On 8th January 2014, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, an American Muslim convert, was convicted for ‘providing material support to terrorists’. Her nickname, ‘Jihad Jamie’, was coined as a result of her association with another more high profile American convert, Colleen La Rose aka ‘Jihad Jane.’ Jamie, (convert name, Sumayyah) converted to Islam in 2009 and her subsequent trajectory of social disengagement is not dissimilar to the increasing number of young Muslim women intending to travel or already having travelled to the so-called Islamic State. Indeed, lessons can be learned from Jamie’s story.
I got to know Jamie and alongside providing regular informal advice to her, was also enlisted as an expert defence witness in her case. We first became acquainted with one another in March 2010, after her release from initial police custody in Ireland. She and her then husband had apparently come to the attention of the Irish authorities for an alleged conspiracy to murder Lars Wilks – the Danish Cartoonist – who depicted the Prophet Mohammed in his drawings. During our conversations, prior to her return to the US, she expressed disillusionment at the circumstances she found herself facing. Neither her husband nor living conditions were as she had been previously lead to believe by him during their lengthy online discussions. He was already a resident in Ireland and promised her a religiously devout way of life in a more conducive environment. However, he was not as she expected and she became increasingly concerned about the treatment of her son. He was being exposed to extremist videos and according to her account, forced to participate in physical training routines in the local park as opposed to playing simple age – appropriate games. It is perhaps, unsurprising that part of the prosecution’s case actually hinged on the premise that Jamie travelled to Ireland with the intention of indoctrinating her son and preparing him for jihad.
Like a small but significant number of young British Muslim women recently, Jamie became convinced about a better life abroad where she would be in a position to practice her new found faith more devoutly. She could no longer relate to her own society and immersed herself online, attracted by the type of religious idealism promoted by faceless propagandists like her soon to be husband. This idealism was further endorsed and encouraged by Colleen La Rose – another sister in faith – involved in this particular ‘cause.’ It has already been established that the most effective recruits for women are other women:
‘…most of the recruitment of women is carried out by women themselves…Often, women’s participation in Islamic State does not require a gendered explanation. They can be just as bloodthirsty, disaffected and politically engaged as men.’
In Jamie’s trial, I referred to her ‘foundational’ and ‘youthful’ phases of religious development – these being the early, formative stages of a convert or ‘returnee’ Muslim’s growth. Indeed, these are the most vulnerable stages for a new or young Muslim due to the degree of idealism and overzealousness expressed. Converts and returnees of other faiths also experience similar developmental stages; however, in so far as it relates to Muslims, the risk and pace of violent radicalisation have never been higher.
What about the children?
As recently as June 2015, the UK was shocked at the disappearance and subsequent reemergence of three biological sisters and nine of their children travelling to live in the so-called Islamic State. They left behind husbands and other extended family in Bradford to reside with their brother, a British ISIS fighter. Even more recently, another British mother of three went missing, suspected of travelling to ISIS controlled territory. She was subsequently detained in Turkey. It appears obvious in circumstances involving women – particularly mothers – convinced of the need to migrate under circumstances such as the ones described here, that they are the most effective advocates for their children. Invariably, the sense of idealism, romanticism and adventure is shared with their offspring.
Stark evidence of this was presented to me early 2015 when I was contacted by a concerned father, seeking advice regarding his daughter from a previous marriage. He had maintained regular contact with his 12 year old daughter who began to express some alarming views in December 2014 about travelling to Syria with her mother. Despite his protestations, he discovered shortly afterwards that his ex wife had left their country of origin with his daughter and disappeared. His inquiries lead nowhere. The next time he heard from his daughter was in March via a voice mail she sent to him describing her arrival in her new home. He shared the recording with me and I have provided a brief transcript here:
“As salaamu alaykum Abee (my father)! Everything [is] good here! I didn’t tell you I was coming because I know you didn’t want me to go – come here – and I like it here because… I didn’t want to tell you because you thought I wouldn’t be safe and would die…but it’s well nice! We’re eating nice food; we’re eating Snickers and Twix and ‘bebsi.’ (giggles)”
His daughter pauses and her mother can be heard in the background instructing her to say she loves her father:
“…I love you and am missing you. I hope you come too. I hope you change your mind about it…I didn’t want you wasting your money and visiting me in [country of origin] so I hope I didn’t burst your bubble. If you want, you could come up here. As salaamu alaykum.”
As we have already witnessed, women are effective recruiters and propagandists for their female peers. It is therefore important that robust measures are put in place at various familial and societal levels to prevent children becoming propaganda tools for others.
Jamie received an 8-year sentence after pleading guilty to the charge against her. Her son was taken into protective custody when she returned to the US and she has now been separated from him for more than four years. By the time she has served the remainder of her sentence, he will be 14 years old – he was 6 when they were separated.
Jamie was neither a violent or non-violent extremist; instead, she was a vulnerable and naïve new convert with a misplaced sense of idealism, seeking an alternative more austere lifestyle. In the words of her defence lawyer, Jeremy Ibrahim, she:
“…married for the love of Islam and not for the love of her husband…” and, he continued “…ended up being part of something that was much larger, much more complex than she ever knew.”
A degree of caution should be exercised against crassly labeling every young woman or mother who has travelled or attempted to travel to ISIS controlled territories as radicalised or extreme. Such sensationalist allegations only serve to strengthen the extremist narrative that Muslims are not an intrinsic part of wider society. Instead, there should be a degree of introspection – at all levels – as to why these women and children feel compelled to migrate to an unknown environment where few advocates have returned to market a so – called utopia. The grass is definitely not greener on the other side for one simple reason – there is no grass.
 John Shiffman: ‘Jihad Jamie gets 8 years in Jihad Jane case,’ Reuters, 8th January 2014: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/08/us-usa-jihadjane-idUSBREA0710J20140108
 USA v. Jamie Paulin Ramirez, US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Criminal no. 10-123-02.
 Ivan Moreno: ‘Jamie Paulin-Ramirez held in connection with plot to assassinate Swedish Cartoonist,’ Huffington Post, 13th May 2010: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/13/jamie-paulinramirez-held-_n_497882.html
 Devlin Barrett: ‘Jamie Paulin-Ramirez charged in ‘Jihad Jane’ case, plot to kill Swedish Cartoonist,’ Huffington Post, 2nd April 2010: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/02/jamie-paulinramirez-will-_n_523648.html
 US Attorney’s Office: ‘Colorado woman sentenced in conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists,’ The FBI, Federal Bureau of Intelligence, 8th January 2014: https://www.fbi.gov/philadelphia/press-releases/2014/colorado-woman-sentenced-in-conspiracy-to-provide-material-support-to-terrorists
 Deeyah Khan: ‘For ISIS women, it’s not about ‘jihad brides’: it’s about escape,’ The Observer, 21st June 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/21/isis-women-its-not-about-jihadi-brides-its-about-escape
 This phase addresses the formative stages of conversion and the influences/drivers that caused individuals to convert/return to Islam. (Refer to pages 12-13 of my book: Extremists in Our Midst: Confronting Terror, Palgrave MacMillan, 2011)
 This is another phase where converts/returnees are considered susceptible to extremist propaganda and teachings. Overzealousness is a common feature of many conversions as, in many instances, new converts /returnees possess heightened senses of self-righteousness with a desire to directly address/tackle the perceived ills of society. (Refer to pages 12-13 of my book: Extremists in Our Midst: Confronting Terror, Palgrave MacMillan, 2011)
 Rambo, L: ‘Understanding Religious Conversion,’ Yale University Press, 1993.
 Hassan Hassan: ‘Three sisters, nine children, one dangerous journey to the heart of Isis. What is the lure of the caliphate?’ The Observer, 21st June 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/21/three-sisters-nine-children-what-is-the-lure-of-the-isis-caliphate?CMP=share_btn_tw
 Author’s Note: There is no letter that sounds like the English letter ‘p’ in the Arabic language and often, words beginning with this letter are pronounced ‘b’.
 MaryClaire Dale: ‘Jamie Paulin-Ramirez set to admit aiding terror cell,’ Huffington Post, 8th March 2011: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/08/jamie-paulinramirez-set-t_n_832929.html