When we read about young Western women like “Alex” and Amira Abase who leave their safe and soft surroundings to become part of the Islamic State, everyone wants to know how something like that could happen.
Why would young women voluntarily join or become interested in joining such a group? One baffled commenter on Alex’s story reflected the concerns of many remarking that something else must be going on beyond loneliness and boredom. It’s a terrifying notion that these girls might be normal, because that would mean any normal person is at risk of being radicalized. Such is the banality of evil.
After reading Rukmini Callimachi’s powerful article, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape” I wondered if the atrocities experienced by these women might read more like a twisted erotic novel to a handful of people. The cues that stood out were that the ISIS fighters are killing most of the Yazidi (a religious minority) men and sparing the lives of most of the Yazidi women, and some of them actually appeared to care (if you can call it that) for these women in a small but significant way – they are setting some of them free – revealing a hint of empathy. The victim who was able to escape with a laminated pass presumably for being a “good slave,” for example, could be erotic to a person far away in a safe location, who can project whatever fantasy they want onto the situation.
Whether we will admit it or not, some types of dangerous men arouse some women. Just take a look at the events and themes in best-selling romance novels. There are a lot of rapists, killers, and emotionally void billionaires who end up being the love interest. Often the female protagonist is able to reach him and connect in a way that no one else has, and thus he elevates her to a special place, either with status or protection or both.
As a society we don’t consciously recognize the need to feel protected, or the value of the protection our partner can provide. But it’s arguably a base instinct that remains for many women.
Most women who have these politically incorrect desires like to keep them private. But a few don’t. Remember the woman who got arrested for masturbating at a screening of Fifty Shades of Grey?
What if some of these young women are into BDSM and don’t know it? Might some of them be like Lee Holloway unconsciously searching for their E. Edward Grey from The Secretary, instead ending up on a deranged path because the wrong person with the wrong intentions got to them before they were fully aware of their inclinations? Certainly others might be plain sadists themselves looking for like-minded comrades.
When you are insecure, lonely, lacking direction and structure, have little sense of personal fulfillment or are craving more personal power, who better to give direction than someone with a clear sense of purpose who promises to take care of all your needs? Almost immediately your life can have meaning and significance just by association – you get to be special – all while not having to be responsible for anything.
Of course, having the fantasy of being special is a little different than having the fantasy of being in extreme power play. People who consciously participate in the BDSM lifestyle are rather sane albeit kinky individuals; this in no way is suggesting there is anything wrong with consensual power play. Nor am I implying that submissives are insecure individuals. Rather, I am suggesting that it might be possible that some of the young women that are drawn to groups led by seemingly fearless men are looking for something that compliments an unmet need in their own psyche.
Think of all the serial killers who get love letters from women. Killers like Ted Bundy, Josef Fritzl, and Richard Ramirez – whose victims were mostly women – all received fan mail from female groupies. The phenomenon is common enough that there’s even a name for it: Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome.
So what happens when the fantasy meets reality? What do these young women tell themselves when they go to Syria, when they receive or do not receive all that they were promised or idealized in their minds? How do they justify severing ties with their friends and family members who care about them? From their Twitter feeds we see that they are holding steadfastly to their beliefs. It’s cognitive dissonance at its finest: status and protection by murderers and rapists. Either that or someone else has taken over their account to try to lure more naive young women over there, which seems more likely.
Had these young women been able to meld their conscious and unconscious needs and desires, they might have found healthy outlets or at least recognize evil for what it was. Whatever the motivation behind their actions, the bait of being special should concern us as the young generation devalues relationships and desperately searches for endless external validation.