Melanie McDonagh

The Syrian-bound schoolgirls remind us that feminism isn’t for everyone

The Syrian-bound schoolgirls remind us that feminism isn't for everyone
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There is much to be said for Rod Liddle’s view that the fuss over the aspiring jihadi brides from the Bethnal Green Academy is getting on for preposterous and we shouldn’t, to put it mildly, over-exert ourselves to get them back. One takes the point, though I think in fairness we should spare a thought for those on the receiving end of the Isis recruitment drive, viz, the unfortunate indigenous communities in Syria and Iraq who are on the sharp end of Islamic State’s advance.

I don’t know how many of the Assyrian Christians who didn’t manage to get away from the Isis attack this week on villages in north Eastern Syria were teenage or prepubescent girls, but I’d be a bit concerned about them myself. Certainly we know from the accounts of the even more unfortunate Yazidis that some jihadist wives preside over households that include sexual slaves captured by Isis – they featured in a harrowing Channel 4 news report recently – so I think we can add to the roster of duties that may be in store for Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and 16-year-old Kadiza Sultana, the supervision of infidel concubines their own age or younger.

This wasn’t, as it happens, mentioned in an encouraging message to would-be jihadist brides from the Glaswegian recruit, Aqsa Mahmood, 20, who is said to have encouraged the girls via Twitter to come in, the water’s fine. She married a jihadist herself in 2013 and joined the exciting, all-woman Al-Khanssaa brigade. In a recent memo to other girls anxious to secure an Isis husband – there have been eight Brits in the last seven months - she warned: 'Sisters with this comes the great acceptance and hefty reality which is that this decision means we will most probably have to sooner or later hear the news of our husbands’ success, which is his shahadah [martyrdom].' Here’s hoping.

Naturally the three aren’t representative of British Muslims, just of a minority of a minority of it. Quite possibly if ComRes callers had got to them, they’d have been among the 27 per cent of Muslims in the BBC survey who say they had some sympathy for the Charlie Hebdo killers, a finding the BBC understandably downplayed. Still, even allowing that some teenage girls will stop at nothing to annoy their parents, you have to ponder the way their particular rebellion has manifested itself. They’ve opted, after the benefit of the finest education the Bethnal Green Academy can provide, for submission. The role they’re after is of surrendered wives (possibly polygamous), cooks, cleaners and mothers, though the feminist potential of the Al-Khanssa Brigade does sound promising. In his prescient – make that prophetic - new novel, Submission, Michel Houellebecq conjured up the notion of a France governed by Sharia law in which his hero, a literary prof, finds that in the new Islamic establishment he will be entitled to a couple of young brides. He decides that an Islamic state has, after all, quite a lot to recommend it.

What the Bethnal Green Three remind us is that some Muslim girls – a small number, granted – find that dispensation attractive too, not scary. They’ll have had all the same stuff in their curriculum about female firefighters, doctors and scientists and still they’ve flicked a finger at the feminist consensus. Religion trumps gender in this mindset, though it’s probably not how they’d put it. But it’s something for feminists to put in their pipe and smoke. Me, I mind more that the last news bulletins they’ll have heard about Isis before making for Istanbul would have been about the beheadings of Coptic Christians by jihadists in Libya – yet still they went ahead. Something for their parents to ponder.