The Role of Women from a Social Media Jihad Perspective: Wife or Warrior?

The Role of Women from a Social Media Jihad Perspective: Wife or Warrior?

Robyn Torok
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0010-0.ch011
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Female roles in online social media forums are continually changing and often reflect the global social and political context. In addition, the security context also plays an important part in the role of females online. Social media evidence suggests that females are very active online in terms of recruitment. This chapter looks at two case studies focusing on the roles of women as wives and warriors and the changing dynamic between the two roles. Overall, women demonstrate a high level of gender utility and can change roles as required by the security and political context.
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Online Jihad

Since 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror, al-Qaeda and other Islamic jihad groups have been very adept at evolving to the changing shifts caused by continual attacks to their physical locations (Michael, 2009). One of the primary areas of adaptation is in the use of internet technology to support a number of its strategic and operational objectives that include recruiting, fundraising, strategic direction and research (McNeal, 2007). Even Islamic State in 2014 when expanding and controlling large geographic areas of Syria and Iraq, relies heavily on its online media for propaganda and recruitment. Specifically, internet technology also opens up a worldwide audience able to access extremist views and form networks, all in a ubiquitous and virtually untraceable environment (O’Rourke, 2007). Importantly, the internet provides an essential media battlefield as part of their terrorism strategy as al-Qaeda’s Dr. al-Zawahiri stated: ‘We are in a battle, and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. We are in a media battle for the hearts and minds of our umma’ (Michael, 2009). Therefore, it is this battle for hearts and minds that will be addressed.

Research by Weimann (2008) on the target audiences of terrorist websites indicates that their intended audience is actually very broad and includes potential recruits, the international community and its enemies. However, the focus on potential recruits is an important aspect and often involves more culturally sophisticated planning coupled with more tech savvy skills in its implementation. Key aspects include the use of colour, latest multimedia technologies, professional finish and interactivity (McNeal, 2007). Many of these sites are targeted at younger males with reports in the United Kingdom (UK) indicating terrorist groups specifically targeting male university undergraduates and even secondary students (Mendez, 2008). However, recruitment has by no means been limited to males and jihadist groups have been appreciating the value of female recruits.

Furthermore, it is the disaffected and the alienated that are especially vulnerable to the ‘seductive’ efforts of recruiters (Murphy & White, 2007). These groups include diasporic communities (Awan, 2007) as well as first and second generation Muslims who are “citizens in name but not culturally or socially.” (Leiken, 2005, p. 123). Nevertheless, it is this ‘citizen in name’ aspect that is important, just like the ring of Roman citizenship gave freedom to travel throughout the Roman Empire, likewise a ‘Western’ passport gives greater freedom to travel throughout the Western world. This freedom to travel is especially important given that some of those travelling on Middle-Eastern, North African or Asian passports are coming under increasing scrutiny given their regional reputations for terrorist activity, radicalism and training activities (Michael, 2009).

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