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Women’s Voices In Extremism
25 February @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
It is clear that women serve as facilitators, supporters, and instigators of violence in terrorist movements. This panel will discuss women’s voices in extremism. What role do women play in the radicalisation process? Are women’s voices heard in setting the government agenda of deradicalisation? With the collapse of Islamic State and an increasing flow of returning fighters, how will women be prosecuted for their participation in terrorism? The German female member of Islamic State ‘Jennifer W’, for example, is being charged with war crimes in her home country for letting a five year old girl, who she purchased as a slave, die of thirst. The British-born Tania Joya, married to a leading American fighter in Islamic State, claimed she was tricked and abused into joining the terrorist group, and now lives peacefully in Texas. How have governments employed different strategies for their treatment of women released or returning from terrorist groups?
By kind invitation of Baroness Mary Goudie, the Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to join Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, Dr. Saima Lofgren, Abigail Clay and Nikita Malik to a discussion about women’s lives after their return from the Islamic state.
Dr Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco holds a Ph. D. in Criminology, Law and Society from George Mason University, with an expertise in human trafficking. She is currently one of the few researchers serves with a background to qualify as an expert witness for human trafficking criminal cases, as well as a subject matter expert for research organisations. Dr. Mehlman-Orozco is an accomplished survey methodologist, research scientist, and quantitative & qualitative consultant on issues related to human trafficking. She also serves as a peer reviewer for human trafficking publications and teaches human trafficking material at universities in the D.C. Metropolitan area.
Dr Saima Lofgren is a Clinical Psychologist in Adult Mental Health with a long-standing special interest in refugees and asylum seekers. She has worked in NGO, government and private sector roles, developing innovative approaches to tackle problems in the delivery of mental healthcare to this client group. She currently works for the UK Government’s counter terrorism strategy, Prevent, working individually with Islamist extremists and those at risk of radicalisation. She utilises a psychologically informed approach to explore radicalisation as a process, from the perspective of those radicalised. Saima has participated in a number of international conferences and events, speaking and presenting research to government, practitioner and civil society audiences around the world including the US Department for Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Metropolitan Police.
Abigail Clay is an internationally respected expert in the increasingly challenging and complex world of Safeguarding, with additional expertise in the Government’s Prevent strategy. Her areas of expertise include preventing radicalisation and safeguarding vulnerable children and adults. Abigail specialises in assisting school, college and university leaders in addition to the wider public sector with their Safeguarding and Prevent strategies and procedures. She has worked at local, regional and national levels to develop an extensive knowledge of the statutory Prevent agenda and its relevance to diversity and safeguarding in contemporary education provision. Abigail has significant experience of child and adult protection case work and assessment and leads investigations, disciplinary hearings and compiles Best Interest Assessments for presentation at court, in the interest of UKBA immigration appeals.
Nikita Malik is the Director of the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism (CRT) at the Henry Jackson Society. She is an internationally recognised expert on countering violent extremism, terrorism, and hate-based violence, with a focus on youth deradicalisation. In her role, she has worked with key policy makers and government departments in the UK and globally. A key component of Nikita’s work focuses on the propagation of extremist material online, including on social media platforms and the Darknet. Her research has put forward a number of solutions to foster engagement between UK government policymakers and technology companies.
Baroness Mary Goudie is a passionate advocate for the rights of women and children, who works globally to promote gender equality, women’s rights and peacebuilding. An advisor to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security; she also sits on the boards of the London School of Economics’ Centre for Women, Peace and Security; the Women’s Forum; and Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS). She is also a trustee of the El-Hibri Charitable Foundation, which fosters interfaith dialogue to help solve global challenges, and is an active ambassador for ICRW, a global research institute that empowers women, advances gender equality and fights poverty. She was a founder of the 30% Club steering committee, which aims to bring more women onto corporate boards and was a member of the Select Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict, that considered the UK’s policy and practice for preventing sexual violence in conflict.
On 25 February the Henry Jackson Society was proud to co-host the event ‘Women’s Voices in Extremism’ with Baroness Mary Goudie. The event’s panel consisted of Dr Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, Dr Saima Lofgren, Abigail Clay and the Henry Jackson Society’s own, Nikita Malik.
Nikita kicked off proceedings by asking the question: why talk about women in extremism? Incidentally, the case of Shamima Begum asking to return to the UK has been in the news this past week, so Nikita used this to answer her own question – we desperately need to be talking about women in extremism. Nikita briefly brought up her own research and papers, explaining that ISIS propaganda directed at women is different in content whether it’s written in Arabic or English; whilst also bringing up the important case of Yazidi women caught up in extremism, who are often trafficked and substituted in for monetary transactions. Women, are they victims or perpetrators? In Nikita’s opinion Shamima Begum is guilty, a perpetrator therefore, and from this Nikita argued that ‘Jihadi Bride’ is a misleading term, as it reduces their agency and purpose or intent.
Saima followed from this and stated she had four points to raise. First, in reflection Saima stated she had worked with around twenty women who had attempted to join terrorist organisations, with the youngest aged twelve, whose mother was the one trying to join the organisation; Saima reflected how personal this case was. Second, that a huge amount of care and dedication is given by the professionals who work on these cases – professionals that constantly have to distance themselves from the status quo and endeavour to be as impartial as possible. Third, that interestingly in most of Saima’s cases, the girls actually want to rebel against arranged marriage, so why was Shamima Begum the opposite? What does this represent? Perhaps, Saima offered, the perception is that marriage in ISIS would offer more power, significance and agency than marriage in the UK – or elsewhere – would. Fourth and finally, everyone is hooked on the idea of Shamima Begum apologising or repenting, i.e. virtue signalling, and really expecting her to do so is useless and even unhelpful.
Next, Abigail explained that her experience is based in safeguarding, including working with children in the judicial system within terrorism cases. Abigail laid out how Shamima Begum’s case was being approached, that she is an ‘older child’, so partially responsible for her actions; yet, she was ‘deceptively recruited’ into ISIS, married in three weeks, spent most of her time pregnant or child-caring, lost two children and was in a traumatic environment almost certainly throughout. Abigail debated that Shamima Begum should in fact be considered and judged as a child up until her eighteenth birthday; and, that she was almost certainly in a traumatised state when she gave her interview and therefore unable to think or respond rationally. There is also the possibility she knew she could or cannot contradict or call-out ISIS, for fear of physical harm. Cases of children in cults and sexual abuse must be considered, in order to shed light on Shamima Begum’s situation and actions, Abigail argued.
To close, Kimberly explained that she had no real experience in extremism or radicalisation. In fact, her personal experience with such came seven years ago, when one of her student’s brother was convicted of assisting terrorism. When Kimberly looked into the case she confessed her surprise that so much of this case displayed similar characteristics to human trafficking. Kimberly explained that it takes months of exhaustive grooming to create a façade that can then be used to trick or coerce the victim. Terrorist organisations are the same as any criminal one, Kimberly argued; they will do anything to get money and power, including going to huge efforts to exploit huge numbers of people, people who can often be considered victims.
The interesting and enlightening event closed with a quick round of Q and A.