Behind the Veil: BBC and the Brides of ISIS

brides of isis

Has BBC’s comedic take gone too far by propagating Islamophobia or is it the perfect tool to combat radicalization? In early January of 2017, multiple media sources reported that BBC had released a controversial comedy sketch regarding women in the Islamic State.

The video, shown below, spoofs the popular American reality series featuring the daily antics of the average housewife by replacing them with British Muslim women who were likely radicalized online, and later fled the United Kingdom to join ISIS.

Some highlights feature the women modeling suicide-bombing jackets, light-heartedly tweeting “Jihadi Jane, death to the West,” and causally discussing the deaths of their husbands. Due to this, BBC received a massive outpour of comments online.

Many have accused the network of playing into a stereotypical and offensive narrative. In mocking young girls’ choice to join the Islamic State, the sketch veers away from satire and into a category that truly ignores the severity of life within ISIS.

Others disagree; finding the sketch to be a light-hearted and refreshing take on the subject. In a statement to The Guardian, chair of the UK Muslim Women’s Network, Shaista Gohir, argued that this sort of humor is necessary to fighting ISIS and online radicalism.

It removes any source of legitimacy that the organization harbors and discourages young women from playing into the enticement of jihadi blogs and online chat rooms.

Gohir notes, “Everyone just uses the same old approach, telling terrible stories of girls who went, but this very different and it gets the message across in a satirical way. We need different strategies and this one of them. If it gets the message across, then great.

Regardless of the positive and negative connotations in the BBC sketch, it has opened up a larger dialogue about perceptions of Muslim women and the reality of life in the Islamic State.

The West constantly seeks to save Muslim women — many left wing sympathizers and allies attempt to advocate for the “oppressed” Muslim women, yet many never give them the opportunity to voice their concerns.

brides of isis

It is assumed that Muslim women need to be freed from stereotypical patriarchal and oppressive Arab husbands, mundane and sexist lifestyles, as well as despotic wardrobes that hide beauty.

The West constantly seeks to save Muslim women — many left wing sympathizers and allies attempt to advocate for the “oppressed” Muslim women, yet many never give them the opportunity to voice their concerns.

It is rare that Americans and Europeans alike consider the progressive beliefs of some Muslims, the feminism of the few female imams, or the beauty and comfort that many women find in niqabs and hijabs.

Such ignorance, though rooted in good intentions, is in part why so many Western Muslim women are prepared to leave everything behind to join the Islamic State. They are not simply radicalized by beheadings, anti-Western sentiment, or an urge for violence.

Many are lost, feeling alone in a world that wants to define and ostracize them.  A study from The Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that 550 of the 3,000 Western migrants to ISIS are women.

It is rare that Americans and Europeans alike consider the progressive beliefs of some Muslims, the feminism of the few female imams, or the beauty and comfort that many women find in niqabs and hijabs.

Scholars Carolyn Hoyle, Alexandra Bradford, and Ross Frenett determined that ISIS recruiters tap into these women’s grievances, offering a solution “an Islamic society built on their strict interpretation of shari’ah law…

[Western Muslim women] believe that this migration will bring them closer to God and help secure their place in heaven, while giving them a sense of belonging and sisterhood on earth.

brides of isis

Once in ISIS regimes, the fantasy once promoted online is proven to be false. In another video found in the Swedish magazine Expressen, two women who fled ISIS documented the reality of the life in the Islamic State.

Women cannot go outside alone, speak without prompting, and must be covered head-to-toe in a burqa. Streets are patrolled, women are to be submissive wives and mothers, and rape and flogging is frequently used as punishment.

Such ignorance, though rooted in good intentions, is in part why so many Western Muslim women are prepared to leave everything behind to join the Islamic State. They are not simply radicalized by beheadings, anti-Western sentiment, or an urge for violence. Many are lost, feeling alone in a world that wants to define and ostracize them.

Those who blindly followed ISIS into Syria and Jordan because they felt disenfranchised, were lured by the seemingly exotic nature of a trip to “paradise” and truly believed that this was a cause worth fighting for suffer within the Islamic State. When women try to escape, many are killed on the spot.

As beneficial as the BBC sketch might serve to combat radicalization, it truly does shed a problematic light on Muslim women. Though humor can be a positive source of relief in hard times, BBC’s sketch bordered on Islamophobic and detrimental.

In order to truly combat Western female migration to the Islamic State, we must be aware how we treat Muslims. It’s important to listen, stray from generalizations, and respect their religion even if it differs from your own.

As beneficial as the BBC sketch might serve to combat radicalization, it truly does shed a problematic light on Muslim women. Though humor can be a positive source of relief in hard times, BBC’s sketch bordered on Islamophobic and detrimental.

In the battle against ISIS, it might be time to share realistic portrayals of life within the Islamic State, rather than making light of the treatment of women and overlooking the severity of life in a terrorist organization.

Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth is an undergraduate student passionate about diplomacy and international relations. She focuses her studies on terrorism and women in crisis in the MENA, hoping to use her voice to make a difference.

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