European female ISIS feel like strangers in their own country

They call themselves the «mothers of holy war» and have profile pictures showing women in niqabs, the ISIS flag, paradise-like landscapes and quotes by extreme Islamists.

Young European women discuss online how they can live according to the demands of the terrorist organization ISIS.

«They’re very concerned with things that may not be that important for most people. Can you use coloured shoelaces? No, they have to be black. Can you pluck your eyebrows? No, you can’t,» says linguist Anne Birgitta Nilsen, a professor at OsloMet.

Nilsen has studied about 250 Facebook profiles of women who expressed their support for ISIS between 2014 and 2017.

The young sympathizers are motivated by a literal interpretation of religion that regulates the minutiae of their lives. Maybe it feels safe and comfortable not to have to make the decisions that we have to make every day. And the strict guidelines create a community where everyone agrees on how things are done.

No Norwegians

The ISIS supporters’ lists of Facebook friends are limited, which may indicate that the profiles were created to find others of similar persuasion. They do not accept friends of the opposite sex.

Based on their language choices, the women probably lived in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom.

One woman said hello from Antwerp and asked if anyone there wanted to meet up.

None of the women appeared to be in Norway.

«There are very few such Norwegian profiles, and it would be difficult to anonymise them,» Nilsen says.

A stranger at home

The Arabic word ghurba – translated as estrangement or separation – comes up repeatedly in the Facebook profiles. The term has been used by ISIS to portray a stranger among unbelievers.

Women may feel alienated from the societies in which they live, which are built on values and norms different from their own.

«They talk a lot about how difficult it is to live in the countries where they reside, due to the niqab ban and hospitals where men and women are in the same spaces,» Nilsen says.

But the researcher believes the women’s experience is about more than religion.

«Some of the women who are attracted to extreme groups feel a lack of belonging or that they are different from their peers. They don’t feel fully accepted by society,» she says.

Online they find others who also feel this way. Together they cultivate their social exclusion.

«I think that [shared estrangement] attracts these women. If you somehow feel that you’ve failed a little in society, you might be told that’s completely normal for most of us. It gets redefined as something that’s good,» says Nilsen.