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There is a widespread social drama that strikes the populations of the Middle East. And where there is war, it is generally the weaker part of the population that is most dramatically affected: the women, the elderly and the children. They are the silent victims of this human tragedy: the Yazidi women, who have been raped and sold into slavery; the children who are killed by bombings, drowned in the Mediterranean sea as they seek refuge abroad, or forced to train with the militias of the Caliphate. Then there are the elderly who cannot access medical care anymore, who die from hardship or because they lack the strength to flee or defend themselves.

While not all of these innocent actors die from the bombings and torture, many of the survivors still represent lost lives, even after the end of the conflict, because they will be burdened – in the body and in the spirit – by the weight of the terrible experiences that they have undergone.

Women are the ones who pay the highest price because, in this part of the world, they are segregated in a social position that is subordinate to men and do not have any decision-making power. They first become a passive subject in the hands of others, then, because of the cultural factor, women often go from being a subject to being an object, a commodity, a mere instrument of sexual divertissement. This partly reveals the fate of the women of the communities that have been 'defeated' by the ISIS.

The ISIS dedicates particular attention to the role of the women, albeit with the same old contradictions between the treatment reserved to their own women and that reserved to those of others.

The militias of Al Baghdadi have created a special brigade called “al Khansaa”, made up solely of women and dedicated to 'moral' policing. They check on women in the streets to ascertain that their way of dressing and their behavior is in line with the Islamic precepts. The members of the brigade wear the abaya and the niqab to cover their face, a 'precaution' that is asked of all the women living under the Islamic State. A dress too tight, make-up on the face, even if hidden by the niqab, the eyes that are not completely hidden by a double veil or the possibility that a small part of the body or hair could be exposed, trigger immediate sanctions that can go from an initial reprimand to a number of strokes of the whip, depending on the gravity of the offense. The death penalty, through lashing or stoning, is inevitable for adulterers. It is also a rule to wear dark clothing and to leave the house only in the company of a man (the only exceptions to this rule are theology students, doctors and teachers).

The “Khansaa” is also in charge of carrying out security checks on women, if necessary. One can enroll in the brigade after a brief training in the use of weapons and a number of lessons in Islam, especially in the application of the sharia on women. The members of the “Khansaa” receive roughly $100 per month (a militiaman generally makes $130), they are not employed in combat and live in their own quarters (the “maqar”, where non-married women and widows live). There are foreigners among them and there exists, alongside the more renown “Kahnsaa” (which operates mainly in the area of Raqqa), another, similar unit, the “Umm al Rayan”, with similar goals.

At any rate, just like all the other women of the Islamic State, the members of the “Khansaa” and of the “Umm al Rayan”, if young, are invited – or rather, forced – to marry a combatant and, if he were to die, another, even in contrast with the Islamic precepts that compel believers to wait at least three months before remarrying (so that, if the girl is pregnant, there be no doubt on the identity of the father). The Islamic State also deems it legitimate that a 9 year old be married to a Jihadist. There remain certain limitations on the use of women in war because, in the eyes of the Caliphate, a Muslim woman is a mother, wife and housewife, period.

The Western concept of equality among genders is often stigmatized by the ISIS, along with Western culture as a whole, which produces the “tyranny of capitalism”, while it is underlined that there exists an Islamic system of social well-being. The ISIS women must not be illiterate or ignorant, but they must avoid the sciences (which deal with the search for truth, something which lies in the jurisdiction of the Islamic faith). There is a rigid system for the education of girls: from 7 to 9, a girl must study Arabic, religion and natural sciences; from 10 to 12, she should study more religion - with a focus on 'women's' problems, such as wedding and divorce – and more Arabic and natural sciences (meanwhile, she will learn to sew, embroider, knit and cook); from 13 to 15 a girl will undergo yet another round of religious studies, this time with a focus on the Sharia, the life of the prophet and the history of Islam. At this point the scientific studies are abandoned (the basic concepts learned as a child will suffice) and the focus shifts to the upbringing of children. After that, nothing more, because it's time to be married, have children and stay home.

Since the role of the woman in the Muslim world is in stark contrast with her role in the Western world, the ISIS often attempts to center the debate on the more thorny issues such as polygamy. According to the ISIS, Islam is not the only religion to adopt such a practice, which was already trending in the times of Jacob and David, both with multiple wives and concubines. Also, they claim that it has positive repercussions on women because there are more women than men and because the woman have a harder time living through tough times than men. The young Jihadists prefer virgins, but polygamy opens the door to widows and divorced women and, if women are infertile, they are given a chance to remain in the household nonetheless. Then there is a practical side to the issue: women aren't always able to fulfill their duties with regards to their husbands (they may be on their menstrual cycle, be pregnant, or have post-partum bleeding). Polygamy solves the problem. Otherwise, the husband may run the risk of indulging in other temptations.

This is the reality that the women living in the ISIS caliphate have to deal with. Yet on the outside, the propaganda of the Islamic State tries to portray the role of the ISIS woman as being attractive, constructive and socially fulfilling.

This 'optimistic' vision is advertised by the ISIS' propaganda apparatus, which explains why the Islamic State has seen the arrival of anywhere from 400 to 600 women from Western countries (about 1 in 8 volunteers is a woman). These foreign women are called “muhajirat” (the feminine version of 'migrant'), intended to mean 'a migrant that reaches the promised land to serve Allah'.

The ISIS has specific propaganda aimed at both women coming from Muslim countries and those coming from Western countries. In the latter case, the message is much more sophisticated and is less based upon theological justifications, but rather on the description of a virtual world where the woman's role would be central. The image of the Islamic State that the ISIS wants to portray is that of a place where everything is readily accessible, where one spends time enjoying cuisine or swimming in rivers, etc. A world which doesn't really exist, but that must be emphasized in order to make it more attractive for women accustomed to wealthier countries with higher standards of comfort. It is rumored that a team of Western women has been trained to scour the social networks and lure other Western women to the Caliphate. The image of the Caliphate that the ISIS is busy advertising is a utopia, where the romantic aspects are shown, while the difficulties of living in a war zone are overlooked. This approach is used to counterbalance the negative feedback that some Western women have expressed after reaching Raqqa and is deemed necessary because the ISIS believes that Westerners are, for the most part, religiously unprepared.

What about Arab women? The ISIS lures them by insisting on the right/duty to support the Islamic State in the midst of a war of religion and culture against the apostates and infidels. Religious duties are underlined, as is the presumed persecutions suffered by the Muslim people; the anger for discrimination; the longing for revenge and justice; the sense of belonging; the messianic and ideal aspects of being on the front line for the fulfillment of Allah's design.

The differentiation in the propaganda of the ISIS shows that their media organization is sophisticated and targets its messages on specific groups of individuals, therefore making them particularly efficient. It must be noted that in the Islamic State, Western women are actually privileged with respects to their Arab counterparts.

Overall, the media celebration of the woman's role in the Islamic State is in stark contrast with the role and fate that is ensured to non-Muslim or 'apostate' women (Muslim women that don't support al Baghdadi's organization) when they fall into the clutches of the ISIS.

The ISIS openly practices the commerce of women and their use as slaves or as war loot for the sexual satisfaction of the Jihadists. Once again, the ISIS tries to justify this stance through theology. Daqib, the Caliphate's publication, recently published an article where they stress that the sharia allows for kuffar (non-Muslim) women to be treated in such ways. The same explanation was printed on fliers that were distributed near mosques in Mosul.

isis slaves

These publications made explicit reference to the Yazidi women, who are described as belonging to a pagan minority and consequently not worthy of any form of mercy (as opposed to Christian and Jewish women, whose 'wrong' beliefs can be compensated with the “Jizyah”, the Islamic tax). With regards to the Muslim “apostate” (those who oppose the ISIS) women, there are serious doubts about the legitimacy of their being sold into slavery, although the Caliphate is inclined to allow such practice as well. Again, in order to justify their conduct, the ISIS quotes the Koran, important theologians such as Ibn Taymiyyah and the Hanafi and Hambali schools of thought.

International organizations have stated that roughly 2500 Yazidi women have become sexual slaves of the ISIS (overall, about 4600 of them have disappeared). The young women are separated from the more elderly women and are locked up in buildings used as brothels, where they are at the mercy of the Jihadists who periodically come to pick them up (sometimes two or three at a time). They are then sold at a slave market and taken home by their new owner as personal slaves. All of this happens in broad daylight, because it is “Islamically” legitimate. The Islamic State has no moral problems with these practices.

Obviously, this approach has some practical benefits for the ISIS militants, who acquire the right to benefit from their conquests and to counterbalance the suffering caused by a war with the pleasures of the flesh.

Through a series of other publications, the ISIS has also tried to regulate this sex trade by attempting to suggest the correct behavior for each situation, in adherence to the Islamic precepts. In practice, this boils down to a number of fatwa (religious suggestions) issued by judges and theologians. For every question, no matter how indecent, there is an answer.

Can I have sex immediately with a virgin? Yes.

And what if she isn't a virgin? Wait and see if she is pregnant (three months, to ascertain the identity of the father)

What if she hasn't reached puberty? So long as she is adequate for intercourse, no problem. If she isn't, the you can “use” her nonetheless, without having direct intercourse.

Can I have sex with women or boys/girls who are prisoners? Naturally. And you can sell them, or even offer them as a gift, if you wish. The person who captured the prisoners can do with them as they wish.

The only limitation here arises when the captive is owned by two men at the same time. Inevitably, one of the two men will not be allowed to have sex with the slave (again, to be able to identify the father in case of a pregnancy).

There are also other limitations: no abortions; one cannot have sex with mothers and daughters together if they are both slaves; the same is true for sisters; also, one cannot have sex with a woman during their menstrual cycle.

What happens if the slave-owner dies? The slaves are inherited by his kin, just like any other property.

Can I have sex with my wife's slave? No, because she doesn't belong to you.

Can I free my slave? Yes and, if you do, Allah will be pleased.

Can I kiss someone else's slave? If for pleasure, no.

Can a man have sex with coitus interruptus? Of course, and you don't need to ask for your slave's permission to do so.

Can I marry a slave? No, unless the marriage serves to avoid the sin of fornication.

There are also little bits of humanity thrown here and there:

Can a slave buy her freedom? Yes.

Can a slave be separated from her children? No (if they are minors).

Can a pregnant woman be sold? No. (same old 'father identity' fixation)

Other, more general, recommendations suggest that slaves should be treated well and that one should avoid “humiliating” your slave. You can beat her to educate her and to make her respectful and disciplined, but not for your pleasure. Also, please don't hit her in the face.

What about the slave? What can she do? One of the worst things she can do is try to escape. Allah doesn't have a specific punishment in store, but there will have to be a reprimand that will prevent the attempt from being reiterated, an admonishment severe enough that it will prevent others from following the bad example. No specific punishment is suggested...

kurd women fighters
Kurd women fighters

The commercialization of women by the ISIS reaches paradoxical levels in the context of the war. The ISIS Jihadists are literally terrorized of being killed by a woman like those of the Syrian Kurd YPJ (woman unit for the protection of the people, as opposed to the YPG, which is comprised of men). To die at the hands of a woman would not only discredit the Jihadist in question, but would also jeopardize his merit in martyrdom when faced with the judgment of Allah. In other words, that terrorist would not go to heaven.

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