Religious Fanaticism Prevails Over Pakistan’s Court by By FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI & NINA SHEA

The country’s Supreme Court dodges a decision by adjourning a high-profile blasphemy case.

The fate of an illiterate berry picker on death row for blasphemy has gripped Pakistan in a furor of religious fanaticism. Few examples better illustrate the misplaced priorities of the Pakistani government and the country’s Islamist ideologues.

Asia Bibi was scheduled to appear before Pakistan’s Supreme Court last week. She was arrested in 2009 following an angry dispute with her fellow field hands over whether she, a Christian, was too impure to sip from a cup of water she had fetched for them. The mother of five denies that she blasphemed, and has testified that she was merely professing her Christian faith.At her initial trial, Ms. Bibi’s inexperienced lawyer failed to cross-examine the two witnesses or object to errors in the proceedings. Ms. Bibi was convicted under Pakistan’s 1986 blasphemy law and sentenced to death by hanging.

Since then, Ms. Bibi has been on death row and placed in solitary confinement, ostensibly for her own protection. Though Pakistan has never carried out the death penalty for blasphemy, some defendants in prior cases were murdered by cellmates and guards. Ms. Bibi’s was the first capital blasphemy conviction against a woman to be affirmed by a Pakistani appellate court.

In this photograph taken on Sept. 27, Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman facing death sentence for blasphemy, points to a poster bearing an image of his wife Asia at a living area in Lahore.

When one of us met with Ms. Bibi’s husband,Ashiq Masih, at a New York conference in April, Mr. Masih said through an Urdu translator that the family was hopeful Ms. Bibi would soon be exonerated. He said that a court official told him her appeal would be heard as soon as things “cooled down” after the judicial execution in February of Mumtaz Qadri.

Qadri, a bodyguard for Salman Taseer, who was at the time the governor of Punjab, was convicted in 2011 of murdering Taseer for publicly defending Ms. Bibi. After Qadri’s execution, mobs rioted in Islamabad for four days, calling for Ms. Bibi’s blood.

That fanaticism returned to full boil last week as the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear Ms. Bibi’s case. Perhaps that’s why one of the three judges recused himself for a conflict of interest, waiting until the last minute to explain that he had also presided over the Qadri case.

“Many Sunni Muslim groups in the country have jointly held mass demonstrations across Pakistan, chanting slogans and displaying signs that read ‘#HangAsia,’” the Catholic outlet reported. Some praise Qadri as a martyr.

Among them are the Barelvi Sunni sub-sect, which the media has described as relatively moderate due to its association with the syncretic Sufi tradition. But there seems to be little moderation when it comes to the blasphemy law, which is wielded as a weapon, particularly against minority faiths, whether Ahmadiyas, Christians, Hindus, Shiites or even Sunni reformers.

The protests have even called for anyone who rescues or assists those accused of blasphemy to be viewed as blasphemers and executed too. This is a view shared by preachers at the notorious Red Mosque in Islamabad and one that has led to the murders of defense lawyers, journalists and human-rights advocates. In addition to Taseer, victims include Shahbaz Bhatti,Pakistan’s minister of minority affairs, an outspoken critic of the blasphemy laws who was assassinated in 2011.

Ms  Farahnaz Ispahani’s book “Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities”

The clerics of the Red Mosque, the scene of a pitched battle between its militants and the Pakistani army a few years ago, have threatened “dire consequences” if Ms. Bibi is spared. Its spokesmen vowed to lay siege to Parliament, and one reportedly threatened to issue a fatwa against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The affiliated Shuhuda (Martyrs) Foundation warned that its supporters would take to the streets and become “a centre for the anti-government movement.”

In the past, the judiciary has thrown out charges of criminal conduct against the Red Mosque leadership, validating the leaders’ belief that they—and their religious interpretations—are above the law. The blasphemy code is empowering them and their ilk to spread extremism.

Saif-ul-Mulook, a Muslim lawyer braving death threats to defend Ms. Bibi before the Supreme Court, has said it could take months for the appeal to be rescheduled. But if Pakistan’s government remains paralyzed in the face of blasphemy-law vigilantism, the decision will be between the judges’ lives and Ms. Bibi’s. Realistically, she may never get her day in court. And Pakistan would take a step closer to the edge of political and cultural chaos.

Ms. Ispahani, a former member of Pakistan’s Parliament, is the author of “Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities” (HarperCollins India, 2016). She is Global Fellow,  Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,  Washington DC.

Ms. Shea is the director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, and co-author of “Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide” (Oxford, 2011).

The article was published by Wall Street Journal on Oct. 20, 2016 and the link to the original article is Religious Fanaticism Prevails Over Pakistan’s Court


By 2050 there will be 2.8 billion Muslims in the world, of whom almost half will be women. If women are integrated in efforts to confront violent extremist ideology, through equal opportunities and participation in social, political, and economic life, this demographic could positively alter the future of the Muslim world. Currently, traditional, conservative, and patriarchal societies in most Muslim-majority countries tend to ignore women’s education, their participation in the workforce, and their rights. This enables Islamist groups, which reject the concept of women’s rights being equal to men’s rights, to target women as potential recruits for their extremist cause. Personal, cultural, and societal factors, along with the broader grievance culture amongst Muslim populations, have contributed to some women supporting and joining Islamist extremist groups.


Women’s participation in the workforce, in national parliaments, and even in schooling lags behind in countries geographically as far apart as Egypt and Indonesia, which share Islam as the religion of most of their population. Women’s inclusion and status in Muslim-majority countries does not necessarily improve with enhancements in a country’s economic standing. Gender inequality affects richer Muslim-majority countries as well as poorer ones (World Bank n.d.).

Women’s rights, already challenged by tradition and social conservatism, are coming under greater attack by radical Islamists who seek to reshape societies in the mold of how things stood in earlier centuries of what they deem to be pristine Islam. For decades Islamists and traditionalist Muslims have questioned the Western ideal of full and equal participation of women in public, especially political, life.

According to the Islamist worldview, the role of women is clearly defined in the Qur’an and elaborated further in Hadith and tradition. This definition rejects the notion that women have the right to an equal say in all matters that have an impact on their lives. In the initial phase of modernization of most Muslim-majority countries, there was great resistance by religiously conservative elements against giving women equal rights, with some clerics going to the extent of denying the right to women to sit in legislative bodies or to even vote.

In recent years, a few political Islamist groups (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world, Iran’s revolutionary regime, and the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh and Pakistan) have embraced the idea of “democracy” at least as a means of acquiring power through mobilization of popular support. The objective of acquiring such power for them, however, remains to establish an Islamic State. These groups seek women’s votes in elections but remain committed to rolling back women’s rights upon seizing power.

Women are not only part of Islamist groups that have embraced electoral politics, but also play a role in groups that have chosen the path of terrorism, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. There are also a number of women’s Islamist social conservative movements that work with, but are not part of, the Islamist political groups.

Faith & International Affairs

In a majority of Islamist and jihadi groups, women’s roles were traditionally limited to the spread of propaganda and incitement of husbands and male relatives to jihad. In the last few years, the leadership has been responding to both the change in context as well as to Islamist women’s requests to play a larger role in offensive combat. This is reflected in the fact that between 1985 and 2010, there were over 230 suicide bombing attacks by women belonging to Jihadi groups (Bloom 2011).

There are many reasons why these groups use women operatives. Women provide structural support which varies from teaching their children how to be “defenders of the pure faith,” maintaining the household for the fighters, encouraging other women to join them in their task, and, in the case of educated women, even translating extremist propaganda. When women participate in an act of violence, they provide an element of surprise. Experts say that female terrorists have a four times higher kill rate than their male counterparts (Bloom 2011).

In “When Women Become Terrorists,” Jane Huckerby (2015) points out the challenge of Islamist women’s role in public life. About ISIS, she writes, “While the group oppresses many women, many also flock to its ranks.” Almost 10 percent of ISIS recruits from Western countries are female, “often lured by their peers through social media and instant messaging.” An estimated 63 of the 350 French nationals believed to be with the group are women, just under 20 percent. According to Huckerby, “despite stereotypes about their domesticity and passivity, women are drawn to groups like the Islamic State by many of the same forces as men: adventure, inequality, alienation, and the pull of the cause.”

The women of ISIS feel no compunction in violence against other women. The all-female Al-Khansa Brigade of ISIS enforces the group’s morality codes for women, requiring modest dress and segregation of the sexes. They operate checkpoints and participate in home raids in addition to being recruiters, trainers of women suicide bombers, wives and homemakers, fund-raisers, and propagandists.

Author Mia Bloom in her book Bombshell: Women and Terrorists puts forth the “Four R plus One” framework to explain why women become terrorists. The four Rs are revenge, redemption, relationships, respect, plus rape—the death of a relative (revenge), relatives being involved with jihad (relationships), respect for female martyrs in patriarchal societies (respect), need to avenge a personal or familial shame (redemption), and sexual exploitation by jihadis (rape) (Bloom 2011, 234).

Other existing motivations include the perception of the Muslim community being under attack all over the world, the feeling of contributing to a cause, as well as personal incentives such as the allure of marriage and transition into adulthood. The feeling of community, sisterhood, and identity within the jihadi groups and larger community are a huge draw. For some female jihadists, Western feminism may be found unfulfilling or disappointing, and Jihadi groups provide an alternative of sorts, when personally chosen, as a path they interpret as a chosen way to avoid discrimination and abuse. These women see women’s roles as complementary to men’s, rather than equal. The growth in numbers of women living in the Western world who join these groups can be traced to factors such as grievances about Muslim-majority regions being under siege, belief that joining these groups gives them a goal in life and a way to contribute to a cause in which they believe deeply. There are also motivations like the desire to marry a true Muslim, bonds with other women who have joined these groups and are friends and provide sense of community, and finally a theological/doctrinal belief in an obligation to provide support for jihad.

ISIS has succeeded in the recruitment of women because of underlying causes within Muslim communities both in the West and in Muslim-majority countries. Even in relatively tolerant Muslim societies, patriarchy and paternalism are widely embraced, leading women to accept gender roles assigned to them. Polls indicate, for example, that a majority of women in several Muslim-majority countries feel it is their duty to obey their husbands and that spousal abuse is acceptable because it is allowed in Islam (NPR 2015). Extremists take this “submission to the will of God” one step farther and convince women that engaging in acts of violence is also divinely ordained.

In the West, Muslim diaspora communities from Paris to Toronto have seen an upsurge in anger and alienation from the broader community. One of the attackers linked to the November 2015 blasts in Paris was a woman, Hasna Aitboulahcen, as was one of the two San Bernardino attackers, Tashfeen Malik. Muslims, particularly youth and women, have felt ignored, hated, and apart from the larger society. Women, whether young girls or adults, feel that they are the easiest, most visible targets because of the hijab, and we have seen the backlash against it in places like France.

Within schools in Western countries, Muslim teenagers, because of their religious demands, often feel or are made to feel different. Teenagers growing up in Muslim households—fasting for the month of Ramadan, wearing the hijab, not dating or being able to drink alcohol—start feeling like “outsiders.” ISIS and other extremist recruiters often tap into such feelings of alienation, especially at impressionable ages.

In Muslim-majority countries, other forces are at work: easily-understandable triggers like unemployment in Tunisia and unhappiness with the nascent democracy’s inability to deliver, as well as forced secularity by dictatorial regimes. Today, Tunisian women and youth are the world’s greatest exporters of ISIS recruits. More Tunisians join ISIS in terms of percentage than citizens of any other country (Byrne 2014).

The recruitment tactics of the Islamic State have also been groundbreaking in social media. From Facebook pages to Twitter and Tumblr, the outreach has had an enormous impact on women all over the world—particularly in MENA and the West. Magazines, letters, and stories by women wanting to join active jihad and mothers’ proud remembrances of martyred sons have all been utilized in the Al-Qaeda affiliated al Shamikha and in Tayyabiat, which is linked to Hizb-u-Tahrir. The ISIS magazine Dabiq in a recent issue featured a message from the wife of the Paris supermarket gunman, advising women to study religion and support their jihadi husbands. This feeling of a community of believers, a group of acceptance, and a social experience is available in this online world of Jihadi women.

Unlike Al Qaeda, ISIS, or Daesh do not just want to eliminate Western allies in the region and attack Western systems. They have already put down the foundations of a state alongside the old states. The imposition of Sharia has begun in the regions they control. A barbaric form of warfare and control which puts all women—especially women belonging to minority religious groups like Yazidis, Shias, and Christians—at greater risk of death or debasement.

According to Ravina Shamdasani of the United Nations, “educated, professional women, particularly women who have run as candidates in elections for public office, seem to be particularly at risk” under ISIS rule. The revival of the slave trade of women from areas conquered by ISIS has increased the physically and sexually violent crimes against female children and women. The rise of ISIS has rolled back gains women made under secular governments like in Iraq and Syria (Shahabian and Sonenshine 2016). A similar fate awaits women and religious minorities in parts of other Muslim-majority countries that might fall under control of extremist groups.

The United States needs a comprehensive policy to deal with these developments in Muslim societies and beyond. Former Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine acknowledged in a February 2016 op-ed article in The Hill, co-written with Leon Shahabian, that the United States has still not comprehensively defined “Countering Violent Extremism” or “Counter-Extremism.” The next president of the United States must define both the problem and its solution in clear terms. As Sonenshine points out, several government agencies currently deal with countering violent extremism, often working in a vacuum and with different institutional agendas.


Moreover, violent extremism in the Muslim world cannot be dealt with without addressing the broader issues of religious freedom and women’s rights. Strategic considerations have lead U.S. policy to ignore marginalization of religious minorities in Muslim countries and to accept limitations on women as cultural or traditional. A more robust linking of U.S. foreign assistance and arms sales with policies on women’s rights and religious freedom could force governments in Muslim countries to tackle these issues.

The problem stems from the gender gap in the Muslim world, with low levels of literacy and low levels of labor force participation by women in all spheres of life. It also stems back to the traditional Muslim societies that have resisted what they see as Western human rights including rights for women. Instead of military dictators, orthodox ulema, and jihadis defining what are women’s rights, women should have the right to do so.

It is here that the foreign policy of the United States can be proactive by placing women at the heart of its policies. This includes more aid for women’s education and scholarships for women students to study both in their countries and in the U.S. Support from the United States, both monetary as well as symbolic, for women activists in majority-Muslim countries will be further boosted if a global network of such activists is created and sustained. If the president takes the lead, policy confusion can be replaced with a comprehensive strategy that rebuts the culture of Muslim grievance—a grievance culture which enables extremists to recruit and operate. Instead of interacting just with clerics in token gestures, the United States must embrace Muslim modernizers including human rights activists, scholars, and writers. Moreover, U.S. officials must stop assuming that modernist Muslim women are somehow unrepresentative. Despite oppression and persecution, they remain as much part of Muslim societies as conservative women.

Women must, in particular, be the cornerstone of the anti-extremist effort. There are many positive historical and modern day examples of women and Muslims that can be used to show positive role models. It is imperative to make a distinction between Islam and its extremist distortions. It must be understood, moreover, that the consequences of inattention to combating extremist Islamist ideology would not be different from the results of ignoring the rise of totalitarianism in Europe before the World War II.

This Scholarly Article Was Published By Journal: The Review of Faith & International Affairs Published Online: 20 June 2016


Equal Opportunity Terrorism- The Official females of Islamic State (ISIS) by Farahnaz Ispahani with Nina Shea 

On September 29, the State Department added British citizen Sally Jones to its list of foreign terrorists. Jones is a 46-year-old punk rocker who converted to Islam and moved from Kent to Raqqa to join the Islamic State in 2013. She is also newly widowed, having lost her 21-year-old husband, ISIS hacker Junaid Hussain, in an American airstrike targeting him a few weeks ago. “Mr. and Mrs. Terror,” as Hussain and Jones came to be known, were active on social media to extend the Islamic State’s reach in the West. The State Department announcement duly noted that the pair had published a “hit list” of American military personnel to encourage lone wolf attacks, recruited foreign women for ISIS, and in August offered instruction in homemade bomb-making for attacks in Britain.

Jones clearly deserves to be on the terror list and to be on it in her own right. She is no innocent, duped into a life of terror, or pushover for male domination. In fact, she is living refutation of the theory that female empowerment alone is the path to Islamic moderation, as the State Department has long maintained. Women, too, can be seduced by radical Islamic ideology.

An old Facebook photo shows Jones in the costume of a Catholic nun, holding a gun. In her recent posts, she is shown wearing Islamic garb, with an AK-47 assault rifle. She tweets such violent threats as “You Christians all need beheading with a nice blunt knife and stuck on the railings at Raqqa. .  .  . Come here I’ll do it for you.” Lately she is taking credit for an online posting of the home address of the Navy SEAL who claimed to have killed Osama bin Laden, along with an appeal for American jihadists to murder him. It’s not for nothing that State designates her a “fighter.”

Women militants like Jones are on the front lines in enforcing the Islamic State’s totalitarian system in the Khanssaa Brigade. Reportedly led by British women, the brigade is a morality enforcement militia by women against women. In the PBS documentary Escaping ISIS, two young members who functioned as Khanssaa shock troops before recently defecting in Turkey reported little regret about their jobs patrolling markets for female dress code violators, whom they would detain and lash 20 to 40 times with cables. Khanssaa is also responsible for enforcing the male guardianship regime, the Islamic State’s principal means of institutionalizing the subservience of women within its territory. Though they don’t hold rank or engage in battle, Khanssaa officers receive weapons training.

Jones, aka Umm Hussain al-Britani, has played an instrumental role in the Khanssaa Brigade, which, among other atrocities, has institutionalized the revival of sexual slavery. Khanssaa officials are reported to be the main enforcers of the rules issued by the ISIS fatwa department for its slave houses. Jones is hardly alone.

Over several months before being killed last February while an ISIS captive, 26-year-old American humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller was repeatedly raped by the Islamist terror group’s highest leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This was not just one more battlefield atrocity. Using the group’s only American female hostage, the “caliph” was setting a precedent—one that would revive the long-abandoned institution of sabaya, the enslavement of female infidels captured in battle and their use by jihadists for sex. Baghdadi blessed these serial rapes, not only as acceptable, but as moral behavior for ISIS men. Since then, slavery, rape, and sexual abuse at the hands of ISIS have become the fate of thousands of Yazidi women and girls, as well as smaller numbers of Christians, Shiite Muslims, and females of other religious minorities.

Recent reporting has uncovered numerous details of ISIS’s enslavement and sexual abuse of female “unbelievers,” each instance more extreme than the last. But often overlooked amid the victims’ horrifying accounts is the indispensable role played by Jones and other female officials in institutionalizing sexual slavery in the Islamic State.

It was, in fact, an Iraqi woman, Nasrin As’ad Ibrahim, commonly known as Umm Sayyaf, the wife of ISIS chief financier Abu Sayyaf (also now deceased, killed in May by American special forces), who organized ISIS’s use of sabaya, and who personally managed Kayla’s enslavement. We know of Kayla’s ordeal from media accounts of interviews with her parents, who were briefed by U.S. officials after questioning Umm Sayyaf, and with a teenage Yazidi girl who had been chained with Kayla in the Sayyaf home. From Umm Sayyaf, American interrogators uncovered the existence of a wives’ club of the ISIS leadership. These women gather and exchange intelligence to transmit to their powerful husbands. Precisely because they are not suspected, they are given responsibility to carry out missions and provided with deep knowledge of ISIS’s financial and tactical operations.

Jones, as the State Department noted, served as an ISIS propagandist. She and others like her have already lured some 550 foreign Muslim women, who, as potential brides, are used, in turn, to lure the foreign men who will be suicide bombers and militants—an estimated 30,000 so far, with 1,000 new arrivals every month. They aggressively employ social media to portray the ISIS war zone as an Islamic utopia, replete with free houses, taken from those who’ve been killed or have fled, and household appliances. Umm Sumayyah Al-Muhajirah is a propagandist who defends slavery and forced sex with female slaves on theological grounds. In the May issue of ISIS Dabiq magazine, she stresses that becoming enslaved to a Muslim is actually a blessing for the infidel slave girls for it can lead them to Islam. Holding this belief, Abu Abdullah al-Ameriki, a Muslim convert, is an American ISIS leader who prays before and after raping his captives, it was revealed in late September on CNN by Bazi, a 20-year-old Yazidi woman who managed to escape from his home in Syria.

Several women medical doctors in Mosul courageously defied ISIS and were consequently punished with death. But other female doctors are cooperating and have even moved to Islamic State-ruled territory to set up practice. Their OB-GYN skills are badly needed since males are barred from this field. But Zainab Bangura, the U.N. expert on sexual violence in conflict, herself a Muslim, provides disturbing evidence suggesting that some of these women doctors may be the Mengeles—the angels of death—of their day. For instance, she reports that a 21-year-old girl had been sold as a bride 22 times, and “every time this marriage was arranged, they had to do a surgical operation to her, to be able to rebuild her virginity so that she can become a virgin for her next marriage.”

The Article was published by Weekly Standard and this link to the article:

Equal Opportunity Terrorism- Farahnaz Ispahani

The Author Ms Farahnaz Ispahani is former RF Fellow NED, Public Policy Scholar at Woodrow Wilson Center 2013-2014. Member Pakistan Parliament 2008-12. Foreign Policy Top 100 Global Thinker 2012.