The collapse of ISIL: Are women innocent? — Aizat Shamsuddin

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OCTOBER 11 — A heated debate in Malaysia since the collapse of ISIL or Daesh Caliphate this year has urged many foreign fighters including women who fled to the Levant to now return home.

According to Al Jazeera’s report, approximately 102 Malaysians known to have joined ISIL and about 13, including women and children wanted to return home. Malaysian government has taken a moral high ground than the Western counterpart by accepting their return with conditions.

For many citizens, they are no longer part of the peaceful society, but a threat to national security. For empathetic families, they were misled and can be reintegrated into the society.

I attempt to rationalise discussion on ISIL women of Malaysian nationality based on gendered-criminological and legal understanding of terrorism.

At the peak of ISIL emergence in 2011, it inspired many Malaysian Sunni-Muslim men and women with religio-political zeal to fight against the enemies of Sunni. A sectarian ideology perpetuated by Al-Zarqawi to declare war on the infidelity of Shia population rather than Al-Qaeda’s evil of the West.

Major motivational drivers for Malaysian women to join ISIL are primarily domestic. It was seen as an opportunity to devote their pre-arranged married life to jihadist husbands or “potential martyrs” and contribute through their jihadi femininity to advance the cause of utopian caliphate.

Their complicity with men

The assumption that women are naive in terrorist movement is not generally correct as they could understand and contribute to violent aspiration of the jihadi movement as much as men.

A notorious story of a Malaysian ISIL woman, Dr Shams, had shouldered a recruiting role to groom young women and applied her medical skill to help ISIL fighters.

Meanwhile, the majority might not be militants at the battlefield but being convenient in such hostile and barbaric environment, inter alia, atrocious killings of innocent human beings (of different sects, ethnicities and moral offenders) proves their grave complicity.

I argue that their role as wives and mothers in extremely patriarchal households is an active one, that it strengthened the well-being of ISIL fighters and the movement as a whole.

They were willing to carry new-borns to sustain the legacy of ISIL, indoctrinate their children to fight the enemy, to be caretakers for terroristic husbands, let their male children to take up arms at young age, silent on mistreatment on other women near them, most importantly their fetish around “powerful revolutionary” men and selfishness to attain afterlife paradise.

The other side of story

Nevertheless, without discounting the complicity, here I acknowledge their personal experience and circumstantial factors that legitimise their right to return.

Some women who eventually realised that their divine journey was a scam for one man’s self-prophecy to rule by male-dominated politics of “Al-Dawlah Al-Islamiyah” or “Islamic State.”

Some others were groomed at their underage to get pious life in the Levant but turned out false. They were abused, raped, enslaved for sexual exchange and betrayed in polygamous marriage.

Some sought help from families back home but the chance to escape from war-torn zones and different proxy-military controls left these women powerless.

Their right to return must certainly subject to Malaysian law for abetting with terrorist group. But given their regret and trauma, those could be mitigating factors for the prosecution to weigh.

After return?

ISIL as a movement might have collapsed but we need long-term solution to tackle the revival of this religiopolitical ideology that could appear in other forms and characteristics.

The subservience of women in our patriarchal society that initially caught ISIL women into this problem, despite some have good education and career.

However, Malaysia’s deradicalisation programme is centralised to federal level, much less to the civil society as broadly practised in Germany and Indonesia through subgrants and programme collaborations.

It deploys only state approved “experts” from police and religious departments to rehabilitate the returnees. Although, the Home Ministry in 2016 claimed that its success rate was high, the measurement to determine a returnee is “emancipated” from terrorist ideology can be disputed.

I think it is so pivotal for the government to recognise the role of civil society, particularly in women’s rights such as Sisters in Islam, to play their role in preventative and reintegrative components of counter violent extremism (CVE).

The role of civil society is not merely supportive of the state, but critical to deconstruct certain cultural beliefs and practices that push women into the tyranny of patriarchy.

More funding and role delegation to civil society given their close relations with the communities to empower more women from holistic aspect of socio-economics not just for ISIL returnees, including those who sympathise and internalise the ideology.

* Aizat Shamsuddin is a sociolegal analyst in radicalisation, security and human rights.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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