Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC and the author of the book Purifying The Land of The Pure: The History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (Oxford University Press, 2017). In 2015, she was a Reagan-Fascell Scholar at the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, DC. Ispahani was a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center from 2013-2014. A Pakistani politician, Ispahani served as a Member of Parliament and Media Advisor to the President of Pakistan from 2008-2012. In Parliament she focused on the issues of terrorism, human rights, gender based violence, minority rights and US-Pakistan relations. She was also a member of the Women’s caucus in the 13th National Assembly. The caucus, which straddled political divides, was instrumental in introducing more legislation on women’s issues than has ever been done before during a single parliamentary term. Ms. Ispahani spent the formative years of her career as a print and television journalist. Her last journalistic position was as Executive Producer and Managing Editor of Voice of America’s Urdu TV. She has also worked at ABC News, CNN and MSNBC.
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.”
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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.
Two years after being elected, the world’s first female Muslim prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, received intelligence that a man called Osama bin Laden had given orders to kill her. The year was 1990. Al-Qaeda had not yet officially been formed, but the organizers of global jihad had already determined that Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they launched their first modern jihad against the Soviet Union, would be crucial to their plans for restoring the medieval caliphate across the Muslim world.
Bhutto narrated the bin Laden threat to her life in the second edition of her book The Daughter of the East. In the first edition, she had spoken of threats to her life at the time of her first return to Pakistan from exile, in 1986, while the jihadist dictator General Zia-ul-Haq still ruled the country. Bhutto conveyed her concerns about Zia to U.S. officials then as she did about bin Laden four years later. But before 9/11, warnings about radical Islamists were not taken seriously.
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by the jihadis on December 27, 2007 after addressing a rally where she repeated her warnings about the Taliban and other extremist groups. Today, events such as the recent massacre of school children in Peshawar, reflect what Bhutto was warning against. Extremist Islamist ideologues opposed her because as a western-educated Muslim woman leader she symbolized all that the jihadis hate.
Bhutto was physically brave beyond comprehension. She had a commanding personality, was extremely intelligent and well read. Her charisma, combined with her compassion towards the poor of Pakistan, helped her win elections in a conservative Muslim majority country. Zia-ul-Haq, the brutal military dictator, rued that he had not “finished her off” along with her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — a former president and prime minister of Pakistan executed by Zia after a military coup.
The extremists and Pakistan’s conservative establishment that has backed them hated Benazir Bhutto with a passion and tried to thwart her in every way her entire adult life. Pakistan’s reputation as a terrorist incubator owes itself to the hyper-nationalist and Islamist ideology cultivated over the years by the country’s establishment. Bhutto saw this ideology, not as a cement that would bind Pakistan’s disparate ethnic groups, but as a deviation from the ideas of Pakistan’s secular founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Benazir Bhutto had a vision and clarity about Pakistan, the Muslim world and the West after 9/11 that no Muslim leader today seems to have. In her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, written just before her assassination and published right after it, she argued that Pakistan under military dictatorship had become an epicenter of an international terrorist movement that had two primary aims: “First, the extremists aim to reconstitute the concept of the caliphate, a political state encompassing the great Ummah (Muslim community) populations of the world,” she wrote. The second aim of the militants was “to provoke a clash of civilizations between the West and an interpretation of Islam that rejects pluralism and modernity.”
In 2007, before ISIS and its markedly escalated brutality had surfaced, Bhutto cautioned the world about the violent intentions of those hijacking her Islamic faith. “The attacks on September, 11, 2001, heralded the vanguard of the caliphate-inspired dream of bloody confrontation: the crusades in reverse,” she explained to a global audience that still does not always understand motives of groups like Daesh — or the Islamic State as the extremist murderers prefer to be called.
Bhutto explained that within the Muslim world, sectarianism was widespread and the Islamic dogma had been shaped into a propaganda tool justifying jihad against the West. She also took on rising western Islamophobia and argued that Islam and Muslims were not the negative and cartoonish caricatures often painted in the Western press and movies.
Bhutto offered an alternative vision of civic Islam, drawing on the Prophet Muhammad’s acceptance of “women as equal partners in society, in business and even in war. Islam codified the rights of women. It guarantees women, civil, economic and political rights.” She castigated those “who claim to speak for Islam who denigrate democracy and human rights, arguing that these values are western values and thus inconsistent with Islam. These are the same people who would deny basic education to girls, blatantly discriminate against women and minorities, ridicule other cultures and religions, rant against science and technology, and enforce brutal totalitarianism to enforce their medieval views.”
According to her, these people have no more legitimate relationship with Islam than the people who bomb women’s health centers in America have to Christianity or the madmen who massacre innocent Arab children at the tomb of Abraham in Palestine have to Judaism.
Benazir Bhutto will be mourned on the anniversary of her assassination at her burial place in her family shrine in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in Sindh and all over Pakistan. This year, with the turmoil, strife and violence spreading all over Muslim lands by the extremists, it would be worthwhile to pay attention to her words, experience and recommendations for fighting the jihadi extremists.
(Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. 2013-2014)