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Over the past two years, a period in world history dominated by economic crisis and extreme violence, the Daily Mail newspaper has published small variations of the same story at least three times. It concerns the shadowy manoeuvres of a sub-division of ISIS called the al-Khansa brigade, notable for being made up exclusively of young women.
According to reports, the al-Khansa brigade is responsible for enforcing a harsh Sharia-compliant lifestyle upon women in ISIS controlled territories. If and when women fall short of Sharia standards (say, by wearing a veil of thin material, leaving it slightly transparent), members of the brigade are said to arrest the offending female and take her to a dungeon, wherein they pinch her, beat her, confine her and otherwise torture her within an inch of her life. If the offence is ‘severe’ meanwhile (some extremity of the body being entirely revealed, adultery, lesbianism etc..) the brigade arranges for the prisoner to be stoned to death.
While some have doubted the veracity of these reports (an understandable position when one considers the record of the Daily Mail), we have every reason to believe this brigade exists, and in the fashion described. Indeed, in an interview with Sky News (later reported in the Independent newspaper), an account of the activities of the brigade was recounted by a woman claiming to be a former member. The woman, then 20 years of age, told the journalists that her job “was to lash women who tried to escape or wore the wrong clothes” and that “the women who were caught trying to escape would receive 60 lashes, while women who simply wore heels or were not wearing the proper Islamic dress known as the abaya, were ‘given the ‘standard’ 40 lashes’.”
(Note: When reading of people being ‘lashed’ in the context of the Muslim world, one should never presume the lash to be a thin, flimsy or light, but thick and heavy like rope. People have died from being punished this way).
Of course it’s easy to understand why (among the thousands of cruelties exacted by ISIS fighters) this particular story has proven enduringly popular. Firstly, it appeals to the darkest recesses of the Western male mind – the unlit zone attracted to Sadism, Masochism and fascinated with the exotic and the forbidden. And secondly, it is because of the natural shock people feel when hearing of acts of brutality committed by the fairer sex, something seemingly incongruous and running against the universal grain.
But is it really so rare?
We in the West have become so used to perceiving women as victims of Islam that we probably forget there are women who want to be Muslim; that there are women who choose for themselves a very extreme interpretation of the Koran, often against the wishes of their spouse or family; in short, that women can be irrational and evil too.
Given this reality, I would say that dealing with Jihadi women should be no more morally complicated than dealing with their male counterparts. There is no feminine value left in the ranks of al-Khansa and so they must annihilated with the same ruthlessness (and with the same weapons) as IS’s frontline troops. If they are captured and refuse to provide information, they shouldn’t be spared ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ either. When you betray your sex to such a dreadful extent, you sacrifice the privileges of being that sex.