a dirty enemy, like a rodent, who must be annihilated. There is no remorse or shame in killing humans; it is a cannibalistic cult of death and evil that gorges on blood and suffering.
When James Foley was publicly beheaded last year, Khadijah Dare from London used Twitter to celebrate the murder. She announced she wished to become the first female to behead a prisoner in Syria. Sally Jones from Kent who has also travelled to Syria announced on Twitter: “You Christians all need beheading with a nice blunt knife and stuck on the railings at Raqqa…Come here; I’ll do it for you!” One assumes that as a convert, Sally has Christian family and friends, but it is clear she feels no humanity for anyone.
So how do parents in England fight the propaganda of ISIL and protect their children? The most precious gift we can give to our children is our time. Too many people spend their evenings hunched over their laptops in silence, while only a few feet away sit their spouses and children, also hunched over their laptops and also in silence. This is not communication. We need to sit together as families and talk candidly and openly, analysing the propaganda of ISIL, explaining why it is so clearly un-Islamic and remote from any faith on this planet, and showing the cruelty of the doctrine of hate. Just as we educate our children regarding stranger-danger, pornography, drugs, internet safety, alcohol and so forth, so we need to discuss the jihadi threat openly.
Our young generation desperately needs spiritual guidance that is historically cohesive and religiously sound. Instead of abandoning our youth to internet antichrists, parents must seek out bona fide Islamic scholars so that they can attend regular classes as families. There are plenty of scholars who are beautifully challenging the insanity of the jihadi message and exposing them as liars and charlatans. The problem is that vulnerable young people are simply not listening to them. They are spending their lives on the internet and learning filth from a cult of criminals.
ISIL have begun targeting young Muslim women as never before, especially since launching Al-Khanssaa Brigade. This is an all-women’s militia that operates in the Syrian city of Raqqa and seems to be run by British female jihadis. A “Manifesto on women” launched by Al-Khanssaa is worth studying with Muslim girls to show the true and ugly reality of the life envisioned for them by ISIL. The Manifesto insists that under the so-called Islamic State, young girls will receive an education from the ages of 5-15, but this will be only in religious subjects. Secular, ungodly subjects will be denied to them for the rest of their lives. Education will stop at 15 as the girls will be expected to get married at 16. The rest of their lives will be spent breeding children for the cause. The men will be away fighting while to women will stay at home, as only a sedentary life is permitted for women. To tell a girl that her only mission in life is to bear children, year after year and to stay locked within the confines of her home is to reduce her to a life of dull drudgery. There is nothing remotely Islamic or liberated in this message. It is a return to a primitive life in which women are not permitted to think for themselves, to receive a broad education from the cradle to the grave, to follow their aspirations, to discover science, to enjoy an intellectually stimulated existence. It is a miserable existence of political, academic and social death.
Yes, a woman alone can bear children. But she is not simply a breeding machine in a battery farm. She is a fully-fledged human being who can and should enjoy the halal experiences that God has created for us in this stunning world, just as men do. When the Quran tells the pagan Arabs they will have to explain why they buried their baby girls alive, it is asking two important questions: one, that God alone gives life, and we do not have the authority to take anyone’s life away. Life is sacred and murder is a cardinal sin. Secondly, girls are not second-class beings who can be sacrificed to suit the whims of pagan men. And ISIL is precisely the kind of paganism that Islam came to destroy and which the blessed Prophet (peace be upon him) spent twenty three years of his life fighting.
Al-Khanssaa attempts to sound rather grand, but the reality is that it operates under a police state that rules through fear. The women of the brigade perk up their dull existences by policing what women wear, how they wear it, who they speak to and where they go. Many of these women are so bored they asked permission from their men to join the battlefield; presumably death is better than their current existence. But even this has been denied to them as they are needed to breed more children.
By Ustadha Khola Hasan
UK Sharia Council
Contributing Editor – Imams Online