As I write this book review, the United States sponsored International Conference on Peace in the Middle East has opened in Warsaw, Poland. This is fortuitous because America has been militarily involved in the Middle East, especially since 9/11/2001.
I have read many books about the Middle East but none have been as profound as that written by a 26-year old Kurdish woman named Joanna Palani titled “Freedom Fighter. My War Against ISIS on the Frontlines of Syria.” Joanna Palani’s perspective on peace in the Middle East is unique and based upon her personal experiences as a child, as a young girl and as a woman.
We must listen to what she has to say.
A Woman At War With Everyone
Joanna was (and in her heart still is) a soldier who served with the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in Iraq and Syria fighting against Daesh (ISIS). Joanna writes, “We [the YPJ] believe that women and men are equal, so we fight together for the freedom of the Kurdish people and the destruction of ISIS.”
Joanna was born in 1993 in a UN refugee camp outside of Ramadi, Iraq. At the age of 3-years old she and her Sunni Muslim family were relocated to Denmark. Joanna writes, “In Kurdish culture we celebrate the group – the family, the community, and the clan – instead of the individual, and the rules of the clan are the rules by which we live.” From 1996 to 2010 Joanna was raised and schooled in Denmark. It was in Denmark that she began her quest to become the equal of men.
Losing One’s Virginity
Joanna, as a Sunni Muslim girl, was raised to believe that the most important thing was her virginity. During her powerful story we learn how she lost her virginity in countless ways.
She lost her virginity because she rebelled against the strict Sunni Muslim beliefs of her father and her family. For this she was verbally abused, beaten, starved and eventually left her family to escape the oppressive culture in her home. Joanna writes, “Everything we do right, our father takes credit for. Everything we do wrong, our mother takes the blame.”
Joanna lost her virginity as a girl when she became a fighter (Peshmerga) in 2011. At the age of 18 Joanna went to Syria to join the Kurdish battalions that supported the Free Syrian Army volunteers fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Joanna writes, “In the Middle East, most people consider a girl able to have sex as an adult after her first period. A ‘woman’ is normally a married person who has had sex, whereas a ‘girl’ has not had sex.” Joanna lost her virginity to become a woman when she had an out-of-wedlock relationship with one of her commanders referred to as “R” in her book. “R” later abused her. She left “R.” For this she was later called a whore, prostitute and even shunned by some of the women in the YPJ. Women, and men, whom she had fought shoulder-to-shoulder with to free Syria from Daesh either rejected her or took sexual advantage of her.
Joanna lost her virginity when she was betrayed by her clan, friends, lawyer, the Danish police and Danish secret service (PET), and by thousands on her social media sites.
Finally, Joanna lost her virginity to Denmark, her beloved adopted country, which took her passport, tried her, found her guilty and put her in prison twice for going to Syria to fight for women’s rights and freedom. Something she knew was right to do but the current Danish laws find to be illegal.
When I finished reading Freedom Fighter. My War Against ISIS on the Frontlines of Syria the below quote came to mind:
Fate whispered to the warrior, “You cannot withstand the coming storm.” And the warrior whispered back, “I am the storm.”
Joanna ends her book with this:
I do think women should be armed, as part of a wider democratic and equality movement. I do believe women are entitled to defend and protect themselves with weapons from ideologies that seek their absolute destruction, because what other choice do we have?
It was not death that haunted me on the battlefield, it was my life. I don’t regret anything I’ve done: there is no longer an Islamic State, and there is no longer a caliphate, so we achieved our aims – we won. My prize is to be alive still: to see what age I will actually make it to, and to find out how else I can spend my life.
I strongly recommend reading “Freedom Fighter. My War Against ISIS on the Frontlines of Syria.”
As American Revolutionary Army General John Stark said, “Live Free or Die. Death is not the worst of evils.” Live free Joanna, live free! We need you to tell your story far and wide!