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Those women who chose Islamic State, the so-called ISIS brides have chided the Western world. For what it’s worth, they made their choice, and I understand why.
This week, tens of thousands of school students will be leaving their classrooms to strike against climate change. As you know by now, I am a big fan of them. Especially the girls cheer me up no end. I see them as promises for the future, our guiding lights. That is why what I am going to do now will probably surprise and even trouble you. I know this is a bit left field, but I am going to draw some comparisons between the young women on the streets of Australia (and the rest of the world) and the girls the newspapers (even the good ones) call “ISIS-brides”.
The first point I want to make is hidden in that description. Think about it. The word “bride” means that your identity is largely connected to your husband. You are somebody’s wife, not a person in your own right. The fact that you have married a man determines your place in the world, who you are, how you are treated. In this case it is even worse, because these brides are not just connected to their husbands, but to their husbands’ “firm”. ISIS is an entity and they are portrayed as though they have married it, more than a person. It is like calling Chloe Shorten a Labor-bride: no longer a name, just an accessory to the party. How do you think that would go down? I don’t know about you, but I have heard those women talk. Shamima Begum, Amira Abase, Hoda Muthana: they might be misguided, but they don’t strike me as stupid. And especially not as young women who are in some way an adjunct to their spouses. In fact, if you have managed to survive bombings, rapes, often the deaths of your partner and sometimes children, you have shown that you are stronger than most of us can ever imagine to have to be. You are far more than just somebody’s “bride”, and you also deserve to be taken seriously. Not just yelled at by old white men like Piers Morgan, who told Begum to “go fuck yourself and rot in hell.” Very adult, Piers, what an example!
Do I agree with the choice the young women made? Of course not. On the other hand, I know that girls that age think in black and white. And that they are great romantics. That is a fatal combination, that most of us grow out of without getting hurt too badly. When I was 19, for instance, one of my pen pals was Bobby Sands, an IRA man who was locked up in Belfast’s Maze Prison. In 1981 he went on a hunger strike and on May 5 of that year he died. I knew about the killing that the IRA did, and still I cried my eyes out. I was also a fan of other people who took their idealism just that little bit too far: members of the Rote Army Fraktion and even ETA in Spain. I admired their commitment, their resistance to the suppression of the powers-that-be, their willingness to rather die on their feet than live on their knees. As you can hear, I still have a soft spot for that kind of dedication, although I am older now and less enamoured with violence. Now I live by the adage of President Bartlett in The West Wing, who said that patriots rather live than die for their country, and that citizenship is where it is at.
Nevertheless, although I disagree with the girls’ choices, I do understand them. This, my friends, is what good education does: it makes people think and helps them find their voice. You might not like what they’ve got to say and you might not like what they are thinking, but that is hardly the point. We live in free countries, where we are at liberty to think what we want. The fact that so many girls use that prerogative is a good barometer of a successful society. Idealism, activism, citizenship—however it looks; some misguided, some an example to us all—shows us that people are still awake, alert, and not afraid to say what they think. We should be proud of that and take them seriously. They are not brides, or mere schoolgirls. Let’s stop the paternalistic language. They are people, and they deserve our ear.