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The story of how young Kurdish women brought down terrorists from the Islamic State group has been waiting to be told. If Kobani, Syria, is a city that has gone unnoticed in the saga of Middle Eastern wars, then The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice will change that. It’s the story of a new generation of combatants, long denied choices about education, marriage or their very futures, who vanquished hosts of kidnappers, rapists and enslavers. Yet when author and journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon was asked to tell their story, she hesitated. “It just doesn’t make sense that the Middle East would be home to AK-47-wielding women driven with fervor and without apology or hesitation to make women’s equality a reality—and that the Americans would be the ones backing them.” She decided to go see for herself.

By 2016, civil war was tearing Syria apart, leaving room for ISIS, with help from allies such as Russia and Iran, to swagger in. President Barack Obama pledged that there would be no American troops on the ground; American support would have to come from the air, with airstrikes and weapons drops, while consultants and diplomats strategized from afar. On the front lines in Kobani were women like Azeema, trained as an expert sniper, and her childhood friend Rojda, whose mother still called her every day.

Based on hours of on-the-ground reporting and countless interviews with Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) fighters, Lemmon delivers a vivid, street-by-bombed-out-street account of the final days of the battle for Kobani. Strewn throughout are reports of what the soldiers were up against: appalling ISIS acts like beheadings, torture and worse. The YPJ was outnumbered and underequipped, but they were fearless.

The battles for Kobani, and later Raqqa, were key moments in a history that is still being made. With international interest waning and ISIS sleeper cells and foreign fighter recruitments quietly continuing, ready to reignite the landscape, those Kurdish and Arab victories in 2017 and onward hold no guarantees. As Lemmon observes, it is “easier to kill a terrorist than to slay an ideology.” Still, no matter the final outcome, the women who fought this war have shown the world what courage and justice look like. And if the next generation must keep fighting, these warriors have shown them how.

The story of how young Kurdish women brought down terrorists from the Islamic State group finally gets told in The Daughters of Kobani.
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“Divorce, divorce, divorce.” Homeira Qaderi’s phone screen lit up with these words from her husband, ending their arranged marriage—and her parental rights to their baby son. This heartbreaking act comes not at the beginning of her searing memoir, Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son, but near its inevitable conclusion, as a woman who could not conform to the strictures of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan must face the bitter consequences. Her journey from rebellious child to courageous teacher, acclaimed storyteller and, finally, despairing mother feels like a secret that needed to be told. Someday, Qaderi writes to her son, Siawash, from her chosen exile in California, she hopes their story will mean other Afghan mothers will not meet the same fate.

Qaderi’s childhood in Herat, occupied by Russians and later ruled by the Taliban, was fraught with violence. Bullets flew everywhere. Soldiers strode through streets and into homes. Books were forbidden for girls, and her mother “was like a spider trying to safeguard me within her web.” Her grandmother chastised her curiosity and fearlessness, but her father encouraged her. She was still a teenager when she began teaching boys and girls together, a forbidden act. Their classroom was a stifling tent that served as a mosque, and they kept their notebooks hidden in their Qurans lest Taliban soldiers found them learning instead of praying. Risking discovery and death for a few moments of youthful joy, Qaderi once even allowed dancing.

Interspersed among grim descriptions of Taliban rule and Qaderi’s heartbroken letters to her lost son are stunning passages describing the austere beauty of her homeland, which she still mourns. Yet her grief begs an even harder question: What does it take for a parent to choose hope for a greater good over their own child?

“Divorce, divorce, divorce.” Homeira Qaderi’s phone screen lit up with these words from her husband, ending their arranged marriage—and her parental rights to their baby son. This heartbreaking act comes not at the beginning of her searing memoir, Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son, but near its inevitable conclusion, as […]

When bestselling author Leila Slimani published her debut novel, Adéle, in 2014, she spent two weeks on a book tour around Morocco. After her events at bookshops, universities and libraries, numerous women were hungry to discuss their own personal and political struggles to express their sexuality in a country that represses women’s sexual natures. Slimani collects many of these testimonies, woven together with her own reflections on Morocco’s social attitudes toward sex, in Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World.

Soraya, an attractive woman, perhaps in her 40s, locates Slimani in the hotel bar one evening after an event and, reticently at first, opens up to Slimani about her mother’s marital counsel: “Don’t forget to stay a virgin.” Soraya shares that she never experienced sexual pleasure in her marriage but that, after her divorce, she wants to discover pleasure and freedom. Slimani uses Soraya’s story as an illustration of the many ways women in Morocco face humiliation—humiliations that men never face. They must be good girls, and if they lose their virginity, they are “spoiled.”

Malika is a 40-year-old doctor who’s single and has never been married. Although she feels freer than many women who lack her income and social status, she still must live a life of subterfuge when she wants to sleep with her partner, checking into French hotels where no one will ask them for an ID. As Malika puts it, “Hypocrisy is growing here, and conservatism, too.” Slimani reflects on Malika’s story by pointing out that the more freedom women gain in Moroccan society, the more they take up public space, which leaves men feeling unmoored.

Provocative and disturbing, fervent and moving, Sex and Lies offers a glimpse into a world often hidden from view, allowing Moroccan women to express in their own words their desires and hopes for a sexual revolution in their society.

When bestselling author Leila Slimani published her debut novel, Adéle, in 2014, she spent two weeks on a book tour around Morocco. After her events at bookshops, universities and libraries, numerous women were hungry to discuss their own personal and political struggles to express their sexuality in a country that represses women’s sexual natures. Slimani […]

“What happened to us?” This question haunts the Middle East and the Arab world, from Iraq to Syria, Iran to Saudi Arabia. It’s also the question posed by Kim Ghattas at the beginning of her new book, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East.

Ambitious and novelistic in its approach, Black Wave attempts to answer this question through extensive research, vibrant reporting and personal stories. At its core, the book is a survey of the once harmonious relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. As Ghattas examines how a culturally diverse region full of hope could twist itself into an entirely new body of destruction and instability, she explores the events that led to these nations’ opposition of each other, and to their desire for cultural supremacy over an entire region and its people.

Ghattas, an Emmy award-winning journalist who was born and raised in Lebanon, focuses on the three major touchstones in 1979 that led to the current crisis: the overthrow of the shah and the Iranian Revolution; the siege of the Holy Mosque in Mecca by Saudi militants; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As Ghattas writes, “Nothing has changed the Arab and Muslim world as deeply and fundamentally as the events of 1979.”

Unlike narratives told from a Western point of view, this book doesn’t highlight terrorism or ISIS but instead seamlessly weaves history and personal narrative into a story that explains the gradual suppression of intellectualism and the creep of authoritarianism in the region, while highlighting those who have tried to fight against it, like murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It also shows how the United States’ numerous attempts at intervention have made the situation indelibly worse.

Illuminating, conversational, rich in details and like nothing else you’ve ever read about the Middle East, Black Wave will leave you with a new understanding of this diverse and troubled region.

“What happened to us?” This question haunts the Middle East and the Arab world, from Iraq to Syria, Iran to Saudi Arabia. It’s also the question posed by Kim Ghattas at the beginning of her new book, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the […]

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