In ISIS-held territory, the Great Satan is the beauty shop

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman with The World. We know very little about life in the so-called Islamic State, but we do know ISIS extremists want to establish a caliphate governed by their brutal vision of Islamic law, or sharia, and we know women in ISIS-controlled territory face abuse and severe restrictions. Now a women’s manifesto has emerged apparently published by an all-female ISIS brigade and it’s been translated into english by a counter-extremism think tank based in London. Erin Saltman has been reading it, she’s senior researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, also in London.


Erin Saltman: The manifesto, in one way, serves as a guideline for women of what is daily life in Islamic State territory, why this is the ideal life for a woman, and it’s really a form of propaganda. Specifically, it’s propaganda aimed not at Western audiences like we’ve seen other propaganda, but this is aimed really at Saudi Arabian women in particular, and Middle Eastern women.


Werman: Saudi Arabian women in particular? Are they ISIS brides in large numbers?


Saltman: Well, we do see larger numbers coming out of the Middle East. The female migrant population is amusing to us in the West, but obviously the numbers are actually greater within the region for obvious reasons of travel and the fact that they had jihadist streams networking there for many years. But this particular document was not translated into english or other Western languages, unlike a lot of their other propaganda.


Werman: And some of the specifics are kind of expected but also shocking, like on education the manifesto prescribes a very small number of years that girls and women can be educated.


Saltman: Yeah, so within this manifesto, it really addresses a lot of different aspects of your life, including education, security, health--but yes, in education it says women should participate between the ages of something like 7 to possibly up to 15, but that women can start being consented for marriage as early as 9.


Werman: And then of course women after a certain age need to stay inside the house and not go outdoors, it’s pretty orthodox. One thing that caught my eye was the way the manifesto presents what they call the ideal Islamic community, saying it should not be caught up with trying to uncover the secrets of nature and reaching the peaks of architectural sophistication. In other words, “Don’t believe in science and don’t build buildings”?


Saltman: Exactly. And in other words, not “Don’t build buildings” but “Let’s not waste our time with modernity,” and by modernity they’re alluding to Western frivolity. So, “Why are we taking all of our time in science that’s bringing us away from God” in their perception. So, “We should only look at science and technology so that we can be closer to God, so let’s study theology or medicine to the point that it needs to make us better and stronger, but let’s not go beyond that.”


Werman: Tell me a bit about this al-Khanssaa Brigade that put out this manifesto.


Saltman: Well, the al-Khanssaa Brigade is actually a female-run organization within Islamic State. They are roughly known as a morality brigade, or morality police, of women that will operate to enforce strict sharia law among other women. So, they could be perhaps flagging women that have a veil that is not opaque enough, or handing out fines or perhaps small punishments to women that aren’t seen as really following the strict orthodoxy.


Werman: Right, so ISIS will put women in certain official roles when it suits them?


Saltman: Yes, but this is a very limited group of women, and also they are not interacting with men within this role. There were obvious reasons that Islamic State needed women like this, not least to work on border patrolling, so that if women were coming over they could be identified as women by other women.


Werman: And Erin, are you certain it’s authentic?


Saltman: I mean, I suppose anything you find on social media you can never be 100% authentic with anything. However, because of where this document was found within very centralized Islamic State propaganda accounts, it is thought to be authentic.


Werman: Erin Saltman, senior researcher for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London. Great to speak with you, thank you.


Saltman: Thank you.