The Girl Who Escaped ISIS

This is My Story – Farida Khalaf and Andrea C. Hoffman – Atria Books (2016)


A male friend of mine in Gaza, a Palestinian man in his 20s, university-educated, and fluent in 3 maybe 4 languages, told me during our Skype call in 2014 that he supported ISIS. I nearly fell out of my chair.

How could this intelligent, thoughtful man support these monsters?  He told me I shouldn’t believe everything the Western media tells me about ISIS. He told me that ISIS wouldn’t hurt me if they captured me, I would merely have to pay a tax of some sort as a nonbeliever. He quoted Quranic verses to try to convince me that ISIS leaders were following the “true path” of Islam. Finally, he told me the real reason he supported ISIS.

Like so many of his peers stuck in Gaza, with no jobs in sight, no opportunities to travel or pursue a higher education, he had lost hope. He told me that the Western powers, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and the corrupt Arab countries could not help Palestine. Only ISIS could liberate Palestine from the Israeli occupation, and that’s why he supported ISIS.

I don’t recall saying much to try to dissuade him. I was in shock. I just listened to his explanation and tried to share my shock and distress.

About the same time my Palestinian friend and I were having that Skype conversation, Farida Khalaf was abducted from her village in northern Iraq by ISIS. Her father, along with all of the men in her village, were murdered. She was sold into slavery, driven to several different ISIS camps in Syria, beaten and sexually abused, sold again, beaten and sexually abused some more, before she was able to escape.

The Girl Who Escaped ISIS is her first person account of this horrific journey through hell and back. She leaves no doubt that ISIS are monsters and everyone in their path are victims. ISIS are not Muslims. There’s not a shred of Islamic teachings in any of their actions. I wish I could give a copy of this book to my Palestinian friend.

Fortunately, about a year after our Skype call, Israel finally allowed him to leave Gaza to pursue his graduate studies abroad. When I reconnected with him, I asked him about his support for ISIS, wondering to myself if he might travel to Syria to join ISIS.

The freedom to travel, to see the world outside the prison walls of the Gaza Strip, had opened his eyes to the reality, he told me. He now understood that ISIS was dangerous for everyone, including for Palestinians in Gaza. I breathed a sigh of relief.

This memoir / autobiography is a chilling reminder that when we lose hope, there is always evil to fill the empty spaces. Israel, the U.S. and the rest of the world will lose the battle with ISIS if they fail to bring hope and opportunities to all of the young people in the world, everywhere.

Check out this book review in The Guardian by Rachel Aspden (July 1, 2016).