Contemporary terrorist groups like Daesh (ISIS), Boko Haram, Taliban and Al-Qaeda incorporate a political agenda with an ideological twist of Islam, with an interpretation that violates the moral values that Islam preaches. The ideology of these groups is embedded in rigid misogyny and sexism, violating women's rights, which is alien to the theology of Islam. When the dawn of Islam was brought to the Arabian Peninsula, it freed women from savage oppression and justice prevailed over injustice.
Bigotry is deeply embedded in the ideology of the groups that is buried in the current terrorist rhetoric, as academics and security experts term these groups as 'Islamist' organisations or Jihadi groups. These terminologies propagate the idea that any act of terror committed by a Muslim is not segregated from Islam, but Islam bears the responsibility for the act. The usage of these terms shed negative light on the religion, increasing the plight of ordinary innocent Muslims, particularly on those residing in the West, resulting in their alienation and segregation from the wider society.
The symbols of Muslim marginalisation are reflected in the recent western political discourses such as Donald Trump's hateful remarks to ban all Muslim travel to US, alongside Islam-sceptic debates that dominate in Europe, leading to public policies that further marginalise the Muslim community. These public discussions are a package of the greater Orientalist discourse, promoting the notion that Muslims are the 'less civilised' beings, whose presence contaminates European values. The terror lexicon in vogue weaves the myth of the clash of civilisations, that Islamic values are incompatible with liberal values and are a threat to modernity.
In the Indian subcontinent, the term jihad is used to define contemporary terrorism. By defining it as such, the highly regarded Islamic meaning of jihad has been severely denigrated. Jihad means to struggle, and to cling onto faith at the times of adversity, most importantly to stand against social injustice despite facing obstacles and difficulties. Jihad is not to be interpreted as a conflict, rather a fight of our inner struggles, to restrain our actions for the greater good of the society. Thus, using jihad or jihadism to entail “terrorism” is misleading. The stigmatisation of Jihad promotes the Western supremacist legacy.
Perhaps the term “sexlamism” best describes the dogma of these terror groups due to the presence of institutionalised sexism and/or sexual violence, along with the sexual motivation that plays a crucial role in their recruitment. The governance of Daesh is deeply sexualised. Men are given the provision of Daesh's lustrous heaven upon joining, with wives and slaves in ample supply, sins legitimised. Supposed martyrdom is encouraged with the distant mirage of making love to seventy-two hoors in paradise. They believe, however, that being killed by a woman will deprive them of their imaginative sensuous paradise, and they will perish in hell. Thus, the hatred of women has proven to be largely beneficial for the Kurdish army, as the Women's Protection Units, an all women faction of the YPG which is estimated to be 10,000 troops strong, is fighting ISIS to re-take territory in north-eastern Syria. It has therefore helped them win victories.
Their ideology of “sexlamism” encompasses abuse against homosexuals, transsexual people or people of other orientations and religions. Not only is it prevalent in terror groups, but it's also legalised in some countries such as Saudi Arabia, where everyday sexism determines the political discourse. Some examples in Saudi Arabia include victims of rape being punished rather than the offenders. This notion also infers a racist doctrine that views the world in a binary - the Muslims vs. the Infidels. These “infidels” are perceived as being sexually immoral and looked down as being too liberal on women. The illusion of an Islamic Caliphate is also entwined in this seductive textual interpretation to unite the Muslim ummah into one nation.
Nonetheless, Sexlamists in their private lives are obsessed with pornography (in a February 17, 2015 article, New York Post reported that Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden found a fairly extensive stash of modern pornography in his possession), they communicate through it (media sources reported that terrorist cells embedded secret coded messages into shared pornography and onto pedophile websites) and justify their own salacious carnal practices on religious grounds. Al-Qaeda leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Al-waki, had also indulged in notorious promiscuity. Adultery and fornication are strictly prohibited in Islam, but in terror groups abhorrent sexual practices reign supreme. Daesh, for instance, has issued fatwas justifying rapes of Yazidi women to make them Muslims. Rape is the mechanism of Daesh to achieve their strategic objectives, since it humiliates and shames respective communities.
Daesh also sells Yazidi women held as captives in the slave market, where they are exhibited naked and priced according to their physique. Women are publicly gang raped and families and communities forced to comply with their code of conduct. Sexism dominates internal organisational structure of the Sexlamist groups where men occupy leadership positions; women on the contrary are placed in authority only over women to moralise their behaviour. The women in these groups serve patriarchal figures who protect the patriarchal misogynist structure within the organisation.
The issue of women's rights, victimisation of women in terror groups gets sullied in terrorist debates. Pornography is rarely discussed in counter terrorism narrative, even though evidence suggests that increased consumption of pornography might cause radicalisation, it is a rare issue in the security discourse. Preponderant abuses in terror groups get masked under the cloak of Islam, under the current terms of Islamism, Islamist, jihad, as these words highlight Islam as the root of evil. Terrorism committed in the name of Christianity, has inflicted violence in greater magnitude than the contemporary terror groups who proclaim to be Muslims. Christian terror groups have not been defined as “Christianist” or “Christianism,” but are associated with terms like 'fundamentalism,' or 'fundamentalist'. The Christian 'crusade' does not echo a similar negative resonance as 'Jihad' in contemporary political dialogues. Hence it is a deployment of hypocrisy to use these contemporary terms i.e. “Islamism,” “Islamist” 'Jihadist,” to impeach terrorism.
Women are largely absent from the domain of counter terrorism, as it is mostly men who make decisions on counter radicalisation. Women's scholarship and their expertise are undermined in the realm of international relations as they are viewed as “peacemakers,” hence unfit for realist, rational decision making.
The absence of women in foreign policy decision making of Western countries explains the support of authoritarian regimes that has institutionalised misogyny for their political gains. The book Sex and World Peace by Valerie M. Hudson shows that countries violating women's rights have a higher propensity to indulge in conflict and terrorism. Thus, women's rights need to be enacted in the realm of international politics, as abuse of women rights is a significant factor causing terrorism.
Sexlamism dominates because of the perception of women's inferiority in these countries. To successfully fight terrorism, Western foreign policy, particularly the US foreign policy needs to terminate support for authoritarian regimes that has institutionalised bigotry. Moreover, the religion of Islam needs to be alienated from terrorism, as sexism, sexual violence on women in terror groups and the fantasy of the imaginative Caliphate are contrary to Islamic theology. At the same time, however, Islam needs reformation from renowned scholars to eliminate the existing fabrication of texts radical groups use for recruitment purposes. The terrorism prevailing in the modern world is prejudiced towards women, calling for an urgency to change the present lexicon and remove Muslim victimhood from our day-to-day discourse.
The writer is a Research Associate of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, a security think tank based in Bangladesh.