ISIS targets ‘dangerous women’ in Manchester attack

On 22nd May 2017, a series of bombings hit the Manchester Arena where popstar Ariana Grande had just ended her concert. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, which have killed 22 and injured at least 120. Lauren Wolfe, award-winning journalist who documents gendered violence around the world, points out the gendered element of the attack. She writes that Ariana Grande represents a society in which women can choose what they do, wear, and say – everything that ISIS fears. The show’s audience was also made up mainly of young girls who idolize the singer.

With this morning’s news that the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the UK’s Manchester Arena Monday night, the obviousness of the target begins to make a sick kind of sense.

Ariana Grande, 23, who had just finished her last song when the bomb hit, is the epitome of all ISIS fears in the world. Grande represents a society in which women can choose what they do, wear, and say. The show’s audience was made up mainly of young girls who idolize the singer. Girls who want to grow up and be beautiful like her, wear makeup and tight clothes when they want to, and talk about who and how they love without consequences, as Grande does in her songs.

It is exactly this freedom that ISIS finds most threatening to their ideology, which calls for women to remain severely subdued in order for men to succeed.

In patriarchal cultures, which exist across religions in parts of the Middle East and throughout the world, women are expected to dress demurely and listen to their men. In ISIS, which takes patriarchy to an extreme, women must make themselves invisible through covering their bodies in swaths of cloth, including gloves. In a pamphlet known as the “Bill of the City” ISIS distributed in Iraq in 2013 it says: “To the virtuous women…stay in your homes and do not leave them only in cases of necessity.” Then there has been the buying and selling of women in slave markets. Women and girls are passed around, to be raped by whichever man owns her.

Women are whipped and beaten for tiny infractions, researchers say. Katherine Brown, an expert in Islamic Studies at King’s College London, told the BBC in August 2015 that ISIS men have “been known to carry out harsh punishments like beatings and whipping someone for not wearing the right clothing.”

When a culture prizes a woman’s purity above all else, she becomes a primary target. Raping or killing her is a way of the enemy saying, “We can take what’s precious to you.” It is a knife to the heart. And it is an extremely effective weapon in war.

The murder of 22 people in Manchester is shocking and horrific. But maybe it should not be surprising. This act is an obvious extension of ISIS ideology: a belief system in which women are solely prized as objects to own; whose lives may be taken to send a message. The message this time is that the West should continue to fear ISIS, but the success of this particular message hinged on the killing of our precious young girls. It was a double-hit for the terror group: The attack told us that they can kill an invaluable part of our society at will, and that they will not stand for women having any kind of freedom.

Grande’s concert, perversely or aptly, was a stop on what was titled the “Dangerous Woman Tour.”

EDITORS NOTE: Paragraph four has been edited to remove the term “honor culture” and insert “patriarchy” for the sake of clarity. “Honor culture” as a term is often misconstrued or politicized, and “patriarchy” is more accurate.

Original article was published at the Women Under Siege Project on 23rd May 2017. 

Lauren Wolfe is an award-winning journalist who has written for publications from The Atlantic to The New York Times. She is also a columnist at Foreign Policy magazine and on the advisory committee of the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.

Previously, she was the senior editor of the Committee to Protect Journalists, where she broke ground on the issue of journalists and sexualized violence. She studied at Wesleyan University and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, and is the recipient of the 2012 Frank Ochberg Award for Media and Trauma Study and four Society of Professional Journalists awards. In 2013, Foreign Policy named her one of its “FP Twitterati 100,” and Action on Armed Violence listed her as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Journalists Covering Armed Violence.” Find her at and on Twitter at @Wolfe321.


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