The ongoing civil war in Syria is being felt beyond the Syrian borders. In neighboring countries like Iraq, Syrian fighting can be felt most acutely in the strain of hosting thousands of refugees. In Israel, the threat of a broader conflict transcending Syria’s borders looms large. Syrian conflict, however, isn’t just affecting its immediate neighbors in the Middle East — it’s also affecting the country’s more distant neighbors in North Africa, perhaps none more strangely than Tunisia, where recent reports tell of Tunisian women traveling all the way to Syria to wage what some media outlets have, with an abiding faith in lurid headlines, dubbed a “sex jihad.”
Government authorities in Tunisia are starting to fret over young women purportedly traveling to Syria in order to have sex with jihadist militants. This kind of wartime moratorium on nuptial ethics is called, according to the Telegraph, jihad al-nikah, which “is considered by some hardline Sunni Muslim Salafists as a legitimate form of holy war.” The women participating in a jihad al-nikah have sex — religiously sanctioned sex, of course, because people have invented innumerable exceptions for exploitative behavior during war — with troops, thus, by the logic of sanctioning clerics, keeping those troops sexually satisfied. Short of engaging in actual combat, sexing the troops is the next most efficient way to help the cause (of course, the troops could always do like the incredibly successful, nearly invincible Sacred Band of Thebes and sex each other, which is a really just a roundabout way to say that they can go fuck themselves).
Tunisia’s Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jeddou voiced his concerns to the National Constituent Assembly on Thursday possibly “hundreds” of Tunisian women have been recruited into embarking on a jihad al-nikah in Syria, and warned other politicians that these women “have sexual relations with 20, 30, 100" militants and return home pregnant. The Interior Minister does not, however, have a lot of hard data to back up these anxieties, and instead has relied on vague assertions that “six thousand of our young people have been prevented from going there" [to Syria] since he took office in March.
If this sounds a little bit like one group of patriarchal leaders fighting for the ownership of women’s bodies with another group of patriarchal leaders, that’s because it is — as Group Thinker Lucky Frog puts it, Ben Jeddou’s tale of Tunisian women recruited into a sexual jihad is basically a “scare story about how ‘their’ women are being passed around like sex toys and sent home pregnant.” Besides, stories about Tunisian “comfort women” appearing on the front lines of Middle East conflicts are nothing new, and media reports over the last 15 years claim that Tunisian women have joined jihadists in as far afield as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, primarily by traveling through Turkey or Libya.
Still, if the story is even partly true, it means that, although the manner and locale of war changes from one generation to another, armed conflict still manages to displace and exploit a region’s most vulnerable citizens, and that is something worth speaking up about.
Image via AP, Khalil Hamara