Hanin Ghaddar

Sex, media, and jihad

With news reports about sex jihad, truth is secondary

Giulio Rosati painting

It’s always exciting to talk about sex. Combined with Islamism, sex could become the most discussed and read about topic in the media. That’s why Jihad Al Nikah (sex jihad) has become the obsession of everyone writing or working on Syria. It is an exotic topic for Western media outlets and audiences alike. Meanwhile, Arab media uses it to indulge the viewers in suppressed fantasies.


Truth is secondary here. It doesn’t matter anymore if Jihad al Nikah is an actual phenomenon. Either way, it takes over everything else that matters. The same can be said about all the other shocking information coming from Syria, including the savagery of beheadings, the heart-eating man, the burning of churches, and the barbarism of the rebellion.


These realities, although factual and truthful, are often exaggerated. They also overwhelm everything else about Syria and the revolution. They take over all other layers and make genuine calls for freedom and reform insignificant. Al-Qaeda may be a sexy topic, but sex jihad is even more so.


The regime’s obsession with sex and rape has always been a political and cultural tool used for oppression. It did not start with the revolution. Assad’s prisons were the sites of horrible sexual abuse and torture of prisoners, both men and women, for many years.


But the Syrian regime knows how to play this game quite well, much better than the opposition at least. From extremism to minorities, Assad knows how to play his cards. He has presented his regime to the international community as the sole protector of the Christians in Syria, highlighting al-Qaeda burning churches and its attacks on Christian villages. Of course, ISIS’s sectarian rhetoric makes Assad’s task an easy one, but that does not mean that the rebels seek to eliminate the Christian presence in Syria.


The Syrian regime’s thugs raped and tortured many women and children, according to a number of human rights organizations. Its allies in Lebanon and Iran have also been using and abusing Mutaa marriage for political reasons for many years now. (Mutaa marriage has never been regarded as an immoral practice by the regime because it is practiced by its allies. It has become a social and political necessity.)


But sex jihad is a different story, yet the double standards are barely noticeable. Just one story about a 16 year-old-girl saying on regime media that she practices sex jihad was enough for every media outlet to make it a major headline.


Rawan Kaddah was her name, and she claimed on Syrian state TV that her father forced her to practice sex jihad. Of course, the story was reported even as many doubts are emerging about its accuracy. (According to Kaddah’s family, their daughter was kidnapped by the Syrian security forces after returning back from school last November in her southwestern hometown in Daraa.)


Most indicators suggest that the story was fabricated by the regime, and there is little information on the practice of sex jihad in Syria among the rebels in general. And so, the proportion of this story’s coverage in the media despite the little information available is indeed surreal.


Again, the double standards work both ways. Media often looks for buzz, not truth. And, this subject gets more hits, so who cares, right?


It seems everybody is in denial. Many say that the Syrian revolution is ugly, so we shouldn’t get involved. Many also say that the Syrian rebels are all extremists and barbarians, and that’s why Assad is a better option. They even say that the Syrian opposition is all Sunni, which is why the regime is more secular. And, in the midst of all this misleading information come reports about sex jihad, which gives everyone an excuse to accept Assad’s story. Not because of information and proof, but because it is an easier and guilt-free process.


Of course, the Syrian rebellion is not ideal, and there is an ugly layer to it, but that does not mean that the Syrian regime is more secular or preferable than the rebels. Raping women in prison and torturing children is not more civilized than the heart-eating man. Forcing a girl to go on TV and say that she has practiced sex jihad is not more humane than beheading opponents on the battlefield. And, brutally killing children in Sunni villages and towns does not make Assad less sectarian than his opponents. Indeed, sectarianism was created by the regime’s favoritism from the very beginning: esteeming Alawites and Christians over Sunnis, and more recently massacring Sunnis while protecting Christians and other minority groups.


Assad is clearly neither secular nor civilized, nor is he the protector of minorities. And sex jihad is just another game he uses to feed into the stereotypes of the West and the stigma that summarized the revolution as a ragtag group of extremists. 


The problem is that the Syrian opposition has lost the media game. The scarcity of information and inconsistent media campaigns on the rebels' part hands the regime easy victories. And every time the media gets distracted by stories about sex jihad and beheadings, the rebellion against Assad takes another hit. Sadly, it means that the Syrian revolution may be a very long one indeed.


Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr 

Inspection of new arrivals, a typical Orientalist fantasy painted by Giulio Rosati, 1858-1917. (Google image)

"The problem is that the Syrian opposition has lost the media game."

  • habib.ajroudnew

    Well we know that a few girls from Tunisia have returned from Syria with a belly full of jihad

    February 22, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    The bias displayed by Lebanon NOW would normally be acceptable. We are all biased to some narrative of every story. But to go so far as Hanin Ghaddar does to demonize her enemies and exonerate her friends when both are equally to blame is just stupid and unprofessional, and reveals the underpinnings of the entire Lebanon NOW edifice: Hariri and Saudi Arabia pay their bills and salaries. Then again, what else would you expect in Lebanon where the so-called "free press" is nothing but sectarian mouthpieces to the various religious sects and their foreign sponsors?

    October 3, 2013

  • YoMamma

    Complete and utter rubbish. You say that Forcing a girl to go on TV and say that she has practiced sex jihad is not more humane than beheading opponents on the battlefield. Are you serious? These people were beheaded while they were still alive. Their head cooked on barbeques. You're a seriously disturbed person. And you are the Managing Editor? Go and seek urgent medical treatment. Maybe Bandar bin Shaytan can pay your medical bills.

    October 3, 2013

  • Metnman

    Question: What is sex Jihad? Smarty pants Ghaddar never actually explains.

    October 2, 2013

  • kbouderdaben

    The comments here make it all the more clear why we need writers like this speaking up about what's happening. Thank you for your article.

    October 2, 2013

  • omarojabak

    Assad's murderous regime is prepared to do the most unthinkable things to tarnish the revolution and Islam so that the West and some gullible Syrians will continue their support for it, despite its outrageous atrocities and massacres it has been committing against innocent children and civilians with all kinds of weapons including chemical weapons. I cannot imagine how diabolical and lowly such a regime is! Yet, those who still believe the fabricated stories and lies this regime keeps giving out are not only brainwashed or simple-minded , but also accomplices in its horrendous massacres against the Syrian people.

    October 2, 2013

  • J3an

    Truly a sad article, like what has already been said. It seems the only reason for the writing of this article is to defend the "revolution" and defame the regime. All the talk about sex jihad is just a random reason to do so. Do you mean to say that you believe that the rape and jihad sex has not been practiced by the opposition's jihadist fighters? If so you are a little naive to say the least, if not then the whole point of this article makes no sense. Irrespective if the story about this little girl is true or not. I would like to read less biased articles here, thanks!!!!

    October 2, 2013

  • econ.dem

    It is not surprising that the family of this 16 year old girl, the same family that she accuses of forcing her into this would deny it and blame the government. It is very dishonest to suggest that "we don't know" if sex jihad is real when there are reports from Tunisia and elsewhere (see post below) so let us not pretend that "it's just the claims of the Syrian government" It's not. It's real. This is even more remarkable, your statement: "Forcing a girl to go on TV and say that she has practiced sex jihad is not more humane than beheading opponents on the battlefield." Sorry, no, "forcing someone" to make statements on TV is not the same as beheading people, what moral acrobatics. Second, they behead not just "opponents" but civilians of the wrong sect or who are "suspected" of being "collaborators" with the government. Like if a soldier with a gun asks you a question and you answer it, or if your family member was murdered by Jihadists and you report it, you're called a "collaborator" ******paragraph**** Also you are assuming as fact what is your own conjecture: you're assuming as fact that this girl is lying or has been "forced" Please don't present those assumptions as facts. There are regime apologists who say government crimes are true "but are often exaggerated. They also overwhelm everything else about Syria and the revolution" and you say the same about "the rebels" - "often exaggerated" and "overwhelm everything else". Neither position is ok. Cheerleading for a violent military overthrow by rebels would be no better than trying to kill all rebels including peaceful groups. When rebels include a large portion of Al Qaeda &others brutalizing civilians, it's even worse. Put pressure on all sides to negotiate, but the problem isn't "poor media strategy" and let's not whitewash any sides crimes, not the externally funded/armed rebels, either.

    October 2, 2013

  • econ.dem

    Bahrain was immediately brutal and violent at the very beginning. Do we bomb and violently overthrow Bahrain? I think not. Egypt was brutal, bloody, and shot and killed nonviolent protesters. Do we bomb and violently overthrow Egypt? I think not. How did the Genocidal regime or Suharto end in Indonesia? We did need to arm Al Qaeda linked Jihadists? No. Did we bomb? No. That was the 2nd largest proportional genocide of the 20th century, what Suharto did in East Timor, one third of the population exterminated. The brutality of the Saudis one doesn't need to even get into. . But in the case of a regime that is not as compliant to the West, the rules are always "overthrow by force". Sorry, hypocrisy will not do. And false dichotomies too: overthrow by violent force (the western/Saudi/Qatar startegy) is why we have more than 100,000 dead (even pro-rebel groups count tens of thousands of those dead as being pro-government militias, army, and civilians killed at the hands of rebels) We do not have two choices (regime stays versus violent military overthrow) We have lots of other options, but the Saudis and Americans (and with some role Turkey, Israel, and Qatar) are blocking these other alternatives, preferring the country-destroying strategies used so many times elsewhere. Making excuses that massive rebel crimes are "often exaggerated" does not help. The barely hidden hope in your article for a violent overthrow is not helping the Syrian people. Only the third (and fourth) options other than the first two, are the ways forward for diplomatic negotiations and peaceful transition. I hope you will be as vocal for transition away from brutal dictatorship in Bahrain (torture, rape, murder of peaceful protesters) and Saudi Arabia too. Here in the US those crimes are ignored. And even if they stop ignoring them, the answer is not by arming Jihadists or by shooting missiles. ************Above are main points, below some specific secondary issues************* It is not surp

    October 2, 2013

  • econ.dem

    In case anyone thinks this is just “Syrian government propaganda” well, here’s what Tunisia itself says, (http://news.yahoo.com/tunisia-fight-sex-jihad-trips-syria-174451646.html) it’s not just Syrian girls but also Tunisian women: TUNIS (AFP) – Tunisia’s women’s ministry said Saturday it would come up with a plan to counter the growing number of women travelling to Syria to wage so-called “sex jihad” by comforting militants.”The ministry intends to boost its cooperation with both government and non-government bodies on this issue to come up with appropriate ways to thwart the plans of those who encourage such practices,” a ministry statement said.”The ministry will work to introduce a plan of information, sensitivity and education targeting women and families everywhere to warn them of the seriousness of these practices, Meanwhile, (http://www.islamicinvitationturkey.com/2013/09/26/tunisian-interior-minister-cutting-off-ties-with-syria-was-diplomatic-mistake/ ) reports: Tunisian Interior Minister, Lotfi ben Jeddou said that cutting off ties with Syria was a diplomatic mistake, indicating that communication with Tunisians in Syria is happening through contacts between the Lebanese diplomacy and the Tunisian foreign ministry. ”Tunisian security forces dismantled a 82-person trafficking network involved in trading with Tunisian women and integrating them in the Jihad al-nikah ‘sex Jihad’ system,” Ben Jeddou told the Tunisian al-Shurouq newspaper. ‘We have received appeals for help from a number of Tunisian women who demanded that they be returned to Tunisia, and we are interceding with the Foreign Ministry to help get them back to Tunisia,” Tunisia’s interior minister said. Ben Jeddou said that the families of women who travelled to Syria have contacted him to save their daughters, indicating that they staged sit-ins for that purpose.

    October 2, 2013

  • Metnman

    First paragraph "That’s why Jihad Al Nikah (sex jihad) has become the obsession of everyone writing or working on Syria. ER...HAS IT? I DON'T THINK SO. It is an exotic topic for Western media outlets and audiences alike. AGAIN...HAS IT? Meanwhile, Arab media uses it to indulge the viewers in suppressed fantasies. NOT SURE WHAT THIS MEANS. I could go on..."The regime’s obsession with sex and rape has always been a political and cultural tool used for oppression." NOT QUITE SURE WHAT THE AUTHOR MEANS HERE. IT'S NONSENSE SENTENCE.

    October 2, 2013

  • TylerDurden

    Garbage .. utter utter garbage. The only reason for writing this article is a pathetic sleight of hand so you can keep repeating the "meme" of "a peoples revolution" which is fake and that Assad is a monster which is also fake. Your second last paragraph is beyond belief. Face the truth. The propagandists like you have lost. Ghouta was not perpetrated by the regime and FSA never was. Its just aggregation of different brigades that have now aligned themselves with the extremists.

    October 2, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    A pathetic attempt by Ghaddar to defend the barbarian Sunni fundamentalists who make up the bulk of the Syrian rebels, by blaming Assad, an equally barbarian Alawite to be sure. Where was Ghaddar and all the "anti-Assad" heroes of today when Assad was committing every human rights violations in the book against Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians and others? Her age (perhaps) protects her, but her political lineage (political Suunism) was a collaborator and an enabler of the Syrian Assad regime in committing 40 years of atrocities. Now is not the time to become an apologist for the barbarism of political Islam that has been on display over the past decades. It does not matter that the Assad regime is using Sex Jihad as a means to downgrade the rebellion in Western eyes. The West has seen enough of what the barbarity of the followers of Islamic fundamentalism (Sunni, to be sure) is capable of, that it needs neither Assad to expose it, nor Hanin Ghaddar to defend it. This piece is shameful, to say the least.

    October 1, 2013