Iranian American journalist Moaveni (Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran, 2009, etc.) recounts the stories of women who have joined the cause of the Islamic State group.
According to the current presidential administration, IS is a failing cause, but it remains strong in places such as Iraq and Syria, battling government forces and controlling large territories. Working with 20-odd women involved in IS and their families, the author shows them to be a diverse group with various motivations. “Many thought they were saving themselves, or saving others, from unspeakable harm,” she writes, although on the battlefront of the caliphate, the women would find themselves in grave danger themselves. One of her subjects is a young Tunisian woman whom Moaveni, who uses pseudonyms throughout, calls Nour. She, like many of her compatriots, took up wearing the niqab as an instrument of protest: “For many, being religious became a language through which to demand freedom from the state’s intrusion into daily life.” Salafism, the extremely conservative, Saudi-funded movement, is a rebuke to liberal Tunisians in a secular state; although separated by dress and other strictures, the young women who became Salafi felt “not constrained but empowered.” Just so, IS appealed to young women in secular Britain, some of whom became “true believers” and took up arms. Some died, and some, on returning (or being returned) to their homeland, became wards of the court: “Had she been a young American woman in similar circumstances, caught by American authorities,” observes Moaveni, “it’s likely she would have been prosecuted…and forced to serve a years-long prison sentence." The author adds that it is not just the children of the dispossessed, but the well educated and affluent who join the cause; regardless of their status, however, “no country wants its ISIS citizens back.”
Writing sympathetically but not uncritically, Moaveni helps readers understand why these women join IS.