Former jihadist Tania Joya
International
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Speaking exclusively to WION, Tania Joya briefs her story from a core jihadist to a deradicalisation activist. 
Speaking exclusively to WION, Tania Joya briefs her story from a core jihadist to a deradicalisation activist. 
Born in 1984 near London to a Muslim-Bangladeshi family, Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration. She was radicalised at age 17, after the September 11 terror attacks in New York. She fled Syria in 2013, weeks after being forced to live in ISIS-held territories there.
 
Here are some excerpts of the conversations:
 
Do you think that ISIS will get dismantled ever as there are reports of their regrouping in Syria again? There are reports also of them expanding to other regions in Asia.
 
Tania Joya: They have been dismantled but they can regroup and they have a plan for that. They are not going to stop their agenda and are waiting to regroup. I know that they are growing in the Philippines and also in Afghanistan. I don't know much about their growth in Asia or India.
 
Can you tell us something about your background and where are you living now? Also, about your story of transition from a ranking ISIS member to now a deradicalisation activist?
 
I was a British Bengali, grew up in England and when I was 17-18, I was radicalised and became a Muslim fundamentalist. After the 9/11 attacks, I got married at 19 to my ex-husband John Georgelas (Yahya al-Bahrumi). I have four children with him. I wanted to leave the marriage as it was very difficult. 10 years later in 2013, we were in Turkey, my ex-husband took us across the border where I informed US authorities that I need to get away from him as I was afraid for the life of my children. I crossed the border back to Turkey and I returned to the US and currently living in Dallas.
 
How do you think your story of evolution as a woman and independent thinker should now be heard?
 
I think that I can be a good role model for lost kids. A lot of teenagers in the West, having an identity crisis and mental breakdown, turn to a coping mechanism through drugs or religion or something else. When I decided to be a Muslim fundamentalist, I gave up my will power and my rights as a human being. I want to get young girls out of domestic abuses and get them to rebuild themselves.
 
From a hardcore jihadist to de-radicalisation activist, how have people around you accepted you? If you come across women leading on the same path as you did, what are you going to say to them?
 
A lot of extremism has to do with the environment. If a person is in that environment, they also think the same way. So once you put that individual out and put them into a different space, they can adjust and start learning and becoming something new. My hope is to break toxic environments and dismantle them. I work for an organisation, which prevents violent extremism programming and conduct workshops which is for parents, teachers and police officers or anyone who wants to take this course which breaks up all the stages when people radicalised. The workshop is free and we are going to the therapist and will help individuals from extremism the prisons are more terrible.
 
You are often referred to as "First lady of ISIS", how did you feel knowing this?
 
Yes, that's a terrible name. I was married to the highest-ranking American in ISIS and he was a commander. He enjoyed ISIS but I separated from him and came to America. I was a fundamentalist and married to an extremist and finally got out with my children. Part of my de-radicalisation was educating myself. I was always interested in psychology, philosophy and different religion of the middle east before Islam.
 
What events manipulated you and made you close to radicalisation?
 
I really did not want my children to be like their dad or their dad's friends for the way they use to treat their women. I wanted to see my children live life and help people rather than destroying it. Because extremists do not want to save the world or environment and are not concerned. They are irresponsible and I do not want to see the end of my kids.
 
What is the one message that you want to give out to all the women out there?
 
My message to women is to aim high and don't settle for less. Educate yourself and do not depend upon anyone.