The biggest question that has hung over the disappearance of these British mothers and their children is what could possibly have motivated them. Why would a parent believe that they and their children would be better off with Isis in the midst of Syria’s civil war?
Usama Hasan, senior Islamic studies researcher at the anti-extremism think-tank, Quilliam, believes part of the explanation lies in the success of Isis’s propaganda.
“There’s this very romantic, idealised idea [among some Muslims] that Islamic State is some kind of utopia and a state of justice and paradise on earth,” he said. “That features on a lot of the propaganda videos. Every mother wants the best for their children. If you look at the Isis propaganda online, they paint Raqqa and Mosul as peaceful places with functioning societies.”
Dr Hasan said the motivations in the Dawood sisters’ case might also be much more personal. “It looks like family dysfunction has played a role in this.”
Naz Shah, the Dawood family’s local Bradford West MP, said the sisters’ husbands were shocked at the news when she spoke to them, as it “came out of the blue”. Ms Shah believes urgent action needs to be taken to quell the flow of Britons to Syria.
“I think we need to take a really good look at things in terms of what’s a draw to Isis,” she told The Independent. “What’s the pull factor from that side and the push factor from our side?
“What are we doing in terms of community development and what are we doing in terms of engaging with children and promoting critical thinking skills? We need to look at areas of vulnerability because this is grooming people into a way of life and an ideology. We need to smash that ideology,” she said. “Isis is one hell of a well-oiled machine with propaganda that talks about their healthcare and schools; it’s marketing and that’s a pull factor. It’s an absolute evil; a virus that doesn’t have any place in our society and we need to root it out.”
As well as the pull of propaganda from groups such as Isis, the increased feeling of isolation for many Muslims in Britain is also a factor. Ms Shah said: “In terms of the push factors, you’ve got communities that are not engaged. You’ve got people who do not feel part of society in a meaningful way. Why are British women and men not feeling that belonging?
“We’ve got to look at Islamophobia here too. If you wear a hijab, some statistics show you are 65 per cent less likely to get a job in Britain. There’s clearly a link and we’ve got to look at what we’re doing.
“The media play a part in that too, they need to be responsible. We don’t celebrate enough about Muslims, the community has to celebrate themselves.”
Like Ms Shah, Dr Hasan believes that Britain needs to look inwards at how it welcomes Muslims – as well as people of all religions. “In this case you’d have to say there’s a failure of British values. This is where ideology comes in – there’s a picture painted that a true Muslim can only live in a Muslim country. That’s an ideology we try hard to fight. Even for those doing well it can leave this terrible doubt in the back of people’s mind as to whether they should be here in the first place,” Dr Hasan said.
“Part of this is about finding a place for religion, especially Islam, in modern society. A lot of work has been done on this but the message hasn’t got through to the grassroots believers. In the last two years we’ve seen Friday sermons which are supposed to be moderate but are them vs us and some of the Muslim TV channels really pump out that message too.
“There’s been a failure amongst Muslims themselves to fully advance that discussion. There’s also been a failure of British society to work out the place of religion in society because religious people often feel out of place and can be lured by extremist groups.”
The extreme and violent images and videos distributed by Isis of the atrocities they commit gain the most attention. But the group also circulates propaganda which normalises and glamorises life within their so-called Caliphate, targeting men and women alike.
Fluent on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, some of the amateur videos and pictures uploaded have suggested parity with male militants showing women posing with assault rifles.
Isis has also set up groups like The Zora Foundation and the al-Khansa brigade to specifically target young women. It is believed they are connected to the group’s propaganda wing, the Al Hayat Media Center, which creates content aimed at non-Arabic speakers.
With the slogan “preparing for the honour of jihad”, The Zora Foundation posts videos and tweets explaining the ways in which women can contribute to the insurgency, by being “good wives”.
While explaining that women shouldn’t work or wear modern fashions, their videos show children happily playing together as the group attempts to build a picture of family lives continuing normally. Painting places like Raqqa and Mosul as peaceful with functioning societies, the group presents a romantic idealised idea that they are some kind of utopia for a Muslim family.Reuse content