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Opinion: These are the women who crushed the Caliphate

February 20, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 25.9%. 3 min read.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon talks with Jane Greenway Carr about her new book, 'The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice,' in which Lemmon tells the story of Kurdish women in Syria who led the fight to liberate their homeland from ISIS control.

(CNN)In early 2016, the first time a friend told Gayle Tzemach Lemmon the story of Kurdish Women's Projection Units in northeastern Syria -- also known as the YPJ -- she had two reactions.

The second reaction, when an American friend of Lemmon's who had been working with the women's units, urged her, "Come on, you have to see it," was: "No. "

As Lemmon explains in the introduction to her new book, "The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice," she had just spent years on books about women and war in Afghanistan: "I was tired of living two lives, the one at home and the one immersed in war," she writes.

Lemmon, an adjunct senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and a longtime journalist experienced in reporting from war zones, is the author of "Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield" and "The Dressmaker of Khair Kana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe. "

But she couldn't shake the questions she had about the women fighting in Syria.

A number of the women who became Lemmon's central characters joined the YPG during those first years of that conflict, which ISIS exploited to sow violence and grow its ranks.

As Lemmon takes the reader along with the intrepid fighters she meets, they rescue trapped colleagues while ISIS fighters taunt them over the radio for being women.

Freedom to risk their lives to fight ISIS was a radical change from the lack of freedom many of these women faced in their younger years.

Of the latter, Lemmon writes, "While the world considered ISIS a movement, Znarin saw it as far less grand than that: for her, ISIS was a group of men who brutalized women and wanted to destroy her and her friends. "

When we spoke, Lemmon told me that for now, the women she came to know while reporting her book are living with "a fragile stability that's holding. " She reports that fortunately amid their other precarities, they have also been relatively unscathed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Near the end of our interview, Lemmon described a conversation she had with Nowruz, in which she asked what she wants a girl born in Syria 20 years from now to understand about the war she and her sisters in arms fought against ISIS -- especially now that things have again become volatile in northeastern Syria.

How in the world did the world's most far-reaching experiment in women's equality come to be built on the ashes of the ISIS fight, brought to you by women who fought the Islamic State, house by house, room by room, and town by town, for a half-decade?

And I think that we all want to see more stories of women's lives in all their glorious complexity.

Lemmon: I wanted to know what it meant for women to win a war.

Lemmon: This whole story started because one of the women from "Ashley's War" (Lemmon's last book, about a special team of women soldiers working and fighting in Afghanistan) called me in 2016 when I was actually in the middle of school pick up.

And of the contract (a constitutional document outlining the political future for the territory won back from ISI), Fauzia said to me, "We're building a lake in the desert. " It doesn't change things overnight, but having a document that says no child marriage, no dowry, and that women have economic rights, women have the right to political participation.

Lemmon: The American men who worked with these women were forever changed and their biggest champions.

CNN: Another thing that struck me: Some of the details about your main characters -- Azeema is great at volleyball, Rojda loved soccer, both talk about their refusal ever to marry -- those aspects mirror, to some extent, the life experiences and discussion topics among women and young girls around the world who care about gender equality --

CNN: I was especially fascinated by the evolution of Znarin's character, going from a woman without hope to being a driver for the Women's Protection Units to becoming the leader of the forces that liberate her hometown of Manbij from ISIS.

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