"FEELING alone and alienated? Stop sinning!" This turns out to
be a popular recruiting slogan for Islamic State (IS), Nabeelah
Jaffer tells us in a rather wonderful piece in The
Guardian about women tempted out to Syria as brides of
jihadis. It had been retweeted by a British Pakistani woman who now
calls herself Umm Abbas and encourages other women to join her in
"On Twitter, she talked enthusiastically about her journey to
Isis. 'The most amazing . . . experience of my life,' she wrote,
'was crossing with a family of over 10 members who had a newborn
baby with them! :)'
"Umm Abbas was relentlessly positive about life with Isis. I
asked her what happened to girls who found themselves with abusive
husbands: 'Dawla has the best of men,' she promised, 'and the
shariah court here protects you from all types of violence.' There
was a process, she . . . explained, for unmarried women to be
matched with a husband.
"After being placed in a maqar [a shared house for "sisters"], a
woman writes down what sort of 'brother' she wants to marry. The
emir of the area matches her with someone and sets up a brief
meeting, after which, if both parties are agreeable, the marriage
quickly takes place. 'They will still contact ur dad,' Umm Abbas
told me. But if the woman's father refused, the emir would go ahead
and marry them anyway."
I shall not easily forget the opinion that a sharia court
protects you from all types of violence.
The centrepiece of the story, though, was a young American woman
who had turned back from her journey to IS when she got to
Istanbul. "Karen", as she was named for the piece, had converted to
Islam less than a year before; in high school she had been a lonely
girl interested in Star Trek and computer programming. Her
parents were Christians, but don't seem to have been too worried by
what little of their daughter's conversion they understood,
although they freaked out completely when she tried wearing a
She had flown to Istanbul with the intention of marrying a
fighter she had met on the internet, who was supposed to be meeting
her there. But when she got there, there was no one to meet
"Later, Karen did not like to talk about all the promises Abu
Muhammad had made to her: it was embarrassing to think about how
naive she had been. He had told her to board the bus from Istanbul
to Urfa and make the 18-hour journey alone, as many others before
her had done. At the other end he, or one of his friends, would be
waiting to hear from her. They would come at once, and would help
her to cross into Isis territory immediately. But to her, the plan
seemed risky and rushed. He had told her so little. Things came to
a head on the final day, when the tone of his texts became more
sexual. When she confronted him, he argued that there was nothing
wrong with doing, as she later called it, 'things'. They were, he
pointed out, just 24 hours from being married.
"This was not, to Karen's mind, how pious and devoted jihadis
were supposed to behave."
So she went home - but there is one very telling final detail.
The way she rationalised the whole thing was to decide that the man
she had been flirting with was not really a member of IS, but one
of the Kurdish forces who have been fighting against them. So no
wonder he had appeared treacherous. She has no plans to go out
there again, though.
This was a wonderful example of the sort of journalism that only
the internet makes possible. I know there are lots of bad forms;
the appearance of "Twitter" in a headline is a sure sign of a
worthless story (unless it's actually about the company). But, so
far as I know, Jaffer didn't speak to any of her subjects face to
face. The whole thing was worked out of long slow conversations on
various social media; it's worth noting that these pseudonymous and
virtual conversations produced far more honesty and insight than
any number of discussions in which you know exactly who is talking.
Honesty and openness is a consequence of social interaction and
journalistic skill, not of any particular form of technology.
MEANWHILE, in reports from a rather less sinister movement that
answers the cravings of misfit adolescents, The Guardian
music pages report that Justin Bieber has turned up in Sydney,
where he will spend five days attending the annual Hillsong
conference. "It is his fifth time in the country," the paper
explains, adding helpfully, "despite an interview in March last
year . . . in which he said he could not remember if he had ever