Gabriel Sjöblom-Fodor, a researcher specialising in the study of religious community work and countering violent extremism at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE)
A first-of-its-kind trial is currently taking place in Sweden, where an Islamic State (IS) returnee is being charged with a war crime. The woman, who returned in 2020 was previously charged with forcibly marrying one of her underage daughters to an IS member. Although that investigation was closed, the woman was taken into custody again, late last year, on charges of trying to groom her son to become a child soldier.
There are many aspects of the case that should be addressed. For example, why did the woman leave Sweden in the first place? I hope the causes of this will revealed by the prosecution. Also, what was her motivation towards joining Islamic State? Was it extremist beliefs or was she trying to escape something else? Regardless of the outcome of the trial, it’s important to understand her underlying motivation.
While it is never good to generalize, there are some common patterns that have been observed in cases of people who left Western countries to join IS. Many cases have the common hallmarks of Takfiri overzealousness, coupled with escapism from the challenges of living in Western society as a devout Muslim. To adopt and try to live a Takfiri lifestyle with its many demands and restrictions (especially for women) in a Western secular society is both burdensome and mentally exhausting. This caused many of this persuasion to look for a society which they believed would accommodate such a lifestyle, and when the so-called Islamic State was formed, this was perceived to be such a society.
What we know so far about this woman is that she converted to Islam from Christianity—a very unusual occurrence being that she is Arab. Converts tend to go through cognitive phases of overzealousness and fundamentalism in the early parts of their faith journey which may or may not moderate along with the passage of time and accumulation of knowledge and experience. As we possess no detailed information, it would not be unreasonable to infer that the lady and her husband in question might possibly have been in the grip of this early phase and, under its influence, taken these decisions for which she now finds herself prosecuted for.
This phase of overzealousness and fundamentalism is often characterized by idealism, in which strong faith and complete deference to preachers, seen as rightly guided, takes precedence over logic or consequence assessments. It entails complete trust in the religious authorities as espousers of Divine Will and an uncritical response to their message.
Another important aspect about this trial is the subject of child rights, as she is accused of grooming her son to become a child soldier. From a Swedish and general Western perspective, the actions might seem outrageous, but from a Takfiri perspective they would not. In a Takfiri worldview, “raising a warrior” is seen as praiseworthy and something to actively strive for.
Opportunity For Broader Understanding
Commentators often fail to completely comprehend the influence of Takfiri zealotry, its subsequent cognitive phases and the manipulation of religious texts on individual decision-making. The absence of this understanding also produces flawed and rather shallow analysis, and also creates more questions than it answers in relation to personal agency. The job of both prosecution and defense would be to include these questions in their investigation and what role such aspects played.
There are always the possibilities of grooming, extortion, adventure, naivety and deception involved in cases of foreign fighters or their female counterparts in their motivations to leave. However, this tends to reveal itself quite early on, if this was the case, with messages to friends and family about wanting to leave and so on. This is why evidence and analysis that takes all of the aforementioned aspects into consideration is important for the sake of research. It is, in itself, a very important trial which will prove whether it’s possible for the existing legal framework to pass a sentence for war crime with the evidence at hand, and we will follow it with interest.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.
 Takfir means “excommunication”, the willingness of some ultra-extremist jihadists to declare other Muslims to be apostates, which in some cases leads to a belief that it is not only acceptable but mandatory to kill them.