16 women have been sentenced to Iranian prison by the Iranian judiciary system, the “Islamic Revolutionary Court.” According to an Iranian news outlet, they were charged with traveling to Syria and receiving “terrorist training” before returning to Iran. They will reportedly have to serve their sentence in prison, as well as pay Iran any money received from ISIL salary.
The Iranian government is in direct conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and frequently designates them as a terrorist organization. Many of their officials claim that ISIL is not a true version of Islam, despite the fact that they too are a fundamentalist, strictly religious regime — they are just separate from ISIL in many ideologies.
A huge difference lies in the fact that ISIL is decidedly anti-Shi’ite, which makes up 90-95% of the Iranian population, according to the CIA World Factbook. In the world of ISIL Muslim extremists, a Shi’ite is still an infidel and they have felt justified in killing many. Some call the Shi’ites “rejectionists,” and some Shi’ites may say the same about them.
The use of women in combat is a hot-button topic in the United States, but the reality for our women in the military is far removed from the usage of women in combat roles in fundamentalist Muslim groups or nations. The worlds are completely different.
For starters, it is no secret that conservative clothing can be used as a tactical advantage. One indicator that someone is hiding a weapon is that they are wearing a large winter coat on a hot summer day — at the very least it’s going to turn some heads in the U.S. However, in an fundamentalist culture where women are covered head-to-toe regardless of the temperature, hiding weapons or a suicide vest is significantly easier.
The tactic of women using conservative clothing has been used time and time again, in North Africa, throughout the middle east, and certainly in Afghanistan — I’ve seen it myself on several occasions, with people using this tactic to try and accomplish different things, be it a suicide bomber or an attempt at escape.
This is certainly not the only advantage given by employing women in warfare in a fundamentalist Islamic nation. Depending on where you are in the world, women might be treated more like property than anything else — in those place, that generally means that women are not trusted with military affairs in the same way that men would be.
However, if one fundamentalist Islamic group is fighting another, they might play off of this advantage and give a woman more responsibility than she normally would be endowed, as it might not be as expected from their opponent. A truck of women crossing a border may not be inspected as carefully as a truck of military-aged men. This could be the case with smuggling or moving weapons or equipment, but it could also be the case with couriers or other non-directly lethal uses in war.
These are just a few ideas, based on experience both in combat in Afghanistan and living in northern Pakistan for many years. The chess game of war is complex, and when it starts involving cultural nuances, religious beliefs, moves and counter-moves — it becomes difficult to follow. Regardless, women have been used in unique positions in wars involving fundamentalist Islamic groups/nations.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.