Amira, a young American Muslim woman, was an online recruiter for Daesh/ISIS and was arrested and detained for one year in New York’s federal detention center. She faced trial and a possible 30-year jail sentence.
After the Federal Public Defender’s discovered WISE Up: Knowledge Ends Extremism, the Executive Editor of WISE Daisy Khan was asked to meet with Amira in the hope that WISE might be able to help rehabilitate their client.
Daesh had been successful for years in convincing an ever-increasing flow of women recruits from the West to play a key role in their self-appointed “crusade”, by giving them the impression that they would acquire far more autonomy and agency than they could ever hope for in their homeland, one that, Daesh asserted, was deeply opposed to Islam and hostile to ordinary Muslim women in general.
Khan referred to the section of WISE Up: Knowledge Ends Extremism (pg. 272) titled: “A Religious Counselor’s Approach to Intervention” to seek guidance on how best to counsel her: “Tell me everything about yourself. When and where were you born? What was your family like? Tell me all the good, the bad, and the ugly that has happened in your life, and how you landed here.” Amira said she had been born in America and came from a broken home. She related stories of a childhood full of psychological trauma, family disaffiliation, and financial instability.
It was still unclear how a street-smart girl could get caught up in Daesh’s web. She said that when a friend had shared some of Daesh’s social media posts with her, she became curious and started experimenting with re-posting under an alias, and felt validated by the positive online response. Before she knew it, she was disseminating Daesh’s propaganda as one of their top Western recruiters. Many of the strategies outlined in the articles “Daesh Brand Narrative,” “Daesh Messaging Content,” and “Daesh Branding,” (pp 158-161 of WISE Up: Knowledge Ends Extremism), were reminiscent of her own encounters with Daesh’s social media
When she was asked what she expected to find with Daesh, she described feeling out of place, socially isolated, and unsafe in America. Many of the experiences she faced for her religion is discussed in Chapter 2 of WISE Up, “Grasping the Challenges Facing American Muslims.” She said that in contrast, the Daesh-led caliphate offered a sense of belonging, law and order, security, a job, and a where she would find herself a good Muslim husband, have children and a family.
When Khan showed her the ‘Push and Pull Factors’ that can lead someone to extremism, outlined in “Why Do People Join Daesh?” (pp162-163), she was able to identify exactly which factors in her life left her vulnerable to recruitment. For her, joining Daesh wasn’t political or ideological, it was simply personal.
Then Khan shared “Why Daesh Recruits Women,” (p.164, WISE Up), with her. She was truly disturbed by the harrowing accounts of women who had migrated to the caliphate. She learned that they were manipulated into joining Daesh to play the role of bearing children to ensure the caliphate’s survival. She realized that Western women were deliberately being targeted, because by relinquishing their former lives, they became valued symbols supporting Daesh’s message that Muslim women in the West are targeted, singled out, and treated unequally because of their faith.
After months of using the power of knowledge to teach her ways to discern truths from falsehoods, alter her beliefs and behavior, liberate her from Daesh and hone her ethical mores, Khan asked her if she regretted her decision. She knew she had gained nothing, had lost two precious years of her education, and had faced major personal setbacks, and she was ready to reject Daesh in all its manifestations, helped along by the information in Chapter 6 of WISE Up, “Debunking Extremist Ideology.”
At her trial, Khan served as an expert witness as the publisher of WISE Up: Knowledge Ends Extremism and could vouch for Amira’s regret and remorse. The Judge understood that her motivations to join Daesh were personal, not ideological, and that she no longer posed a threat to the public. In cases like Amira’s, a conviction usually results in a sentence of 30 years, but after receiving spiritual counseling and disengaging from Daesh ideology, her sentence was reduced to a mere 18 months. As demonstrated by this experience, the research presented in WISE Up: Knowledge Ends Extremism was uniquely suited to effectively counter her views and replace them with peaceful alternatives. Her story is just one example of the power of WISE Up: Knowledge Ends Extremism and its proven potential to counter extremism with knowledge and empathy.
WISE is in the process of creating a “Model Reintegration Program for the first “former Woman ISIS recruiter” in the United States. This program will help other “ISIS fighters” around the country to reintegrate successfully into society without being a threat to themselves or others. This Women’s reintegration program will involvement in a community center with ongoing supervision from a mentor to mitigate physical security threat to Amira, her community, family and society. The program will be designed to contribute to her “emancipation,” i.e., the freeing of the people from physical and human constraints such as, freedom from poverty; food and health security; personal security, such as physical safety from criminal attacks, as well as domestic violence and community security. The development of this reintegration program, hopefully, paves the way to similar programs that will promote both security and human rights: in other words, emancipation. As a consequence, individuals and communities can develop their human potential to the fullest.