Gayle Tzemach Lemmon Recounts the Untold Story of the Women Who Fought to Defeat ISIS, in New Book

February 16, 2021 3:16 pm (EST)

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In 2014, a remarkable all-women militia faced off against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Kobani, a small town in northeastern Syria, which became a turning point in the fight against ISIS. In her new book, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, adjunct senior fellow for women and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), gives a firsthand account of the women of the Kurdish militia who improbably became part of the world’s best hope for stopping the Islamic State in Syria. 

In The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice, Lemmon follows the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units, who waged war against the Islamic State as a partner of the United States—while also fighting to advance women’s rights. “Their ambition went well beyond this sliver of Syria: they wanted to serve as a model for the region’s future, with women’s liberation a crucial element of their quest for a locally led, communal, and democratic society where people from different backgrounds lived together,” Lemmon writes. 

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“ISIS placed the subjugation, enslavement, and sale of women right at the center of its ideology. Every day, these two dueling visions of the future—and women’s roles in it—clashed,” Lemmon observes. “The men who enslaved women faced off against the women who promised women’s emancipation and equality.”

Lemmon emphasizes, “This story was not only a military campaign, but also a political one: without the military victories, the political experiment could not take hold. For the young women fighting ISIS, what mattered most was long-term political and social change. That was why they’d signed up for this war and why they were willing to die for it.” 

“The irony of the unintended consequences of ISIS’s decision to attack Kobani was striking,” Lemmon notes. “By setting out to achieve its utopian vision of ideological dominance in such a splashy and barbaric way in 2013 and 2014, ISIS had inadvertently led the United States to counter with the only ground force that met its needs. . . . With America’s support, the Syrian Kurds had turned Kobani into an opening that allowed their own utopian vision to come to life.” 

The Daughters of Kobani has been featured in several most-anticipated lists, including Oprah Magazine’s “55 of the Most Anticipated Books of 2021,” CNN’s “12 Books We’re Excited About This Year,” Town and Country’s “The 28 Must-Read Books of Winter 2021,” and more. Lemmon’s previous two books, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana and Ashley’s War, are both New York Times best sellers.  

Read about the book and order your copy at cfr.org/DaughtersKobani

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To interview the author, please contact Dalia Dagher at 212.434.9419 or [email protected].

Praise for The Daughters of Kobani

“This momentous work of reporting by the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a profile in courage.”—Oprah Magazine 

“The Women’s Protection Units proved their heroism time and again throughout the campaign against the Islamic State. I was always concerned that our Syrian Kurdish partners would never get their full due; this excellent book by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon documents their contributions perfectly. I strongly recommend it.”—Joseph L. Votel 

“Lemmon briskly sketches the biographies of individual fighters and commanders, and unravels the complex history of the region with skill. This deeply reported account enthralls and informs.”—Publishers Weekly  

The Daughters of Kobani is an unforgettable and nearly mythic tale of women’s power and courage. The young women profiled in this book fought a fearsome war against brutal men in impossible circumstances. . . . Brilliantly researched and respectfully reported, this book is a lesson in heroism, sacrifice, and the real meaning of sisterhood. I am so grateful that this story has been told.”—Elizabeth Gilbert 

“Absolutely fascinating and brilliantly written, The Daughters of Kobani is a must read for anyone who wants to understand both the nobility and the brutality of war. This is one of the most compelling stories in modern warfare.”—William H. McRaven 

The Daughters of Kobani is real-time history told with rigor and heart. Marrying two important narratives—the United States’s entry into the Syrian conflict from the air and the lived experience of Syrians fighting ISIS on the ground—it is a remarkable contribution.”—Hassan Hassan

“This book is the extraordinary and humbling story of the women leading the fight against ISIS.”—Angelina Jolie  

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