Theater of Cruelty

The women who travel to the Islamic State

The other
Forfatter: Kristin Solberg
Forlag: Aschehoug (Norge)
THE ICE BRIDES / Both victims of and renegade supporters of the terrorist organization IS claim that this "state" will rise again, and journalists and experts support the claim. But how many victims' stories are needed before IS loses its appeal to individuals? What about Aisha Shezadi Kausar?


On America's national day, July 4, 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – former emir of Al Qaeda, now leader of the breakaway group IS (Islamic State) – slowly climbs the stairs to speech in the mosque in Mosul. Areas in Iraq and Syria are in the clutches of the terrorist organization, whose members torture, rape, ill-treat and kill anyone they believe is against them. Al-Baghdadi praises them for their efforts in establishing the caliphate.

IS is active in social media and in 2013-2014 published videos of people being executed, for warning or rapture depending on the viewer. We remember the videos well: A man is beheaded while a kneeling bystander awaits the same fate if the United States does not give in to the organization's demands.

The desert plain with stones: The burial place where Ibrahim is buried (though not necessarily his grave). And later, probably also Bastian himself, when it was IS's burial ground in Shaddadi. © Kristin Solberg

These are actions and thoughts that resonate with Muslims who support the fatwa and the attack on the author Salman Rushdie, or the terrorist attacks in Paris 2015. In 1989, 26 Muslim organizations took to the streets here in Norway to stop the book Satanic verses, bookshop was set on fire, and publishing manager William Nygård was shot.

Britain has stripped foreign fighters and "IS brides" of their citizenship to prevent them from returning.

Acts of terror in the name of the prophet are numerous, brutal and incomprehensible. We know the fate of the Yezidis – "genocide", concluded the UN. We are shaken by the violence affecting nations, religions and ethnic groups – extreme Muslims, terrorist groups and IS, who paint their hatred with a broad brush: It is them og US.

We are perhaps even more horrified that many were attracted of IS. Ignorant of bestial events, they have hardly been, as much press coverage as IS received – they frequently spread such material themselves, and the caliphate's sympathizers shared the videos and ideology. At the same time, the message was about hijrah repeated: For a good Muslim, traveling to the Caliphate is mandatory.

The recruitment

It wasn't just gun-happy foreign fighters who went to Syria. Shamima Begum, a Muslim girl, was 15 when she left London in 2015. In a madhafa (guest house) in Raqqa, Begum was married off to a convert and given "military and religious training". Witnesses claim she was part of Al Hisba, IS's "morality police", and punished those who broke IS's rules.

She recruited others. The Telegraph have seen messages to a number of girls, and they read: "Don't believe all the bad things you hear about Dawla (the state), it's fake. Here you can get everything you want. And we can help you find a handsome husband.”

She gives birth to two children, both die, one from malnutrition. Eight months pregnant with child number three, she flees and ends up in an internment camp, where she asks via the British media for help to "come home and give birth to the child". She shows no signs of remorse as The Times' war correspondent Anthony Lloyd finds her: She was "unmoved" by seeing the head of a decapitated man, because he "was an enemy of Islam". Rather, the authorities' response to her plea was to strip her of her British citizenship; responsibility for her must be taken by Bangladesh – her parents' home country.

Britain has stripped the foreign fighters and "IS brides" of their citizenship to prevent them from returning. But the foreign minister of Bangladesh stated that Shamima Begun was not their responsibility and that – due to the country's "zero tolerance for terrorists" – she would be sentenced to death if she went to Bangladesh. Son Jarrah died one month old, from pneumonia.

Shamima's fate has been discussed internationally. She has given many interviews in which she says "she hated her life", she "was manipulated" and persuaded to leave. She appears wearing sunglasses and plain clothes in interviews in the Roj camp. Last year, she lost the appeal case in the Supreme Court.

General picture of_car trip through the desert during the research.©Kristin Solberg

IS' new members

Did anyone care about those who left? Many ran away without the family's knowledge, and several fathers have tried to get their daughter or son home. Kamalle Dabboussys A Father's Plea (2021) tells of the ongoing struggle for her daughter Mariam and grandchildren to come home. Another, Dimitri Bontincks Rescued from ISIS (2017), is the story of a father's action to retrieve his teenage son, who was brainwashed via his girlfriend and a radical mosque in Belgium.

Former soldier John Carney saved hundreds of women and children from the clutches of IS.

Other families realized that the authorities could not or would not help: The former soldier John Carney worked in security in Iraq and agreed to the mission to smuggle a woman and her two children out of the caliphate in June 2016. For two years he saved hundreds of women and children from the clutches of IS.

Why? Carney's explanation is simple: "Any 'IS bride' who wants to go home is proof that the Islamic State has failed." Operation Jihadi Bride (2019) is an adrenaline-fueled first-hand account of an Islamic state Carney predicts will rise again.

John Carney

IS needs new members to build a strong state. They persuaded as many girls as they could to go to Syria, in the hope that they would give birth to many children – a state built on the frail shoulders of child soldiers. But it is difficult to build a strong state when the children are dying: malnourished, abused, blown to pieces.

The stories are many – documented in books, newspaper articles, reports and interviews. Is there anything else we need to know about those who left? We have followed the trial against Norwegian-Pakistani Sara, who was convicted of participation in IS, the first wife of the woman and child abuser Bastian Vasquez – a Norwegian-Chilean foreign fighter who died while making bombs. He gained international attention when he appeared in an IS video showing a police station with prisoners being blown up.

In Åsne Seierstads Two sisters (Gyldendal, 2016) describes a four-leaf clover, including Sara and Aisha Shezadi Kausar. Sara and Aisha were both involved in Islam Net and later the Prophet's Ummah – a group of extreme Islamists led by Ubaydullah Hussein. Hussein was jailed for nine years for terrorist recruitment and membership in IS and was released in February this year.

A state built on the slender shoulders of child soldiers.

Sara and Aisha were both married to Vasquez, but neither woman was comfortable with polygamy. According to the recent book The other by Kristin Solberg there was crying, jealousy and violence. The other is Aisha's story, told with great respect for the source and intertwined with Solberg's experiences when she visits the places Aisha has been, or when she talks to victims of IS.

Aisha's story from the beginning

One is gripped by the stories in Solberg's book. Unimaginable actions against innocents that tear at the soul: like the meeting with Janan (18), who, together with hundreds of other Yezidi agents, was captured by IS. "Warriors from Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries came to pick out those they wanted," says Janan, referenced in the book. “One of the girls, she was maybe 14-15 years old, cut her artery and killed herself in the bathroom. When the IS fighters found her, they threw her body into the street to be eaten by dogs." The self-experienced descriptions in the book and the stories of the people Solberg meets work better than the chapters dealing with Aisha.

The corridor at the hospital in Shaddadi, where Ibrahim was pronounced dead, and Ismail was later born. © Kristin Solberg

We get Aisha's story from the beginning: about being outside at school in Norway, the home where her father beat and kicked her mother, her and her sisters, called her "pig" and "whore". Child welfare services are involved, there will be visits and emergency shelters. We learn about self-harm, anger, that she feels different in the niqab, is provoked and shouted at, and that she finds like-minded people in the Prophet's Ummah.

Aisha drowns herself in Islam during high school.

Aisha drowns herself in Islam during high school. She gives several interviews to the media based on niqab use and beliefs and is on a school tour to talk about niqab. She contributes to Unveiled: Muslim Raw Texts (Aschehoug, 2011) with "You, me and niqab". She dreams of becoming a housewife while taking a job search course.

The triangular gate is the entrance to Masaken Gas, where the foreign fighters, many Norwegians, lived. © Kristin Solberg

Her son Ibrahim is the result of a short-lived marriage with convicted of violence and terror suspect Arfan Bhatti, a relationship she does not want to talk about. When the son is born, Bhatti is imprisoned. Aisha is 21, a tired single mother without her own home. Two trips abroad to find a more niqab-friendly environment fail, and back in Bærum she, her mother and sisters have to move to a crisis center because the father – with a new wife – takes over the house and changes the door lock on the family home.

Sara and Bastian Vasquez entice Aisha with free housing and social security in Syria. She receives assurances that the caliphate is stable, and that the hostilities take place far away. Aisha is sent the aforementioned video with Vasquez: She "is impressed": "Finally, someone is doing something." Desperate to get away, she agrees to become wife number two. "It will go as it goes", it thinks the self-proclaimed feminist.

The Ruins: The Bomb Factory Where Bastian Vasquez Died.
© Kristin Solberg

Aisha travels via Turkey with her little son Ibrahim. Sara is pregnant, so after Aisha arrives, she washes, cooks and changes diapers. She apparently doesn't worry about anything outside the home, like the fact that the terrorists think it's okay to have Yezidi slaves. Vasquez says he would like one. "Slavery is permitted in Islam," thinks Aisha; a good believer follows scripture.

A shot, crucified man along the main road arouses no reaction – not even at close range: the body is in the process of rotting. "It takes a lot" before Aisha reacts to violence, according to Solberg's book. "They probably got what they deserved", was Aisha's thought at the sight of severed heads on the fence at Paradise Square in Raqqa.

Kristin Solberg (©Kristin Solberg)

Ibrahim and the two housewives have an everyday life of fear and violence where Vasquez has control over everything, including the boy's food intake. Bruises on Ibrahim's young body are explained away. He is moved alone into an icy room, and Aisha is "not allowed" to comfort or have her son in her own warm room. She lies listening to her son cry bitterly. Night after night.

She refuses to take the boy to the doctor, because what will the doctor say to all the bruises? They fail to make them up and there is no doctor's visit. One day, Vasquez insists on changing the diaper of a crying Ibrahim. Afterwards, Aisha finds her son lying lifeless, while Vasquez panics. She is not allowed to join the car when Vasquez takes her son to the hospital. Ibrahim dies.

Aisha has found a new husband and given birth to another son. From the Roj camp, she changes her mind: She does not want to return to Norway, it will be too difficult for her son. She knows that child protection will take care of him: "He has nothing but me […]. It will simply be an assault.”

Aisha Shezadi Kausar

Care failure in generations

"Neglect of care" is the word that buzzes in the back of my mind when I read The other. Generational failure of care, a self-effacing submission to men, religion, sharia and morality police. Women without solidarity with other women, because "the others" are infidels and get what they deserve.

Shaker, Who Was Killed By Ice. Umm Shaker Holder
Hand over so that the sister will not be seen.
© Kristin Solberg

Psychiatrist Anne Speckhard has interviewed over 220 IS defectors. Aisha's story is similar to anyone else's, she tells the author. "If no one had been exposed to violence in childhood, there would be much less recruiting ground for terrorist groups," says Speckhard.

"They probably got what they deserved."

Can we do something about all the violence as long as the ideology behind global jihad is still alive? Solberg believes that newcomers will allow themselves to be enticed and recruited. "To prevent, we must first understand", she writes. This is where the problem lies: that it should be so incredibly difficult to understand. For many, the attraction towards the religious is so strong, the hatred so fixed in the spinal cord that they do not want to adapt to society. Instead, you seek out like-minded people and seek shelter from the world's challenges – while you are blind to the abuses that happen on your own doorstep.

To understand, one must have knowledge. We know the recipe for radicalisation, we know the methods and techniques. If we are to stop the rise of a new Islamic terrorist state, we must do something, not just understand. This means that we have unpleasant choices ahead of us.

Iril Kolle
Iril Kolle
Freelance journalist, translator and graphic designer.

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