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Friday, 8 September 2017

Jihadi Vogue

by Sana Naqvi

The TTP is now targeting women to join its militant group and take up jihad
Photo credit: Wikipedia/Commons

In recent years extremist groups have gone to creative lengths to gather a cadre of supporters to propagate their agenda and ideology by undermining state institutions and rallying the religious right to their cause to carry out recruitment and radicalize the public and private spheres, giving a new face to modern terrorism.

In the past we have seen religious groups such as Al Shabaab live tweet their attack in a shopping mall in Nairobi, or the Islamic State publish its infamous magazines Dabiq and Rumiyah. Research shows that these publications reach out to a large audience, and successfully cajole people to join these radical groups, forcing social media companies to shut down 125,000 accounts linked to ISIS, a testament to the potency of these strategies.

Trying to replicate these groups, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released a new magazine last month titled Sunnat-e-Khaula, ‘The Way of Khaula,’ a reference to an early female follower of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Its primary aim is to convince women to join the militant group and take up jihad. The cover of the magazine features a woman covered from head to toe in a veil walking in a yellowed hued dessert. Gaining popularity on Facebook, users dubbed it the new ‘Jihadi Vogue.’ The 45-page magazine circles around a number of topics, with a consistent theme, i.e. ideology and belief will guide the world forward – not kneeling before the Western enemy – in an attempt to create sterile divisions between ‘bad’ state institutions and ‘good’ Taliban ideology.

Written in English, the opening editorial of the magazine states that “We [TTP] want to provoke women of Islam to come forward and join the ranks of Mujahideen-e-Islam” and “organize secret gatherings at home and invite like-minded jihadi sisters.” The magazine featured an interview with the unnamed wife of Fazlullah Khorasani discussing her marriage to the TTP Chief at age 14: “I ask you why now everywhere there is hue and cry about underage marriages ... We have to understand that mature boys and girls if left unmarried for too long can become a source of moral destruction of the society.” In an attempt to demonize the West and its infiltration into the state machinery, the magazine also includes an article by a Pakistani female doctor explaining her decision to shun her western education and embrace Islam, titled, “My journey from ignorance to guidance.”

The magazine tasks women followers to distribute literature reflecting on the obligation of jihad; arrange physical training classes for sisters. Learn how to operate simple weapons. Learn the use of grenades. Observers took to blogs and websites to understand why TTP has tailored a magazine to reach out to a demographic that it primarily oppresses and marginalizes. "It's really a strategic logic that these terrorists are using," states Georgia State professor Mia Bloom who has studied women and terrorism. "For them, women are a tool or an instrument, to be exploited for whatever purposes necessary, and their objectives are ultimately longevity, survival and to flourish." “The Pakistani Taliban is trying to draw on disaffected, educated Muslim women,” says Omar Waraich, a Pakistani journalist. Nikita Malik, a senior research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society adds "It is definitely an attempt, especially as it is the first one, to reach out to a different audience, to reach out to different recruits." Thus, despite numerous bans on women’s voting and general participation in public life in areas under its influence, the TTP is now willing to admit women as actors in its political strategy, albeit in an instrumentalist role.

The magazine is replete with diatribes against democracy in particular and the state in general. Its opening comment holds that, “[It] is ignorance on behalf of the public that they are unaware of Islamic system of Khilafah and hence they find peace and prosperity in democracy.” The Taliban belief, shared by religious political parties such as Jamaat-i-Islami, is that democracy is a western construct and should be replaced by the creation of an Islamic order. This rhetoric has hindered democratic institution-building in the Pakistani state and has led to disruption during the voting process. In particular, women in conflict-affected tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were prevented from voting during the 2008 and 2013 elections. It appears the Taliban have no issue, however, with women making their political voice heard if it means bearing arms in the name of jihad against the state.

*This blog was written as part of ongoing work on Action for Empowerment and Accountability, led by Institute of Development Studies.

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