Why Teenage Girls Are Giving Up Everything To Join Islamic State

Teenage girls are giving up the pleasures and freedoms of young adulthood to join Islamic State, and parents and authorities are trying to understand why.

To gain an insight, Iranian-American writer Azadeh Moaveni interviewed 13 young Jihadi brides for her latest book Guest House For Young Widows -- girls who chose to abandon their families and comfortable lives to travel to war zones and marry ISIS fighters.

The girls whose stories she tells are from various countries, but what they all shared was a sense of isolation and rejection, Moaveni told Studio 10.

"If there's one thing that binds them all together is that they were all starting to feel excluded and felt they didn't have a place in their home societies, whether that was London, Berlin, or Arab countries," she said.

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"That feeling of exclusion... that there was no other pathway to try and meet the desires and aspirations they had.

"The sense of being excluded was something ISIS tapped into in such a sophisticated way country-to-country, with what I would say is bespoke messaging."

One of the cases which gained relentless media attention was that of three teenage school girls -- Amira Abase, Shamima Begum, and Kadiza Sultana -- from Bethnal Green, in east London, who dropped everything to go to Syria.

Moaveni, who is also the author of Lipstick Jihad, Iran Awakening and Honeymoon in Tehran, described how the girls' stories were "incredibly poignant " because they were the "last girls you would imagine" could be susceptible to this type of grooming and manipulation.

She described them as bright, popular girls who had promising futures ahead and were liked by their teachers.

However, Moaveni noted they were from immigrant backgrounds and their parents were still trying to adjust to life in the UK, so they didn't see it as a "dangerous signal" that their daughters started dressing more conservatively or isolated themselves, because many teenagers do.

'Bethnal Green Trio' Kadiza Sultana, Shamima Begumcentre and Amira Abase. Image: AAP

She added the parents assumed their daughters were trying to ensure they didn't lose their culture in a liberal British society when they also started attending the mosque more often.

"The warning signs were read by the parents as a safe signal," Moaveni said, adding that the had no idea who the girls were meeting or talking to.

"They weren't quite equipped for 21st century London parenting, which is very different to village parenting in the likes of Bangladesh or Pakistan."

The girls had created a sisterhood and were recruited by someone operating out of east London before they were eventually seduced into going to Syria.

They were just 15 and 16 at the time.

"We must bear in mind they were teenagers so this idea that they were making informed choices is not one we think about regarding girls who are being recruited into an armed group," Moaveni explained.



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When the trio arrived in war-torn Syria they didn't find the "Utopian society" they thought they would. Instead they were confronted by a horrific war zone and immediately wanted return.

One of them, Kadiza Sultana, wanted to flee and was sadly killed in an airstrike while her family was working frantically to get her out.

"Across so many of these stories these women found a horrific reality where they were expected to marry fighter after fighter, becoming permanent wives to this movement which became even more grotesque and violent by the year," Moaveni  explained.

Having being raised in the US by a family from Iran, Moaveni was brought up with the view that the west had intervened in the Middle East for decades.

She said it can therefore be difficult for young women to feel British, Australian or American (for instance) if you're from a Muslim or immigrant background.

Iranian-American writer Azadeh Moaveni interviewed 13 young Jihadi brides, for her latest book 'Guest House For Young Widows'. Image: Studio 10

"There's a mixed mentality toward these women who leave to join ISIS because they've been really hurt by the group but also they made the decision to go there," Moaveni  told the Studio 10 panel.

"It's a complex picture assessing their guilt."

She also believes that because they weren't British white girls, they were represented unfairly in the media. "They we cast as evil perpetrators even though they were only 15," she said.

A problem a lot of nations are now grappling with is how to respond to brides of ISIS that are in overseas war zones, but want to return home.

When asked whether someone who has previously been radicalised can be deradicalised and integrate back in society, Moaveni had a mixed opinion.

"Governments have a lot of intelligence about who poses a greater risk and who doesn't," she said.

Teenage girls are giving up the pleasures and freedoms of being young adults to join Islamic State. Image: Stock photo via Getty

"It's possible to start repatriating women who we are fairly confident are not going to pose a security threat.

"[But] I don't believe in the idea of deradicalisation. If someone has committed crimes or joined a terrorist or prescribed group, they should be prosecuted and be surveilled in the same way you would anyone who has committed any form of violence."

She said radicalisation could happen to anyone, and urged parents to look for warning signs such as withdrawing themselves which they might usually overlook.

However, the good news is Moaveni believes "the era of Islamic recruitment is really waning and almost over".

Moaveni will be appearing at Sydney Opera House’s All About Women festival on Sunday March 8.