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Treating contrite Isis deserter with kid gloves because she's woman pitiful

By Fionola Meredith

Published 15/01/2016

Islamic State rebels show their flag
Islamic State rebels show their flag

If a Western woman heads off to Syria to join Isis with her four-year-old son in tow, whose primary responsibility is that? Her own or someone else's? I read Sophie Kasiki's story in the Observer newspaper last Sunday, and the more I read the more incredulous I grew.

Kasiki lived with her husband and son in Paris, where she had a job as a social worker helping immigrant families. Having secretly converted to Islam without her husband's knowledge she met three Muslim men. In September 2014 the men departed the country for Syria, but stayed in daily contact with Kasiki.

In February 2015 Kasiki left Paris with her son, telling her husband that she was going to work in an orphanage in Istanbul. However, she instead travelled to the Isis stronghold of Raqqa, where it took her a full 10 days to realise what a mistake she had made.

Orders not to go out alone; the confiscation of her passport; threats that she would be stoned or killed should she try to leave - yes, the clues were all there.

Now Kasiki is back in Paris, reunited with her remarkably forgiving husband, and guess what? She's written a book about her "ordeal". In The Night Of Daesh, it's called.

According to the report, her account of her escape from Raqqa is "the edge-of-your-seat stuff of thriller movies".

I imagine it will make her quite a lot of money. Apparently she often feels "completely paralysed by guilt", but I guess that's a small price to pay in the circumstances.

You might sense a little cynicism in my tone here. And you'd be correct.

What was Kasiki's justification for her shortlived stay with Isis? Oh, all sorts of reasons. She was depressed, she was insecure, she had a "hole in the heart" that nothing and nobody could heal. All the usual things that make you want to run away and join a death cult, right?

She was also "naive, confused, fragile and vulnerable", a state that left her particularly open to being "brainwashed" by a group of "not particularly smart" men.

What struck me so forcibly about this account was Kasiki's determination to cast herself as a victim, and even as a heroine whose new mission is "to prevent other people being drawn into this horror".

Sure, she felt bad when Isis sent her husband a photo of their son posing with an automatic rifle as a reminder of their little visit to Raqqa. "I would have killed us both rather than let him become a killer," she declared histrionically.

Or hey, I know, here's a radical idea, how about not join Isis in the first place? Then nobody has to be killed.

Here's the thing. Kasiki was not kidnapped. Nobody forced her to give up her comfortable life in Paris. Instead, she went of her own free will, holding the hand of her little son. Her decision, her choice.

It is ludicrous to claim that Kasiki had no idea of the kind of cause she was joining.

Can she really have missed the globally circulated videos of hostages being beheaded in the months prior to her departure? What about the suicide bombings, the car bombings, the rapes, the gay men being pushed off tall buildings?

The brainwashing must have been overwhelmingly powerful to get past all that. You'd need both a frontal and anterior lobotomy at least.

The Observer article, with its sympathetic, sisterly tone, could not have been written about a Western man who decided to join Isis. It could only be written about a woman.

Because, like it or not, many people - even those who consider themselves staunch feminists - are still unconsciously in thrall to the ancient idea that women are fragile, easily-led creatures, deficient in reason and morality and vulnerable to the mendacious influence of evil men.

We have only Kasiki's account that she was horrified by what she found in Raqqa, and she tells her story powerfully. But where is the evidence for her version of events? Sentiment and self-flagellation are no substitutes for hard, provable facts.

A man would not get away with this hyper-emotional sob story, or at least not without a healthy amount of interrogative cynicism, and rightly so.

If we truly accept women as men's equals, capable of exercising personal agency and the ability to decide for themselves, then we need to stop making excuses for them.

Women must make their own choices, good or bad, and answer for the consequences. No more poor-little-me.

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