Discussions about western women's involvement with the violent terrorist group Daesh (also known as 'Islamic State') tend to focus on their exceptionality.
This paper after demonstrating the limitations of existing theories, then unpacks some themes that emerged from analysing the propaganda and interviews with Western women who are linked to Daesh: paradise, empowerment, and adventure. These are powerful themes, I argue, because they offer (false) grand solutions to ordinary problems. So how then should we understand these ordinary women's radicalisation in a way that doesn't end up in the same quest for exceptionality that I have critiqued the mainstream for embarking upon? To do this I engage with two great thinkers - Thomas Moore and Talal Asad. The result is a realisation that the women of Daesh express a utopian politics that is more than a question of belief or of material socio-economic grievances; rather radicalisation is the alignment of extreme belief, extreme belonging, and extreme behaviour. Overall, two larger points emerge. First, the western women of Daesh help us understand the gendered power of 'religious extremism'. Second, from this understanding we can begin to unpick its appeal beyond the 'shock and awe' counter-narrative approach.