Tania Joya: It is a big question to repatriate ISIS members who have already fled. But, if Tania Joya’s story is any indication, there was never a bomb in her burqa.
She has been called ‘ISIS bride’ and ‘First Lady ISIS’. Joya, who was famously married to Yahya Al-Bahrumi (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s top leader of American origin), is now back in American news. She was a willing participant in a seven month-long political sex scandal with Representative Van Taylor. Follow centralfallout to get updated.
Unpredictably, she was her whistleblower, and had reached out to Taylor’s opponent in order to discuss the affair. She said that her motive was to expose Taylor’s hypocrisy.
Many women, like Joya, have become married to the Islamic State. They are not always allowed to reinvent themselves or reintegrate back into society, unlike Joya.
Tens of thousands of ISIS brides and children are currently held captive in camps such as the Al-Hol camp, Syria. The United Nations called on 57 countries to return over 64,000 children and women from these camps in 2021. Repatriation comes with a risk. What if the returning refugees are still radicalised.
At least four Indian women joined ISIS and want to return home. The Indian government is still unsure what to do. After surrendering to Afghan forces in Afghanistan, the women were held in Afghanistan. There was hope that they would be freed when the Taliban opened Kabul jails in August 2021.
Bindu Sampath, a Malayali mom whose daughter joined ISIS in 2016, said that “I see everyone praying” for safe return of the children from war-torn Ukraine. She added, “I too pray for the safe return to my child.”
Tania Joya UK to Lebanon
Tania Joya was among the fortunate ones. Her story starts in a small London suburb. Joya, the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, reportedly suffered a difficult childhood which she attributes to her “upbringing in a conservative Bangladeshi British family.”
As a teenager, she made friends with a group ultra-conservative student and started to wear a jilbab. She also began to study the Quran. Despite her family’s resentful reaction, she felt like she had found her place in society. Ironically, her growing radicalisation made her more isolated.
She met John Georgelas, an American convert to Islam at the age of 19, when she was 19. In 2003, the couple got married and relocated to Texas. She lived as a conservative Muslim in Texas. When her husband was briefly detained for trying to access passwords and hack the website of an Israeli lobby, she found a stronger community and began to settle down.
After her husband was released from prison, and he had completed his probation, he brought their five children to Egypt just in time for The Arab Spring. Joya was the last line. The family ended up in Syria. Her husband dropped her off at Turkey’s border and gave her and her children to a human trafficker who smuggled refugees.
Joya Fourth Pregnancy
Joya was six months pregnant at the time with her fourth baby. She had already had three boys. She weighed in at 43 kg. The family moved from Istanbul to London, and finally to Texas. Joya claimed that she didn’t want her family to be in Syria due to the way she was treated. Jihad was not about “academics theory and dreaming” and Joya didn’t want to be involved.
According to Dr Anne Speckhard (director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism), “They believed that their religion would bring them justice — so, they went with an image of Islamic utopia.”
Joya claims that she knew only that her husband was involved in networking with militants. Reports point out a more sinister truth. Yahya Al-Bahrumi, the main producer of English-language propaganda for the Islamic State, was responsible for creating the blueprints that would lead to a highly successful propaganda machine. It is believed that he died in 2017.
Renewal and radicalization
Joya’s story did not end there. Since she divorced her husband and Syria in 2013, Joya has shifted to “reprogramming” extremists to help them integrate into society. This is something she considers herself to be able to do as a former Islamic jihadist.
In 2015, she divorced her husband and split custody with her parents-in law. She then started a new life. Her dating profile revealed that her husband had “gone off to become the next Osama Bin Laden.” Craig Burma was her husband and she began exploring Christianity. By 2019, she was also exploring Judaism.
This brings us to today. Joya, who is frequently profiled in the international press and is adored by British tabloids has found herself in a position that could lead to political sabotage.
Between October 2020 and June 2021, she had an affair with Rep. Van Taylor. Joya met him via her work in de-radicalization and they quickly became friends. She describes herself as “pathetic, lovesick”, and said she was looking forward to a future together.
Taylor tried to end the relationship with Joya by saying that he wanted to see more Indian women. Joya, whose family hails from Bangladesh, found Taylor’s comment “extremely offensive”. He paid Joya $5,000 towards the end to keep her quiet.
When she found out that Taylor had called out another politician for having an affair, she decided to make it public and expose his hypocrisy. Joya then contacted Suzanne Harp (an opponent to Taylor) in hopes that she could confront him privately and force him to resign. The story was instead leaked to the media on March 1, complete with shocking screenshots.
The Agency of Women Who Join ISIS: Tania Joya
Because Taylor supported President Joe Biden’s victory, Taylor is a RINO — Republican In Name Only — according to far-Right conservatives. More conservative Republicans had what they wanted: an excuse for attacking Taylor’s morality.
It worked. After revealing that he had an extramarital affair, Taylor quit his re-election campaign for the House of Representatives. He did not mention Joya by name. However, headlines focused on Joya’s past as a woman married with a terrorist. Her choices are still being criticized.
Over and over, the agency of women who join ISIS has been questioned. It is not always clear how many women joined ISIS, even if they did so voluntarily. Most women are homemakers.
“My daughter was forced to join ISIS. Bindu Kamath said, “I raised her myself. I know that she did not choose this.” “It’s been 2,198 days since my last visit to my daughter.”
ISIS propaganda was effective in getting people to the ground, even though it misled them. Dr Anne Speckhard stated that “In most cases there’s complete agency for travel.” “But, the understanding of what they were getting into – for men and women – might have been lacking.”
Integration is a problem: Tania Joya
Dr Anne Speckhard stated that while there are many success stories, there are also cautionary tales. “And what cautionary tales teach is that intelligence is essential.”
She cited Jennifer Wenisch’s recent case, in which a German ISIS refugee claimed innocence to avoid the law. Tania Joya later admitted her crimes to an intelligence agent who posed as a fellow ISIS supporter and said that she was part of ISIS’s morality patrol. She would have returned to the terrorist group if she hadn’t been captured by intelligence agencies.
Repatriation involves charging and prosecuting ISIS returningees, and then eventually rehabilitating them. More countries are starting to take up the challenge: Denmark, Germany and Belgium recently repatriated many children and women.
Shamima Begum was another British woman of Bangladeshi origin. In 2019, the United Kingdom revoked her citizenship amid concerns about her decision to join ISIS in her minor (15-year-old) years.
“Every state responds to this type of thing in its own way. “There is no universal law that explains how this works. It’s political and societal and no one has clear answers,” Kabir Taneja, a Fellow at Observer Research Foundation who has written extensively about the policy challenges this issue presents around the globe.
It’s a lonely and long wait for families of ISIS members until there is an answer.