ABU DHABI // Images of militant propaganda are being posted as profile pictures by men on a popular dating app, causing concern among female users.
One woman who downloaded Tinder said she was shocked to see the images, which included masked, armed men, so she reported the users to moderators.
One of the images, posted by a 31-year-old man, refers to Burhan Wani, a commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a Kashmiri separatist group. Wani was killed in a gun battle with Indian government forces in July. His death sparked mass protests in Indian-administered Kashmir, where he is considered a hero.
The second features five men with covered faces. Four are wearing camouflage fatigues and one is dressed in black, holding an automatic rifle. On top of the image is the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith, which some extremist groups have misappropriated.
The National was not able to get in touch with the two men.
“This was the first time I’ve seen something like this but what’s weird is that I saw them both the same week,” said the 28-year-old Abu Dhabi woman, who has been using the app for six months. “Most people use the app for dating, and I see no reason why people should show such political affiliations on a dating app.”
Tinder was temporarily blocked in the UAE but is now accessible.
The use of the Shahada is more common with Al Qaeda, as opposed to Isil, which normally uses its own flag in propaganda, said Nafees Hamid, a doctoral student at University College London and fellow of ARTIS International.
Isil has became more focused on attracting women since declaring its supposed caliphate in Iraq and Syria in June 2014, he said.
Mr Hamid said the image of the men is unlike the pictures fighters looking to connect with women normally post online.
“They are taking selfies with guns and nice filters, they are very handsome guys,” he said. “This is kind of scary, this is not what I see women actually looking at on Instagram in terms of male fighters that they are attracted to.”
While there is an element of romance, most women still join Isil for political reasons, he said.
“If you look at the propaganda, especially the more recent propaganda, it is much more a sort of role of women as important to the overall state building and diversification of the caliphate,” he said. “The idea of being the mother of the caliphate, the mother of lions, a lioness.”
Dr Mia Bloom, professor of communication at Georgia State University, in the US, and the author of several books on terrorism and violent extremism, was also doubtful that Tinder was being used for recruitment.
Recruiters usually target two groups of women – “very young, high-achieving girls,” often from middle-class families, and mature women who have been abused or have a history of substance abuse. Teenage girls usually see joining the organisation as an opportunity to help others, while for the older women it is “an opportunity to reinvent themselves” and “a chance for redemption or excitement”.
Tinder seems “an unlikely platform” for recruiters to find the kind of women they are looking for, said Dr Bloom, who believes the profile pictures could be something just done for “shock value”.
Source: uae news