Scholar Explains Why Women Are Joining ISIS

Katherine E. Brown speaks onstage at the Museum Auditorium with Clifford Chanin, the executive vice president and deputy director for museum programs.
Katherine E. Brown, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Birmingham University speaks at the 9/11 Memorial Museum with Cliff Chanin. Photo by Jin Lee.

On Wednesday evening, the 9/11 Memorial Museum hosted Katherine E. Brown, a scholar who specializes in gender and terrorism, to discuss ISIS’ recruitment of women. Brown believes that the terrorist organization targets women who feel isolated in their communities.

"ISIS is very good at presenting the idea that they’re your friend. They have recruiters who work online constantly," Brown said.

Brown explained that ISIS’ social messaging strategy is to present vulnerable women with the exciting prospect of adventure: traveling to a different country, choosing a jihadi soldier to marry, and joining their pious community in the name of God. She gave an example of a young woman from London who joined ISIS because she felt alienated and wanted to return to the ancient, sacred time of the prophet Muhammad.

ISIS’ aggressive outreach tactics have been successful, but what can be done to prevent young adults from joining their ranks? Brown suggested that teaching students debating skills would effectively debunk radical thinking.

"[Debating] gives young people the confidence to speak, the confidence to take apart arguments. It gives them the ability to challenge people like me, you, as well as the Islamic State, and that can only be a good thing," she said.

Watch a video of Brown discussing the destruction of Palmyra and other religious shrines in Syria, and its impact on women.
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By Liz Bistrow, Communications and Marketing Coordinator

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