The document offers a chilling mixture of the mundane and the depraved.
The document offers a chilling mixture of the mundane and the depraved
“…sisters… come and gain true honour by living under the law of Sharia, by marrying a brother who puts Allah before his desires…”
These are the disturbing words of Aqsa Mahmood, the Glaswegian medical student who left for Syria a few months ago in order to join the terrorist group calling itself Islamic State (IS).
In a document that surfaced on the internet a couple of weeks ago, Aqsa sheds light not only on daily life under IS rule but also on the motivations young female Muslims may have for joining the struggle.
On one hand Aqsa comes across as a typical tech-savvy and image conscious young girl when she quips “we mostly depend on blue-toothing with one another” and “bring make-up and jewellery from the West because trust me there is nothing here”.
On the other hand, she exhorts young Muslim women in the West to join her by asserting “If you are still in doubt then research until you are content. However, do not keep using this as an excuse to stay back from the land of Jihad”.
She also appears remarkable at ease with her second class status as a woman under IS rule when she cautions women that they will not be allowed to fight and are expected to spend most of their time ‘cooking, cleaning, looking after and even educating children’. The single sacrifice that came in the way of her travelling to her dystopian paradise to offer her services to the IS struggle seems to be her family.
In haunting and poetic words, that reveal a mind-set that is both perturbed and beguiled, Aqsa says “Personally an important step for me was trying to distance myself from my family as much as I could’….this was crucial for myself as I didn’t and still don’t trust my stubborn heart…Leaving my family for the sake of Allah was the biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made in my selfish life so far.”
The document offers a chilling juxtaposition of the mundane with the depraved, couched in language that manages both a vernacular and pious tone. The words are simultaneously heart-wrenching, poorly-spelled and hauntingly eloquent.
However, hiding behind the faux piety and heroic altruism of her words is an egoism and self-righteousness, qualities that are often masked with sanctitude. Crucially they offer an insight into just how twisted and deluded the human mind can become when intoxicated by religious dogma synthesized with political certainty.
In a strange kind of way I can appreciate what is going through his poor young girl’s mind, or rather I understand the milieu in which she was raised. That all-pervasive sense of victimhood, pernicious anti-Muslim conspiracies around every corner, the desire to live in a society that reflects a puritanical interpretation of Islam and that drive to play a role in creating a global bloc of Muslims living under a single leader.
These are sentiments that are shared by many Islamist and Salafist groups around the world, groups that would even condemn IS and call themselves mainstream. These are groups that I grew up listening to and, for a brief while, following.
However, what individuals that have peddled such ideas for many years in the UK and around the world fail to appreciate is the fact that their handiwork has primed young people like Aqsa for IS recruitment. A wide variety of such groups and individual activists have, in their quest to deflect contemporary Muslim failings in order to salvage much needed Muslim pride, created an atmosphere in which jihadism can become the logical next step.
Aqsa and her disturbing document should not be viewed in a vacuum or as an anomaly. Her quest to go and live by the Islam she has read about in books and heard about in speeches has ended in IS controlled Syria for a reason. When a vacuous and literalist approach to scripture alongside a ‘them and us’ hate narrative is peddled as the mainstream, it is inevitable that a section of adherents will seek to walk the walk.
In the eyes of Aqsa, the normativisation of a medieval interpretation of Islam meant life in modern society felt uncomfortable and hostile. The natural choice then is to migrate to a land in which ones conception of Islam fits with the ground realities and daily life.
So in essence IS recruits see that their retrograde ideology does not fit with the modern world so instead of adapting to the modern world they seek to adapt the world to their retrograde ideology. This explains the wholesale destruction and chaos they bring to every area they conquer, bringing about 7th century social conditions to which they can apply their 7th century view of religion.
Aqsa is not alone. She may be one of the more articulate of the British female recruits to IS but her broad sentiments are shared by hundreds of other Brits. Unfortunately we will continue churning out such individuals as long as we allow peddlers of hate and purveyors medieval romanticism to go about their business unchallenged.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.