I Ran Away To Something Uglier: A Woman, 25, ISIS Defector, Tells Her Story

by Audrey Cerchiara

Today, CNN released an interview with a young woman, calling herself “Khadija,” who left ISIS after confronting the organization’s – and her own – brutal violence. She tells her captivating story of life in ISIS’ female-only brigade, called al-Khansaa, from beneath layers of black, gauzy fabric, carefully explaining that she is worried about swinging away from Islam just as hard as she swung into it. Check out the full interview, here.

As a part of ISIS’ all-female brigade in Raqqa, Syria, Khadija was responsible for policing the streets as an armed woman, mercilessly ensuring the morality of other women: improperly worn hijabs or unconcealed eyes are cause for lashings. These would be carried out by Khadija’s commander, Umm Hamza, who she describes as “…not a normal female. She’s huge, she has an AK, a pistol, a whip, a dagger, and she wears the niqab.”

The recent influx of women committed to contributing to the jihadi movement is a complicated and grim vision of female empowerment. According to The Atlantic, Raqqa is the only city in the Islamic State that is employing the woman-on-woman patrolling tactic — for now. Although these women are gaining a sort of equality by performing some of the same tasks as the men in the movement, it comes at a steep price. It comes on the lashed backs of women deemed immoral. The femininity Khadja saw in her commander was unrecognizable; what is the next step for women in Syria?

The formation of the all-female brigade seems to ultimately derive from an imperative to maintain separation between males and females. Al-Khansaa was originally created as a way to expose male anti-ISIS fighters sneaking through checkpoints disguised in voluminous women’s garments. ISIS soldiers were reluctant skirt-lifters, so they got other women to do it. With the CNN interview, it seems clear that the women of al-Khansaa are taking a more proactive role in the organization.

Images via CNN, The Atlantic

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