The jihadi girls are just part of a long line attracted to mad, bad men

Messianic fervour, millenarianism and magnetism can whip up female hormones alarmingly, and this isn't just confined to fanatic Islam

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Sunday 22 February 2015 20:16
Comments
Renu Begum, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, holds her sister's photo
Renu Begum, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, holds her sister's photo

As I write this, the three Muslim teenage girls from East London are still missing. Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16 and an unnamed 15-year-old are believed to have gone off to join Isis. Their friend, another 15-year-old, took off in December and seems to have “inspired” them to do the same. In their photographs they are dressed like average British teenagers. These are academically gifted girls, whose parents are bewildered and distraught.

I used to teach English to young Bangladeshi and Somali mothers in this area. Denied education themselves when they were young, what they all wanted was for their daughters to become doctors, businesswomen and teachers, grab life chances, reach the top.

One of them, Razia, gave me her purse to look after. It contained her savings and cash she had got after selling some of her wedding jewellery. She was building up a fund so her daughter could go to college one day. Her husband was a boor and bully but she somehow kept her hopes and dreams alive for her children. When she finished the course, the purse contained almost £1,200. I rang her to ask how she felt about these East End girl jihadis. “My daughter became a teacher. She can’t understand. Allah, what is happening to them? The devil must have got into their heads. Or maybe they want to shock their parents. To be bad, not good.” Wise words.

Hundreds of impressionable young Muslim girls from around the world have been enticed to join Isis. Some have taken up arms, others have handed themselves over to some of the most violent men in the world today. A study by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue found evidence that such groupies “revel in the gore and brutality of the organisation”. They seem willing to accept Isis’s hardline code of conduct and want to submit to brute male power.

This phenomenon is widespread and not confined to fanatic Islam. Women and girls throughout history have been fatally attracted to fascists, communists, revolutionary armies and serial killers. Sometimes it is the cause that consumes them. I have just returned from Vietnam where, during the many wars that have beset that lovely country, beautiful, innocent young girls volunteered to fight with guerrilla forces and to die.

In Cuba, similarly, teenage girls rushed to join the resistance armies. Much is made of their “beautiful sacrifice”. But did they even understand what they were signing up to? In her book, Women and Guerrilla Movements (2002), Karen Kampwirth suggests that some of the youthful volunteers “want to escape the tedium of their homes, to join another sort of family, start life anew”.

Then there are those who are drawn to monstrous men and extreme politics. Messianic fervour, millenarianism and magnetism can whip up female hormones alarmingly. In one of Sylvia Plath’s last poems, “Daddy”, she delves into her complicated relationship with her German father. “Every woman adores a fascist/The boot in the face, the brute/ Brute heart of a brute like you.”

In the Thirties, fascist Oswald Moseley was one of Britain’s most charismatic politicians. Joan Bond, a young poetess, glorified this nasty man who promoted the cult of motherhood and obedience. He married Diana Mitford, an aristocrat. The wedding took place in the living room of Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler was the only other guest. Diana remained loyal to her husband and other fascists till she died in 2003. Her sister Unity was besotted with Hitler and another, Decca, was lured by communism.

Mussolini had a limitless supply of nubile mistresses, many of whom described with pride the pain he inflicted on them. Teenage girls were recruited into Piccole Italiane, a training camp for Italian fascists. In Germany the equivalent was The League of German Girls. When you look at pictures of the recruits, with ribbons in their hair and faces full of optimism, you wonder how this could ever happen. Just as we do now over the Isis handmaidens.

In the dark web of the female psyche lie these desires for pain, self destruction and annihilation. And cravings too for notoriety, the thrill of transgression, of doing something seriously wrong. Those who court danger don’t all go join armies and cults. Some, for example, choose to befriend and even marry callous murderers. It is the ultimate romantic adventure.

Denise Knowles, the Relate counsellor, believes: “These women crave recognition that comes from being attached to a gangster or dangerous criminal.” Sometimes it is an extension of teenage rebellion. Women who have had a sheltered upbringing are most prone to these liaisons. Within this spectrum, I would also include women who go for abusive partners and never break from the pattern.

The female Isis jihadis are no different from all those women who seem to go for men and messages outside the civilised norms. It may be madly exciting but for most, anguish will surely follow and then death or desolation without end.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in