Islamist Rebels and Women in Peer-Reviewed Academic Journals of 2017 and 2018

Islamist Rebels and Women in Peer-Reviewed Academic Journals of 2017 and 2018

[The Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI) is pleased to present the  PRAR Bouquet, a curated selection from our Peer-Reviewed Article Reviews that highlights knowledge production around a specific theme or topic. This bouquet series uses MESPI’s Peer-Reviewed Articles Reviews to analyze and provide insight into trends in academia.]

This is the second of three bouquets of articles on the topic “gender” and journal articles from 2017 and 2018 in the field of Middle East studies. This bouquet follows one on “Women, Gender, and Turkey,” and precedes another on “Masculinities and the Middle East.” Interestingly, in researching a potential bouquet topic, we noted that the majority of articles on gender (in/and the Middle East) published in over 130 journals during 2017 and 2018 concerned Palestine/Israel and Turkey, while almost none concerned Saudi Arabia.


ISIS-chan – the meanings of the Manga girl in image warfare against the Islamic State
By: Anna Johansson
Published in Critical Studies on Terrorism (Volume 11, Issue 1)

Abstract: This article explores gendered meanings of ISIS-chan, an Internet meme in the form of a manga girl, produced and used to disrupt the messages from the Islamic State. Moreover, it investigates the performative power of ISIS-chan, and how it is used/interpreted as it circulates on the Internet. The ISIS-chan campaign is seen as an example of how the girl figure is mobilised in the political context of the War on Terror. Characterised by girlish playfulness, humour and creativity, I suggest that ISIS-chan challenges the stereotypical representations of femininity in the War on Terror, and may be perceived as a trickster.

Making women terrorists into “Jihadi brides”: an analysis of media narratives on women joining ISIS
By: Alice Martini
Published in Critical Studies on Terrorism (Volume 11, Issue 3)

Abstract: Although the involvement of women in terrorist activities is not new, it is still considered to be an exceptional phenomenon. The figure of a woman militant contradicts the main gender constructions and thus produces a certain shock and disconcertment  in societies. In the case of “Jihadism”, women who willingly join a terrorist organisation also challenge the Western Neo-Orientalist perspective on Muslim women in the West. Starting from these theoretical standpoints, this article focuses on a group of terrorists who have recently received a great deal of attention: ISIS women jihadis. Based on a critical discourse analysis of three main UK broadsheets, this article presents, deconstructs and problematises the main depictions that were used to describe these subjects. Furthermore, it discusses how the frames described reconcile these women’s actions with the gender and Neo-Orientalist constructions that circulate in Western societies, safeguarding the deriving hegemonic narratives. In other words, the article focuses on how women terrorists are made into “Jihadi Brides”.

Brides, black widows and baby-makers; or not: an analysis of the portrayal of women in English-language jihadi magazine image content
By: Orla Lehane, David Mair, Saffron Lee, Jodie Parker
Published in Critical Studies on Terrorism (Volume 11, Issue 3)

Abstract: This article analyses the depiction of women in image content from 39 issues of official English-language magazine publications produced by designated terrorist organisations that follow a jihadist ideology. Research on the role of women in jihadi organisations has found that women are active at all levels within terrorist groups. This includes creating and disseminating terrorist content; planning, co-ordinating and carrying out attacks; and, supporting fighters as wives, mothers and homemakers. Our analysis, however, found that women are almost never depicted within the images of terrorist organisations’ official magazines. We argue that this airbrushing is a deliberate attempt to reinforce traditional gender roles and strengthen existing gender hierarchies within terrorist organisations, and we make a number of suggestions for future research in this understudied field.

Online as the New Frontline: Affect, Gender, and ISIS-Take-Down on Social Media
By: Elizabeth Pearson
Published in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (Volume 41, Issue 11)

Abstract: Using a dataset of more than 80 accounts during 2015, this article explores the gendered ways in which self-proclaiming Twitter Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters construct community around “suspension.” The article argues that suspension is an integral event in the online lives of ISIS supporters, which is reproduced in online identities. The highly gendered roles of ISIS males and females frame responses to suspension, enforcing norms that benefit the group: the shaming of men into battle and policing of women into modesty. Both male and female members of “Wilayat Twitter” regard online as a frontline, with suspension an act of war against the “baqiya family.” The findings have implications for broader repressive measures against ISIS online.

Not Just Brainwashed: Understanding the Radicalization of Indonesian Female Supporters of the Islamic State
By: Nava Nuraniyah
Published in Terrorism and Political Violence (Volume 30, Issue 6)

Abstract: Why do women become extremists? To what extent might they have self-agency? This paper examines the motivations and processes of female radicalization into the so-called Islamic State (IS) by drawing on a case study of Indonesian IS sympathizers, including the three migrant workers-turned-female suicide bombers whose radicalization was facilitated by social media. It argues that far from being coerced, most women join IS of their own free will. Prompted by a mix of personal crisis and socioeconomic and political grievances, the women embark on a religious seeking, exploring the various Islamic options available to them. Ideational congruence might spark the initial interest in IS, but it is generally emotional factors such as a feeling of acceptance and empowerment that make them stay. Contrary to common assumptions, women’s subordination in jihadist organizations is not absolute; it can be negotiated after joining. Most women try to conform to jihadist strict gender rules, but some, often with the support of male allies, try to bend the norms, including on female combat roles. The findings suggest that counter-terrorism agencies should abandon the binary view that women are either just brainwashing victims or terrorist provocateurs, and try to understand the gendered nuances of radicalization in order to formulate suitable preventive measures.

The Syrian Conflict and “Women Terrorists”
By: Joseph Makanda, Emmanuel Matambo, Vumile Mncibi
Published in Contemporary Arab Affairs (Volume 11, Issue 1-2)

Abstract: Studies on terrorism have often taken the usual bias towards studying and analyzing phenomena from a male-dominated perspective. The current article looks at jihadi feminism as a growing trend in contemporary terrorism. The paper argues that there is an increase of women from both traditionally Muslim and traditionally non-Muslim regions joining ISIS and taking part in the Syrian war on the side of Islamic extremists. The paper argues that women from Western countries, because of their understanding of feminism, are more combatant in championing religious terrorism than are women who have been brought up in Islamic role, who see their role mainly as that of helper of terrorist activists rather than active participants.

Divergent Paths to Martyrdom and Significance Among Suicide Attackers
By: David Webber, Kristen Klein, Arie Kruglanski, Ambra Brizi, Ariel Merari
Published in Terrorism and Political Violence (Volume 29, Issue 5)

Abstract: This research used open source information to investigate the motivational backgrounds of 219 suicide attackers from various regions of the world. We inquired as to whether the attackers exhibited evidence for significance quest as a motive for their actions, and whether the eradication of significance loss and/or the aspiration for significance gain systematically differed according to attackers’ demographics. It was found that the specific nature of the significance quest motive varied in accordance with attackers’ gender, age, and education. Whereas Arab-Palestinians, males, younger attackers, and more educated attackers seem to have been motivated primarily by the possibility of significance gain, women, older attackers, those with little education, and those hailing from other regions seem to have been motivated primarily by the eradication of significance loss. Analyses also suggested that the stronger an attacker’s significance quest motive, the greater the effectiveness of their attack, as measured by the number of casualties. Methodological limitations of the present study were discussed, and the possible directions for further research were indicated.

Post-Islamism and fields of contention after the Arab Spring: feminism, Salafism and the revolutionary youth
By: Markus Holdo
Published in Third World Quarterly (Volume 38, Issue 8)

Abstract: In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, conflicts in Egypt and Tunisia over the authority to rule and the role of religion in society raised questions about these societies’ capacity for reconciling differences. In retrospect, the conflicts also raise questions about the theoretical tools used to analyse regional developments. In particular, the ‘post-Islamism’ thesis has significantly changed the debates on ‘Islam and democracy’ by bringing to light the changing opportunity structures, and changed goals, of Islamist movements. However, this paper argues that the theory underestimates differences within post-Islamist societies. Drawing on field theory, the paper shows how the actual content of post-Islamism is contingent on political struggle. It focuses on three fields whose political roles have been underestimated or misrepresented by post-Islamist theorists: Islamic feminism, Salafist-jihadism and the revolutionary youth. Their respective forms of capital – sources of legitimacy and social recognition – give important clues for understanding the stakes of the conflicts after the Arab Spring.

Women on the frontline: Rebel group ideology and women’s participation in violent rebellion
By: Reed M Wood, Jakana L Thomas
Published in Journal of Peace Research (Volume 54, Issue 1)

Abstract: Despite the frequent participation of women in armed groups, few studies have sought to explain the variation in their roles across different rebellions. Herein, we investigate this variation. We argue that the political ideology a group adopts plays a central role in determining the extent of women’s participation, particularly their deployment in combat roles. Specifically, we link variations in women’s roles in armed groups to differences in beliefs about gender hierarchies and gender-based divisions of labor inherent in the specific ideologies the groups adopt. We evaluate hypotheses drawn from these arguments using a novel cross-sectional dataset on female combatants in a global sample of rebel organizations active between 1979 and 2009. We find that the presence of a Marxist-oriented ‘leftist’ ideology increases the prevalence of female fighters while Islamist ideologies exert the opposite effect. However, we find little evidence that nationalism exerts an independent influence on women’s combat roles. We also note a general inverse relationship between group religiosity and the prevalence of female fighters. Our analysis demonstrates that political ideology plays a central role in determining whether and to what extent resistance movements incorporate female fighters into their armed wings.

Sex-Slavery: One Aspect of the Yezidi Genocide
By: Peter Nicolaus, Serkan Yuce
Published in Iran and the Caucasus (Volume 21, Issue 2)

Abstract: Even though almost three years have passed since the black banners of the terror organisation, calling themselves the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) were first hoisted throughout the Yezidi heartland of Sinjar, the Yezidi community continues to be targeted by ISIS, militias. 300,000 vegetate in camps as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Iraqi Kurdistan; thousands of others have been killed, are missing, or remain in captivity where they are subjected to unspeakable sexual and physical abuse. With deference for these victims of violence, and without detracting from the collective suffering and trauma of the entire Yezidi community of Sinjar (families, women, men, and children alike), the authors have chosen to focus the present article on the plight and misery of the females; who were, and still are, facing despicable sexual abuses, unfathomable atrocities, and unfettered human rights violations. In doing so, they highlight the views of the fundamentalist Islam practiced by ISIS that encourages sex-slavery, while elaborating on the complacent acceptance of ISIS terror tactics by the local Sunni population of the territories they control. The work goes on to describe how survivors escaped, as well as how they are received and treated by the Yezidi community and state authorities. This discussion includes an overview of the national and international mechanisms available for prosecuting ISIS members for their crimes of genocide against the Yezidi people. The authors further stress that the genocide has contributed to, and even accelerated the process of the Yezidi selfidentification as a unique ethno-religious entity; which, in turn, has produced changes to their religious traditions. These changes will be briefly covered by examining a new approach to the institution of the Kerāfat.

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