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‘The Greatness of Her Position’: Comparing Identitarian and Jihadi Discourses on Women

‘The Greatness of Her Position’: Comparing Identitarian and Jihadi Discourses on Women
15th May 2019 ICSR Team
In Publications, Reports

The full report can be accessed here. Read on for the Introduction.

[W]hen women get involved a movement becomes a serious threat. Remember it was women that got Trump elected and, I guess to be really edgy, it was also women that got Hitler elected.
Lana Lokteff, IXth Identarian Ideas Conference, 2017

To women everywhere, especially those who care about the ummah, may you be aware that the ummah of Muhammad (pbuh), which would not rise without your help, do not disgrace the caliphate, but serve it even if it is by one word, may your sons be the bricks and mortar in the tower of majesty and minarets of the state of Islam. Allah bless you and your patience, you are of us and we of you.
Khansa’ Manifesto, 2015

The role of women in extremist movements today is as multifaceted as it is extensive. They are active across the ideological spectrum and, in the context of identitarianism and jihadism in particular, are considered to be especially fundamental for in‑group survival, both as child‑bearers and vehicles for the socialisation of future generations. Through this lens, their ‘choice’ to prioritise domestic life is framed as a heroic and altruistic deed in service of the community – this is a form of extremist maternalism that couches conservative, stay‑at‑home values in radical terminology and bestows counter‑cultural appeal upon the very idea of patriarchal subservience.

In this report, we explore this phenomenon, assessing similarities in how identitarian and jihadi extremists delineate what it is to be a woman in their respective in‑groups. We do this by cross‑examining two texts published by two disparate manifestations of political extremism (in terms of both ideology and praxis): one a speech by Lana Lokteff given in 2017, a leading member of the identitarian right in the United States; the other a manifesto from 2015 on gender published by the Islamic State’s female policing unit. While neither text can be taken as a standard account of either identitarian or jihadi gender politics (both ideological spectra vary hugely), they are nevertheless representative of important subsets of each ideological current. Recognising this, we unpack similarities in how, despite their profound operational disparities, each frames the character of the ‘ideal’ woman. By seeking answers not just to what these texts ‘mean’ but how they ‘mean’ too, we also develop a better understanding of the rhetorical forms they rely on in reaching out to their target audiences.

There appears to be a structural quality that these two extremisms deeply share when it comes to the issue of gender. Both see the ideal woman as a submissive heroine and the ideal man as their daring vanguard. They are positioned as complementary actors through which the utopian project – whether it is that of identitarians or jihadis – can ultimately be realised.

The report proceeds as follows. In the first section, we frame the issue of extremism in general, provide a summary of the literature on women and extremism in particular, and set out our research methods. The second section presents our findings. It is split into three, one subsection for each of the shared thematic priorities of the texts, each of which begins with extracts followed by description and interpretation. The third, concluding section summarises our key findings and touches on the issue of gender as a tool for bringing extremist discourses into the mainstream.

Before proceeding, one caveat: while we believe these respective attitudes towards gender to be similar enough to compare, our goal is not to propose, suggest or argue that identitarian and jihadi extremism are the ‘same’ nor do we intend to claim they are reciprocal. Rather, in this early stage of comparative exploration, we only hope to show evidence that they share an ideological logic when it comes to the issue of gender. This is likely not the only structural substrate shared between jihadism and the far right, and more research is required to investigate the others. It is our hope that this preliminary exploration, which strives to go beyond the anecdotal, will offer an example that others may follow.

This report was written by Ashley A. Mattheis and Charlie Winter.

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