Why the Clintons’ New TV Series About the YPJ Is Problematic

On January 25th, news broke that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, and Sundog Pictures founder Sam Branson were to adapt author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice and make it a TV series.

The Daughters of Kobani features the story of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), which is considered the female wing of Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), a left-wing of Kurdish militia.

YPJ’s Feminism or Terrorism?

Given that YPJ is a group of female fighters, they have been recognized by Western countries for their persistence to stand up to patriarchy. That said, the stories that are supposedly made to tackle the narrative drift from it, and instead, take on other themes like making it about a Western protagonist who’s in the middle of the scene.

Earlier in Nov. 18, 2020, a review by Hollywood Reporter of Hulu’s eight-part series No Man’s Land, a TV series described by Hulu as being about “traveling on a death-defying journey with the YPJ, a unit of Kurdish female fighters through ISIS-occupied territory,” depicts how the series focuses on the protagonist Antoine instead of delving into the Syrian civil war: “Don’t be fooled into thinking that No Man’s Land is, on any level, the story of the YPJ, an elite unit of Kurdish freedom fighters, all women. It’s barely, if at all, a story about the Syrian civil war…instead it’s an outsider’s look at a very real, very tragic situation that gets lost in a familiar structure and twisty plot points.”

The Clintons’ TV series is to focus on the story of the women of the YPJ. Given the Clintons’ history of (white) feminism, such a statement says a lot about the fact that the main theme of this series takes on the feminist lens of having an all-women unit that does incredible stuff which leaves men in awe, pandering to the male gaze. Hillary Clinton tells Deadline, “The Daughters of Kobani is an extraordinary account of brave, defiant women fighting for justice and equality.”

This series is not just a romanticism of the struggle in Syria, but also a subtle way of overlooking the complexity of the situation and bloodbath in Syria.

This series is not just a romanticism of the struggle in Syria, but also a subtle way of overlooking the complexity of the situation and bloodbath in Syria. This is especially true when it comes to the fuss about the YPJ being the female wing of the YPG. The YPG is believed to be recognized by the United States as the offshoot of the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is listed in Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO): “The CIA also used to recognize the YPG as the Syrian wing of the PKK, as it was stated on their official website. The statement was removed after the U.S. decided to abandon moderate Syrian opposition and partner with the YPG.”

On top of that, the YPG doesn’t seem to be on good terms with Syrians who are the local citizens of Syria. Getty Images captured Syrians protesting against the YPG, carrying signs in English and in Arabic, respectively, that read “YPG, give us back the electricity,” “YPG is cutting out electricity,” and “We don’t want to live without electricity.” And, According to the U.S. State Department “the YPG violently suppressed freedom of assembly and severely limited freedom of speech in areas under their control.”

A flashback to the capture of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK on Feb. 15, 1999 adds further to the whole drama. During the term of Bill Clinton’s administration, The New York Times reported on February 20, 1999 “like Turkey, the United States, whose involvement in Mr. Ocalan’s capture was reported today by The Los Angeles Times, considers Mr. Ocalan a terrorist. He leads the Kurdistan Workers Party.”

Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation?

The problems that the TV series constitute do not end here. The fact that the Clintons are stating that they created HiddenLight Productions to “celebrate the best of the human spirit and help audiences see the world in new ways,” especially when they actually took a narrative about the Kurdish from a White author, contradicts their vision of depicting the world in ways other than the typical lens of the mainstream — which constitutes cultural appropriation.

In a tweet reply, Dashni Morad, an Iraqi Kurdish-Dutch singer, songwriter, presenter, TV journalist, and human rights and environmental activist condemned the Clintons for letting “Hollywood writers be the voice of the heroics Kurdish women who led the resistance against #isis.”

The Scottish politician Ross Greer is also on the same page as Morad and even recommends the Clintons to, instead, adapt The End Will Be Spectacular, a movie that is “on the bases of feminism and libertarian ideals.”

Ambassador Dr. Muhammad Shahid Amin Khan, the 4th World Chairman of the International Human Rights Commission (IHRC) echoes Morad’s idea:

The ultimate take is that the Clintons’ step to make such a TV series shows how opportunistic they are. Promoting a group such as the YPJ as heroic is an oversimplification and reductionist view of the conflict in Syria. It negates the voices of Syrians impacted by the conflict who have been oppressed by groups such as the YPG. Having women acting as an oppressive force as opposed to men is neither progressive nor feminist. And, if anything, such a move by the Clintons to make this show proves how fake their feminist stance is, and how their keenness on voicing others is about nothing but promoting themselves.

Hi, friends! This is Jummanah, better known as MG's 25-year-old Arab auntie and editor. When off-duty, I set my wholehearted side of mine aside, laugh, practice empathy, and reflect on the essence of life. But listen, if you have an interesting pitch or article in mind, drop an email at editorial@muslimgirl.com or email me directly at jummanah@muslimgirl.com.