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Why Women and Children Stay Silent During Islamist Abuse

Islamist Abuse Women and Children Domestic Violence Abuse
 Sras, a survivor of domestic violence in a women’s shelter in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Sras husband threatened to kill her and her three children about six months ago. As the world talks about women’s rights and the #MeToo movement, Cambodia continues to be a patriarchal society, like many other developing countries, and still considers women to be inferior to men, often limiting them from securing proper education and income opportunities. (Illustrative Photo: Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images)

One of the questions that surfaces about ideological extremism is the question of why women and children stay silent during Islamist abuse. Late this summer, Clarion Project broke a national story about a narrowly avoided “jihadist Waco” in which a group of children, men and women were in a remote off-grid  compound in New Mexico. One of the ring leaders was Imam Siraj Wahhaj’s son. Wahhaj Sr. is a prominent radical cleric in North America with considerable support from a wide field of Muslims ranging from Islamists such as Linda Sarsour to progressives.

The son, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, kidnapped his own child in order to exorcise him of the physical disabilities his father attributed to demonic possession. The boy, just shy of his fourth birthday, died on the compound during the ritualistic exorcism. At least one child in the compound, aged 15, was forced to undergo training to be a school shooter. Ten other children, some as young as toddlers, were living in squalor with no access to food, water, shelter or education.

A tip that finally lead authorities to this compound came from one of the women. She texted someone on the outside for money, adding that she and the children were starving and in need of help. A life-line to the outside world begging for assistance raises some questions:

  • Why did the women subject themselves to intolerable and abusive conditions?
  • How can any mother tolerate this abuse of a child, let alone her children?
  • Why didn’t the women and children just leave the premises?

Behavior analyst Ayaz Merchant offers insight. Having run training workshops for well-known life coach Tony Robbins, Ayaz shares how conditioning behavior leads to compliance in certain cultures.

  • Some cultures are still very formative in their development, pushing them to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, which determines needs based on what is deemed as a necessary for survival.
  • People are often looking out for themselves in these cultures, so in the context of parent-child, there is abusiveness that stems out of the need to survive which forces behavior confirmation.
  • These cultures are often very society-oriented, which means the needs of the individual come second to the needs of the society or the family.
  • The behavior of the subordinate, in this case the child, is regulated through conditional love. This often creates a co-dependent disorder in the child (and often within the women in that society).
  • Conditional love creates a behavior expectation that primes the child, communicating that “you will only receive love if you behave this way.” Since love and acceptance are a survival need for the young, a child often accepts these conditions. In abusive cultures, this is especially expected of women from a young age.
  • In hierarchical cultures, one of the driving factors is the need to feel significant and establish authority. Authority is often established by gaining respect or by intimidation and fear.
  • In order to survive (be loved and taken care of), the abuse that comes along with it often becomes a norm.

Ayaz Merchant also looks at how the compliant, conditioned woman or child can then be either radicalized or submissive in the face of heinous acts of violence and terror:

  • There’s a conveyor belt from the child and the parent. This sets the course of behavior at a young age, making it easier for individuals to later radicalize the child.
  • The child is already conditioned to expect intimidation, obedience to authority and knows acceptance as a conditional transaction.
  • The environment a child is raised in makes it easier for that child to be radicalized later on. However, you have to look at the entire culture and society that child is in.
  • There’s the question of how does a person get to a point where they’re willing to give up their life? You have to look beyond just the environment and at the survival instincts.
  • There are very charismatic speakers who come in from the outside and encounter youths who already don’t feel a sense of self-worth, making it very easy to appeal to a child.
  • This pattern appeals to males more because they have a culture in which they always have to prove their worth, whereas women are seen as worthy if they are submissive.

While domestic violence takes hold in many cultures across the world, it often goes unnoticed in Islamist environments for fear of “offending” another community.

 

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SQ
Shireen Qudosi
Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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