Being woman in ISIS: The banality of evil – 2
Interviews and reporting by Fatma Koçak; translated by Evrim Şaşmaz
The terrorist organization ISIS made entrance into the scene by occupying Mosul in June 2014 and at the end of a six-year-long fight by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), it gave its last breath at Deir ez-Zor’s town, Baghuz in 21 March 2019. However, it left behind a wreck and mentality that will take a long time to erase from these lands. Along with thousands of women and children…
Many prestigious news agency made interviews with the women who joined ISIS. The interviews in question put forth Western women inside the organization as “ISIS brides” through individual human stories by constructing them with a fantasized orientalist mentality, while the system of ISIS has not been sufficiently questioned.
They came from all around the world
What kind of system was it that drew women into ISIS? In the camps and the prisons, I interviewed ISIS women who supposedly ran away from the caliphate or who fought for it until the very last moment. They are Americans, Moroccans, they are from Turkey, Chechnya, France, Norway, Kosovo… The list of their countries gets longer but what these women say require us to stop and think thorough once more.
Their age ranges from 20 to 60. Among them are those who ruled maddafehs, who worked as responsible persons for internal security and propaganda. However, most of them say “our elementary duty was to marry and to breed” and apart from this reason they express that they don’t know why they came to Syria.
Fatiha: From Sorbonne Law School to Raqqa watcher
The first woman I interviewed is Fatiha Mihemmed Tahir El Heseni (60). Her organization name is Um Adem. “Um” means “mother” in Arabic and women and men get their first son’s name after their children are born. Fatiha’s first born son is named Adem (means Adam in Arabic), hence her name “Um Adem”.
She is the first women I interviewed because Fatiha took part in “jihadist” radical organizations since 1990. Furthermore, all the women I spoke to hinted her, saying “She knows more than any of us. She was the system executer; she was the one who tortured us”.
Fatiha was born in Casablanca city of Morocco. She received law education in Morocco and in Sorbonne, one of the prestigious universities of France. For a while, she gave courses on business law in one of the universities in Casablanca.
She says that she is coming from a middle class, merchant family and that she was a very successful student in school.
When I ask about her family structure, she tells me that her father was polygamous and her mother could not accept it but still bowed to him.
She further adds that by that time she was very angry with her father, which is why, in 1985, she wrote a book on “preventing polygamy” with a specific content of legal sanctions.
Then I ask to Fatiha: “But you joined an organization which defends polygamy and on top of this, you arranged women in maddafehs to be second, third, even forth wives to a man. Isn’t it paradoxical?” What I receive is a response with full self-confidence: “By then I was justifying my mother, now I justify my father”.
First organizer of Al-Qaeda in Morocco
Fatiha was married to a citizen of France, Karim Mejjati in 1991. She explains that her husband was a secular who adopted Western mentality and that she convinced him to live as a Muslim once they got married.
Together with her husband, Fatiha was one of the first organizers of Al-Qaeda. She decided to stop giving lectures in the university and to start raising his two sons after 1993. His husband went to fight in Bosnia in 1994, after which he stayed in a prison in Croatia.
“Hegira” to Afghanistan
In her words, Fatiha “did hegira to Afghanistan” together with his husband in 2001: “Our minds were washed out by Western thoughts. We needed some time to clean our minds and commit ourselves to the Islam path. Once my children grew, we took the road”.
Fatiha describes her travel to Afghanistan as “My husband went to Afghanistan in the early 2000 and he came back after eight months of military training. I never went outside Morocco for 11 years. We were always connected to Al-Qaeda. My husband was not directly going to Afghanistan from Morocco; he had illegal ways, he was going there through United States, England and Pakistan. Hence, he was moving feely without any interruption by the intelligence services. I went to Afghanistan through Spain-Germany- Iran”.
Unanswered questions: Why did United States set free Fatiha?
When Fatiha tells us that they left Afghanistan in 2003, we ask her “Why did you leave, the war was continuing over there?” Our question is left unanswered…
Fatiha’s husband and her second son who went to Saudi Arabia through Bangladesh, were killed in a raid to a “cell house”, while herself and her first son were arrested.
She tells us that she was handed over to Morocco by Saudi Arabia but then she was taken from Morocco to a prison in Atlantic by Americans. She further says that she was interrogated there for 9 months and then she was set free.
She does not respond our question on how she was acquitted and set free. Afterwards, she says that she executed actions on behalf of Al-Qaeda and she sent jihadists to Afghanistan for 10 more years in Morocco. In 2014, she stopped working for Al-Qaeda and started working for ISIS.
She does not want to explain why she left Al-Qaeda. She says that she came to Syria with his son to join ISIS.
She went to Syria through Turkey
Fatiha went to Syria through the path almost most of them followed, through Turkey. And then, she settled in Raqqa. For a while she gave Koranic education to girls; afterwards she became the general responsible person for maddafehs in Raqqa.
We ask her: “Who was staying in maddafehs?” She responds: “Newly arrived muhajir (refugee) women, Syrian women who are not owned by men, women whose husbands fell martyrs… Each katibah (battalion community) had at least one maddafeh”.
And this is how she describes her job: “I was taking care of the marriages and the needs of widow sisters. I was providing service for newly arrived muhajir sisters. I was helping to make women live by the codes of Islam. I was disciplining them so that the devil does not get into their minds”.
The torture is called “discipline”
We wonder “How the devil gets into their minds?” Again, Fatiha responds without hesitation: “For instance, if a sister committed immoral act, there are ways to discipline her. It is a rule. There are also rules and laws in Western systems. We too had rules. We could not let them corrupt the Islam. There was a woman, she was always watching men from the window and she was committing visual fornication. I was giving her lashes to discipline her. Do not expect us to be tolerant toward those who try to bring kafirs’ (disbelievers’) system inside us, who try to corrupt the Islam!”
Concubines, women taken as slaves…
In her words, Fatiha explains that “free Muslim women” took refuge in maddafehs and that the “concubinage” (female slave) system was separate. Then she defends slavery:
“I had nothing to do with concubines. I was taking care of the maddafeh where Muslim women were staying. However, we have concubinage in our religion and non-Muslim women are taken as concubines. Therefore, I am not against concubinage. However, men who bought them should behave them well. This is in Koran too.”
When I ask what she means by behaving well – for instance, can these women can say no to rape? – she answers: “If her owner wants to have sex, the concubine cannot go against this. However, it is the man’s responsibility to feed the concubine, to provide her needs.”
Fatiha’s job in ISIS was not limited with the maddafeh responsibility. She also took part in their intelligence service, which she called “internal security”.
This is how she describes this job: “My duty was to run investigations about muhajirs. For instance, kafir states were sending female agents inside us to corrupt our life. I was investigating those.”
When we ask about the othe women’s accounts hinting her regarding direct involvement with torture, this is what we receive: “I was doing translations because I speak French and English. I witnessed torture to women who were sent as agents to corrupt our lives. Most of them also confessed that they worked for kafir states’ intelligence.”
Fatiha’s last job in the terrorist organization was in their information office. Hence, she managed French and English media accounts in ISIS’ propaganda unit. Afterwards, she engaged in combat in Baghuz and she was captured as injured.
Lastly, we ask to Fatiha who defends polygamy and concubinage: “And you, why didn’t you get married once your husband died?” What we receive is another paradoxical answer: “For me the circumstances developed in different ways. I did not want to marry and I did not marry.”
Originally published in Turkish on 30 July 2019 16:46