Wednesday, 26 August 2015 19:07

Good Reads: From the women of IS to social media in elections

Written by
Homs locals
Photo: Brian Dell  (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: CC0 1.0  

It's that time for another of E&M's editors to suggest their favourite reads: Chris Ruff reflects on what the female involvement in the Islamic State could represent and how far did social media impact the british elections.

Chris, Heart / Legs editor


The women of IS

A powerful article that caught my eye this week is the latest in the New York Times' "State of Terror" series, focusing on the story of three young girls from London who flew to Syria to join the Islamic State in February this year.

The long read has numerous strands to it, including the identity dilemmas of second generation Muslim immigrants in Britain and other Western countries, and the tactics used by IS to lure young women from their safe homes in the West to their violent and dangerous "Caliphate" in the Syrian desert.

But what struck me most was the links to female empowerment and the "twisted form of feminism" that the IS female brigades represent. Of the 4000 foreign fighters who have joined the movement, 550 are estimated to be women and girls. Yet what is clear is that the phenomenon is misunderstood and authorities still don’t know how they should deal with it. One cannot help but notice that the fundamentalist Islamic critique – young Western girls being sexualised from a young age – has some truth to it. But their solution – the complete covering of the face and head and a life of purity and devotion to one’s husband, not to mention actively supporting a murderous regime – is an anathema to our liberal Western values

Young teenage girls will always be attracted to rebellious elements within a society. If Western culture is now so open and tolerant, what is there to rebel against apart from the liberal values which now form the mainstream opinion? The writer, Katrin Bennhold, calls it a "jihadi, girl-power subculture". But we surely cannot equate what the jihadi brides are doing with sneaking into a bar whilst underage, or having a Beatles poster in their room, can we? Still less with the relatively harmless fist-pumping of Ginger, Sporty et al. The article raises questions that all European societies must answer, sooner or later.

Photo: Johan Larrson  (Flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0 


Twitter and the British Election

The power of social media over politics is a subject that is often written about, but achieved new levels of relevance (for left-leaning Brits such as myself, at least) in May of this year. Writing in the New Statesman, Helen Lewis’ slightly tongue-in-cheek hypothesis is that social media contributed to Labour losing the last election. 

Firstly, she argues, the platform for 140 character exclamations is a "lefty haven", probably because of the dominance of the British right-wing press. The "SEND IN THE ARMY" reactions to the Calais migrant crisis should persuade you of that if you weren’t already convinced.

Secondly, it is easy to get the impression that everybody you know is voting a certain way. I remember myself, in the drunken throes of the post-election disaster exclaiming loudly to anyone who’d listen: "I just don’t understand it. EVERYBODY on Facebook was voting Labour!" The reason for this, according to Lewis, is that people just don’t like to admit that they are in favour of right-wing solutions. Your timeline might be full of people sharing stories of people affected by austerity cuts, but the people who disagree probably aren’t posting anything at all.

Thirdly, is the way that it generally acts as an "echo chamber" – i.e. we select our own friends and the accounts that we want to follow. People we like generally have the same views as us, and who wants to read a load of opinions that you disagree with?

So, in short, a combination of these three factors led to Labour’s devastating loss (or the Conservatives famous against-the-odds victory, depending on how you see it). To be clear, I still believe Twitter is the best way to get abreast of the world’s news over your morning cereal, when the brain isn’t quite ready to get stuck into long and meaningful prose. Nevertheless, as Labour are poised to elect a leader even further to the left of the departing Ed Miliband, it may be worth your average left-leaning tweet-addict following a few more "evil" rightwingers on Twitter or leaving the Facebook politicking alone for the next election in 2020.

Last modified on Saturday, 12 September 2015 12:51

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