Women and jihad: from bride to the front line
A women's magazine, unveiled in December, gives tips on how to be a "good bride" and make life easier for the man in your life. The twist: the magazine, "Beituki," is published by al-Qaeda as part of a propaganda campaign which "appears, in part, to be a reaction to Islamic State (IS), which has called women to the front lines," per the Economist.
The big picture: Extremist organizations are struggling to define what women's roles in their groups should be. While some force women to "remain indoors," as Beituki suggests, others have placed women on the front lines, or utilized them as recruiters.
Here's a look at the roles women are now playing in a number of terrorist groups.
The "good bride"
Elisabeth Kendall of Oxford University told the Economist that the magazine signals al-Qaeda's concerns that "the conflict has made women too vocal, active and empowered...It would rather they focused on etiquette indoors.”
- An example of the tips the magazine offers to women: "all the bloodshed and bones he sees ... Your fussing only increases the pressure."
Boko Haram is notorious for the use of women suicide bombers, but other groups encourage women to take part in violence as well.
For example: The Pakistani Taliban released an English magazine last August, Sunnat-e-Khola, focused solely on women. Anat Agron, research fellow at the Middle East Media Research Institute, told Axios they "totally condone women participating in jihad."
- Compare these tips from the magazine to those offered in Beituki:
- "Write essays supporting cause of jihad."
- "Help the cause of jihad with money."
- "Organize secret gatherings at home and invite like-minded jihadi sisters ... Learn how to operate simple weapons. Learn how to use grenades."
Veryan Khan, editorial director of the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), told Marie Claire magazine: "There's a priority for the Islamic State to attract females because it offers stability. If you want people to see you as a nation, a legitimate state, it's important to attract females and have them start families...It's not like women are an afterthought. This is a strategic move."
- The recruiters are frequently women from the same area as those being recruited, Bloom, the Georgia State University professor, tells Axios: "You need to be relatable, and if all your references, and all the TV shows, and the music you listen to isn't the same as your target, you're not going to be able to relate as easily."
As the New York Times has reported, some women with ties to extremist groups have been known to guilt men into fighting:
- This was a very effective messaging tactic, Bloom said: “In the U.K., in English, they were publishing posters and circulating on the internet this idea that…your sisters are being raped, the occupiers — the Americans — are impregnating them and they’re humiliating them. You need to do something, you need to step up and you need to kill them.”
On the other side: Fighting extremism
It is worth noting that women are also taking an increasingly active role in fighting extremism, with the YPJ, an all-female Kurdish force that has battled ISIS, being a particular notable example.
- Bloom told Axios these women are "so intimidating to the ISIS fighters, that the ISIS fighters have this belief that if they get killed by a woman, they don't get their virgins in Paradise. They won't get all the benefits of martyrdom."
Cambridge Analytica data scandal highlights chaos at Facebook
Facebook was caught flat-footed again Saturday as it scrambled to deal with stories in New York Times and Guardian-owned Observer about user data illicitly obtained by a Trump-linked data analytics firm, including accusations from the British paper that Facebook had threatened it with litigation.
Why it matters: The scandal is another example of Facebook blaming outdated policies and ignorance for its platform being abused by bad actors — while struggling to contain the public relations fallout. The company is also tangling with the media outlets reporting on it.
Saturday ended with the Attorney General of Massachusetts opening an investigation into the matter, Sen. Mark Warner saying the incident spoke to the need for new regulations and Sen. Amy Klobuchar calling for an investigation. "Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary," Klobuchar tweeted.
The gritty details: At the heart of the spat between Facebook and news organizations, regulators and activists is whether or not Facebook took proper action in response to the revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm used by the Trump campaign, had obtained data from 50 million users through a third-party developer that was linked to Facebook's data.
- Facebook said the data was obtained legally but that its use violated its policies, which is why the company suspended the group from its platform once it learned from a New York Times report that the data was never deleted as Cambridge Analytica had promised.
- Others argued the data violation should be considered a breach that Facebook was legally required to tell users about.
The dispute played out on Twitter Saturday, with an Observer editor tweeting that Facebook threatened to sue the company ahead of publication. One of the reporters on the story tweeted that “Facebook instructed external lawyers and warned us we were making 'false and defamatory' allegations.”
- Facebook says it sent the news organization a letter making the case that using the term "breach" was incorrect.
Facebook executives argued on Twitter that "breach" was an inaccurate descriptor, but its top security executive ultimately had to delete his tweets. Alex Stamos, the executive, said he'd deleted them because "I can't stop people from using the most uncharitable interpretation of what I wrote to put words in my mouth."
- The incident was reminiscent of a similar Twitter mea culpa by Facebook VP of Ads Rob Goldman just weeks ago involving Russian meddling on the platform.
What's next: This weekend's stories have raised a raft of new questions about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook's handling of issues that could be linked to the ongoing investigation into Russian election interference.
- David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, has been leading the charge to understand how Cambridge's UK parent company, SCL Group Ltd, profiled millions of Americans.
- He asks: "What does the mean for all of CA’s commercial clients? Will any brands hire CA after this? What about partners like comScore? Not a good look, moving forward. How is the whole ad industry reacting to the whistleblower?"
The bigger picture: The issues raised by these stories are at the core of how Facebook makes money. So, however you describe it, the reports have put more force behind questions about whether Facebook is capable of policing its own platform and the data that powers it. Even other Silicon Valley companies are coming to that conclusion.
- "Welp," tweeted Aaron Levie, the CEO of cloud storage company Box. "Tech is definitely about to get regulated. And probably for the best."