A review by kangaruthie
Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of Isis by Azadeh Moaveni


This is an incredibly important and thorough account of the nuanced experiences of Muslim women who were drawn to ISIS. There is no room in the narrative in the U.S. for accounts that consider how ordinary women in the Middle East, Europe, and U.S. were drawn to militancy as a last resort. There is no conversation about WHY they might have felt that joining such an extremist group was a good solution. Moaveni's prerogative is to explore this why, without passing judgement or sympathy.

"To the public, they were either naïve jihadi brides or calculating monsters. But most of the women in this book were neither passive nor predatory, and trying to pin down their degree of agency seemed to be only one line of inquiry, and certainly not the most revealing. Some collaborated or acted knowingly; some were so young that, despite the outward appearance of deliberate choice, they were not mature enough to exercise anything approaching adult judgment. Most policy papers, public discussions, and security initiatives dealing with gender and extremism seem wholly disconnected from the lived experiences of women in the Middle East."

Moaveni does an amazing job of telling the complicated and detailed stories of the women's motivations. This book is not meant to be sympathetic towards the actions of terrorists. Instead, it is an account of the complex circumstances of these women's lives which are critical to understanding their stories.

As she states, "I am acutely aware that these stories do not tell the comprehensive story of all ISIS women, and that many engaged in atrocities that amounted to war crimes. That fact stands starkly as its own truth. I have tried to write most closely from the perspective of the women themselves, while providing background that might make their actions intelligible. The context is there to illuminate not to justify, and judgment remains the prerogative of the reader."

I am grateful to Moaveni for telling the untold stories of these women, and for doing it so well.