arab spring protestors in silhouette with crescent moon and star sign, vertical frame


Every time we hear that another young girl has left the security of her home to join the Islamic State we ask ‘Why?’ What is the attraction of this barbaric terrorist group that draws girls, and even young mothers with their children, from countries across Europe, North America, Russia, the Balkans and even Saudi Arabia and the Gulf?

It is evident that IS, which is increasingly known by the derogatory term Daesh, operates a sophisticated on-line recruitment machine. With the latest digital technology it is able to produce professional and convincing audio-visual material that is often backed up by a ‘Jihadist rap’ that appeals particularly to potential recruits from the West. Different material is produced for circulation to Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

While the content may be packaged differently, the message is the same and that message can reach any young person across the world having access to a computer.

The thrust of the message is that it is only possible for a Muslim to live a pure life of peace and harmony if she or he lives under the protection of Shariah Law in the revived Caliphate of Daesh. Daesh is portrayed as the ideal state, modelling itself on the 7th century period of the Prophet Muhammad and the first four Caliphs known as the ‘Rightly Guided Ones’. By contrast everywhere else in the world is a place of evil and corruption. Even Muslim countries are condemned as being un-Islamic because their corrupt rulers allow Western influences to undermine Muslim values.

The message of Daesh, or perhaps more accurately propaganda, is dismissed by the majority of Muslims. However, it is probably true to say that there will be many Muslims, even those of a moderate disposition, who would like to see the return of a Caliphate that would perform a unifying role for worldwide Islam.

For centuries the period of the ‘Rightly Guided Ones’, also referred to as the Rashidun, has been portrayed as the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam. In madrassas across the world young people are told how Muslims then lived in peace under a just Caliphate. The Caliphate survived, in one form or another, until the newly founded Republic of Turkey abolished the Ottoman Caliphate in March 1924.

For some ninety years Islam has been without a focal point, if only symbolic. Now Daesh has seized the moment to declare its own Caliphate. Furthermore, it claims that this is a Caliphate modelled on the Rashidun offering Muslims a pure life under Sharia Law. This revived Caliphate offers all Muslims liberation from discrimination and oppression and particularly a place where women can wear the hijab with pride.

If we consider the historical context of the Caliphate together with the slick propaganda machine of Daesh, plus a strong element of indoctrination, it may be possible to better understand how young people can get sucked into this warped meta-narrative.

It is difficult to see how such a meta-narrative can be challenged. It is extremely doubtful that the targeted bombing of Daesh strongholds in Syria or Iraq will have much effect. Although Daesh is a military force it is not a conventional enemy. Its strongest weapon is its meta-narrative and it is a weapon that can morph into different forms, cross boundaries and continents and finally seep into the bedroom of a young girl.

There she will most likely communicate on-line with a female compatriot who is already a member Daesh. She will be told that she doesn’t have to suffer discrimination or abuse on account of her religion. She will be reminded of the glorious days of the Rashidun and told that the Islamic State is the revived Caliphate. She will be told that as a Muslim it is her duty to join the Caliphate, to fight for Islam but above all to offer herself as a dutiful wife and bear children for the sake of the future Caliphate.

Should she decide to take the perilous journey to Syria, arrangements will be made for her travel until she reaches a reception centre, probably in Raqqa, Syria. But her journey will almost certainly be one way. The likelihood of her being able to leave the Caliphate is extremely remote and her high expectations may well be dashed by the reality of being a Jihadi wife living in a war zone.