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A search for identity draws jihadis to the horrors of Isis, by Kenan Malik, The Guardian, 1.3.2015

Sahra Ali Mehenni is a schoolgirl from a middle-class family in the south of France. Her father, an industrial chemist, is a non-practising Muslim, her mother an atheist. “I never heard her talk about Syria, jihad,” said her mother. One day last March, to the shock of her family, she took not her usual train to school but a flight from Marseilles to Istanbul to join Isis. When she finally phoned home it was to say: “I’ve married Farid, a fighter from Tunisia.”

Kreshnik Berisha, a German born of Kosovan parents, played as a teenager for Makkabi Frankfurt, a Jewish football club and one of Germany’s top amateur teams. He went on to study engineering and in July 2013, boarded a bus to Istanbul and then to Syria. “I didn’t believe it,” said Alon Meyer, Makkabi Frankfurt’s coach. “This was a guy who used to play with Jewish players every week. He was comfortable there and he seemed happy.” Berisha later returned home to become the first German homegrown jihadi to face trial.

The usual clichés about jihadis – that they are poor, uneducated, badly integrated – are rarely true. A survey of British jihadis by researchers at London’s Queen Mary College found no link to “social inequalities or poor education”; most were highly educated young people from comfortable families who spoke English at home. According to Le Monde, a quarter of French jihadis in Syria are from non-Muslim backgrounds.

What draws most wannabe jihadis to Syria is, to begin with, neither politics nor religion. It is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for “belongingness”, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the conventional way we think of integration. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.

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Jihad and Girl Power: How ISIS Lured 3 London Girls, By KATRIN BENNHOLDAUG. 17, 2015, The New York Times

“Only when I saw that video I understood,” Ms. Khanom said.

These images turned the three Bethnal Green girls, as they have become known, into the face of a new, troubling phenomenon: young women attracted to what experts like Sasha Havlicek, a co-founder and the chief executive of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, call a jihadi, girl-power subculture. An estimated 4,000 Westerners have traveled to Syria and Iraq, more than 550 of them women and girls, to join the Islamic State, according to a recent report by the institute, which helps manage the largest database of female travelers to the region.

The men tend to become fighters much like previous generations of jihadists seeking out battlefields in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. But less is known about the Western women of the Islamic State. Barred from combat, they support the group’s state-building efforts as wives, mothers, recruiters and sometimes online cheerleaders of violence.

Many are single and young, typically in their teens or early 20s (the youngest known was 13). Their profiles differ in terms of socioeconomic background, ethnicity and nationality, but often they are more educated and studious than their male counterparts. Security officials now say they may present as much of a threat to the West as the men: Less likely to be killed and more likely to lose a spouse in combat, they may try to return home, indoctrinated and embittered.

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