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Women in the War on ISIL

A closer look at the who the group currently being referred to as ISIL and the women taking up the war against them.

Who are these people, anyway?

President Obama calls them ISIL, a convention adopted by the State Department earlier this year. They began in 1999 as The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad. In 2004, they affiliated with Al Qaeda and became known in the west as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

In 2006, they took the name Islamic State in Iraq, to distinguish themselves from the elected government, which they took to be a tool of the United States, even after it failed to execute a status of forces agreement and effectively expelled U.S. troops from Iraq.

Upon expanding into Syria to fight in the civil war, they adopted ISIS, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Shortly after, delusions of grandeur led them to ISIL, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, claiming all the territory between Turkey and Egypt.

They now call themselves the Islamic State, since they claim to have reestablished the Islamic Caliphate, abolished by Atatürk in 1924. We use the name picked by the State Department because criminal gangs should not get to pick. Nation-states that use military force normally dirty up the party against whom they choose to fight, so let us not center on what the United States has to say about the criminal gang called ISIL.

Doesn’t “criminal gang” show the bias I claim to avoid? I guess it does if you can think of a legal justification for sawing the heads off of reporters and aid workers on video. Or herding opposing soldiers into pre-dug mass graves and executing them, followed by a posting of the video documenting the war crime on the World Wide Web.

It’s also hard to understand a legitimate reason for executing three female doctors this month, or putting human rights lawyer Samira al-Nuaimy in front of a public firing squad for apostasy, defined by ISIL as criticizing ISIL’s destruction of sites sacred to other religious traditions.

Amnesty International, known for hammering the U.S. when the U.S. deserves it, has documented ethnic cleansing by murder and rape in territory controlled by ISIL. The United Nations, where the U.S. is commonly outvoted in matters of war and peace, claims ISIL has 1,500 women and children in sexual slavery. The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) claims ISIL has gone door to door in Mosul kidnapping women for “sexual jihad.” The Iraqi Red Crescent, hardly a hotbed of pro-U.S. sentiment, also claims women are being pressed into sexual slavery.

What we call sexual slavery is an involuntary form of jihad al-nikah, sexual holy war, which some Sunni Salafist clerics hold to be legitimate in the sense it justifies sex with multiple partners for the duration of the holy war. The Tunisian government has complained about Tunisian women volunteering for this “service” and coming home pregnant, but the religious justification for conscripting women who do not volunteer is unclear.

Allegations of rape and sexual slavery are common enough in non-U.S. media to leave some people wondering how it is President Obama devoted only one sentence to sexual violence in his speech justifying action against ISIL, "They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage." Still, the President announced we are assembling a coalition to come after ISIL, everything short of “boots on the ground.” MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell commented on targeting ISIL positions for bombing in Syria: “I’m betting Americans are doing it from the ground…and they are wearing boots.”

Now we learn that at least five Arab Nations are in the coalition, including a Saudi crown prince fighter pilot and, greatest of all ironies considering the ISIL record with women, the fighter squadron contributed by the United Arab Emirates is commanded by a woman, Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri, 35, flying a U.S. made F-16. Mansouri is a native of Abu Dhabi who earned an undergraduate degree in English literature before becoming one of the first women admitted to the UAE Air Force Academy.

American Indians will be shocked neither by women going to college or women warriors. Our current generation honors Lori Piestewa (Hopi), killed in action in the Battle of Nasiriyah, Iraq in 2003, the first Indian woman KIA in modern times.

Cherokees remember Nanyehi, Beloved Woman of the Cherokee Nation, who first shows up in Cherokee history at the Battle of Taliwa. When her husband, Kingfisher, was KIA, she picked up his rifle and continued the fight to a Cherokee victory. Known in colonial history for her later accomplishments in diplomacy and by the name Nancy Ward, Cherokees remember her as a warrior.

Chiricahua Apaches remember Lozen, sister of Victorio and sister-in-arms to Geronimo, who performed legendary feats in many battles. After Geronimo’s surrender and the associated U.S. treachery, Lozen died in an Alabama POW camp.

American Indians understand women warriors and it’s probable that ISIL will come to understand before this unpleasantness is over. All the women taking up arms against them are not college-educated air force officers.

The Kurdish Peshmerga militia has been the most effective force against ISIL. In the same week that several Non-Governmental Organizations accused ISIL of practicing mass rape as a political tactic, PBS reported that the 2d Battalion of the Peshmerga, known in Kurdistan as “The Pê?merge Force for Women,” was key in the fighting that swept ISIL away from the strategic Mosul Dam. The 2d Battalion has been all female since 1996. PBS quoted a woman Peshmerga soldier, “The jihadists don’t like fighting women, because if they’re killed by a female, they think they won’t go to heaven.”

As if they were going to heaven anyway.