Calling Bullshit on British 'Jihad Groupies' Flocking to SyriaS

Today in "what the actual fuck," several British news outlets are reporting that "British women groupies" are "flocking" to Syria in order to marry jihadis.

"Jihadist groupies flocking to Syria with marriage in mind," announces The Times of London. "Jihad and to hold: How British terror groupies are heading to Syria to wed fighters," puns The Daily Mail. And, in an article that reads like a nightmare parody of Sex and the City, Hannah Strange of The Telegraph ponders, "Why are British women groupies flocking to Syria to marry jihadis?" (Her answer, seriously: "this is perhaps simply more than an extension of that hackneyed but most maddeningly inescapable of truths: some women just love a bad boy.")

There's quite a lot that's questionable about this "story" — not the least of which is that everyone's working definition of a "flock" is "four confirmed cases... but, like, we've heard rumors of a dozen more." And the narrative of husband-finding is prioritized over the narrative of radicalization, which is simply baffling. According to The Times:

Unlike previous recruits attracted to fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, young Muslim men from across Europe going to Syria have in many cases constructed online profiles through social media — posting self-consciously heroic updates and photographs, and exhortations to others to follow... The jihadists are using the internet to answer questions and offer religious and practical advice, seemingly attracting groupies who frequently propose, or pose questions about marriage.

Foreigners have been joining the Syrian revolution for years; their involvement has been very complex, and framing it in this way is beyond reductive. Just one paragraph previously, The Times glibly notes that Muslim women aren't allowed to travel alone, so marrying a man in Syria would allow them to come into the country. Instead of jumping to a more logical conclusion — these FOUR women (again, not a flock) have already radicalized in England, just like hundreds of British men, and the safest way for them to get into Syria by is by marrying — these media outlets are constructing a story that's needlessly salacious, sexist and fear-mongering: "passive, indoctrinated women are so seduced by the allure of a jihadi 'bad boy' that they're conspiring to support jihad after finding cute pix on the Internet."

Here's Hannah Strange's (completely bonkers) take on it:

I myself am by no means immune to the charms (or the curse) of the bad boy. From the nightclub manager with a raging drug problem to the serial womaniser who insisted "I was different" (spoiler alert: I wasn't), the landscape of my love life is littered with the men my mother warned me about. I've never personally ventured into the criminal or terrorist underworld in search of a date, but it doesn't take too much mental manoeuvring to see that it's essentially the same phenomenon, writ large.

Privileging the bizarre narrative of "women can't help themselves around bad boys, and jihadis are the baddest boys of all!" over the fact that some British citizens — at least four women included — are turning to violent extremism is ridiculous. And, obviously, the decision to leave one's country and join a revolution because of your ideology is nothing like the decision to date a nightclub manager with a drug problem. If you can equate the two without "much mental manoeuvring," then you probably haven't spent much time thinking about Syria.

But why think about the hugely complicated implications of British women attempting to move to Syria in order to aid extremist groups when you can just spew out some flaccid evolutionary psychology and then tie it all back to your own love life? Writes Strange, "Within the confines of a certain viewpoint, the jihadi husband is a warrior, fighting for survival, for the interests of his tribe — and in the imagination of the lusting female at least — for his queen." Yes, because female lust and female lust alone can propel hapless women into the midst of a civil war. That makes total sense.

Image via AP.