The Islamic State’s organized use of social media for global recruitment and propaganda took many by surprise, but their adversaries are now hitting back. Rojava, the Kurdish-led revolutionary zone in northern Syria, has been looking to rally Western support to its cause, and its most potent meme has been the camo-clad young women of the YPJ (Women’s Defense Units). With their long, uncovered hair and AK-47s, they make a stark contrast to the stereotype of the veiled, subjugated Arab woman. But is this for real, or just propaganda?
“Women Against ISIS,” a front-line documentary by director Pascale Bourgaux, proves that the YPJ women warriors are an integral part of the struggle against ISIS. Numbering in the thousands, many of them joined up after seeing relatives killed by the jihadis. They swear to celibacy, like a religious order, until the war is over. Ararat, a hardened commander, insists “I don’t want to have children who live in an occupied country.”
Viyan, a daughter of shepherds, who was wounded during the siege of Kobani, says that ISIS especially fears the women fighters, because “they think that being killed by a woman keeps them out of paradise.” Later she shows a photo of one of her former comrades who was captured by ISIS and burned alive; Viyan keeps a grenade in lieu of surrender. Bourgaux shows the YPJ women holding a moment of silence for the victims of the recent Paris massacre, yet does anyone think of them? We should.
“Women Against ISIS” is available on Vimeo at bit.ly/womenvsisis.
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