Archives For Iraq

[Warning: This article deals with a topic that may be upsetting for some of our readers.]

On Aug. 26, 1920, American women were granted the right to vote when the Secretary of State certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ninety five years later, the day is acknowledged as “Women’s Equality Day.” While the Utopian ideal of gender equality in the U.S. is far from realized, long term statistics do suggest significant improvements for American women.

Political and cultural shifts have opened doorways, allowing for opportunities that were not available to the many brave women who walked in those early protests nearly a century ago. American women are also increasingly finding the voice to continue the work needed to improve their lives, to confront issues still lurking in the corners of American society and to empower the next generation of girls by reminding them each and every day, “We are half the sky!”[i]

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

But as we pause for a moment to acknowledge, reassess, plan or celebrate, the following creeps across our digital desks…

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. (From “Isis Enshrines a Theology of Rape,” The New York Times, Aug. 13, 2015)

To fully comprehend the quote above, one must read the entire New York Times report. A summary will not capture the sheer horror embedded in that story as relayed by 21 survivors. Briefly, Yazidi women and girls are being sold to Daesh soldiers as sex slaves and systematically raped in prison structures as part of the conquest of war. These violent acts are being justified by Daesh’s developing theological legal system for the caliphate. The social boundaries that once may have prevented such attacks are now lying in ruins alongside the shattered remains of the Mosul museum, Palmyra and other similar ancient sites.

Daesh is attempting to rebuild a society based on its own extremist interpretation of Sharia law, and sex slavery has become a legitimate part of that construction. The organization has even created a functioning infrastructure specifically to uphold the practice. As The Times article reports, “The Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales and contracts notarized by ISIS-run Islamic courts.” And within that theologically-based legal structure, rape is considered a form of worship.

This new slavery system was institutionalized when Daesh first invaded the Yazidi region. They killed both men and older boys. Then, they transported the women and girls and the remaining young boys to prisons and camps. Professor Matthew Barber, a expert on the Yazidi, told The New York Times, this “offensive” was not at all a land invasion, but a calculated “sexual conquest.”

As we reported last September, the Yazidi people are a small, often misunderstood religious minority living in northern Iraq. Many news outlets have defined their religious practice as polytheist and, periodically throughout history, they have been labeled “devil worshippers.” However, neither is correct. The Yazidi tradition is a closely held belief system that, by design, remains a mystery to outsiders. While their religion may be kept hidden, what is clearly known about the Yazidi is that they are currently the direct targets of a modern genocide.

Last October, Daesh’s online magazine Dabiq published an article explaining the organization’s actions. The text reads, “The Islamic State faced a population of Yazidis, a pagan minority existent for ages in regions of Iraq and Shām … Their creed is so deviant from the truth that even cross-worshipping Christians for ages considered them devil worshippers and Satanists … ” The article goes on to justify not only slavery as a whole, but specifically sex slavery and the taking of women as concubines. The writer explains how slavery was once openly practiced, and Daesh seeks to return to that time.

While Daesh is openly enslaving the Yazidi women, it has not yet demonstrated a large-scale offensive against the area’s Islamic, Christian or Jewish women. Islamic women are considered believers, and have a designated role in the caliphate as dictated by a March 2015 piece of propaganda, titled, “Women of the Islamic State: A Manifesto on Women by the Al-khanssaa Brigade.”  Interestingly, this manifesto is being used to recruit young Muslim women from around the world.

Christian and Jewish women, on the other hand, have a special non-believer status because of their theological link to “the Book.” As explained in October’s Dabiq article, Christians and Jews have the option of making ” jizyah payments,” which is a tax for non-Muslims living in the caliphate.

However, the Yazidi are considered, as noted earlier, pagans and devil-worshipping polytheists or mushrikun (shrik is defined as the sinful practice of idolatry or polytheism; mushrikun are those that commit this sin against Islam). The mushrikun can either be converted, killed or enslaved.

The bartering for and enslavement of women as a war conquest is sadly not a new practice. For centuries, the female body has been treated like the hidden valuables of a conquered region. Women exist for the taking; a spoil of war and a right of victory, as demonstrated by the phrase to “plunder, pillage, rape.” In May, when Nigerian troops freed 234 women and girls from the terrorist group Boko Haram, many returned pregnant. Boko Haram treated these women and girls in very much the same way that Daesh is treating the Yazidi women.

However, Daesh has added a new spin to this entire horrific engagement. It is brandishing these attacks and promoting these laws as a way to encourage young men to join its ranks. Sex slavery and rape have become the proverbial carrot before the horse; a prize for signing up or reward for a job well-done. And, the entire process is wrapped up in a guise of religious clothing. In a March 2015 Dabiq article, writers attempt to justify their institutionalization of slavery by criticizing the world for even calling a sexual act with a slave girl “a rape.” [ii]

A prostitute in your lands comes and goes, openly committing sin. She lives by selling her honor, within the sight and hearing of the deviant scholars from whom we don’t hear even a faint sound. As for the slave-girl that was taken by the swords of men following the cheerful warrior … then her enslavement is in opposition to human rights and copulation with her is rape?! What is wrong with you? How do you make such a judgment? What is your religion? What is your law?

That very comment in the April issue of Dabiq invites a broader discussion on basic human morality. Is there an intrinsic morality embedded within humanity, or even a socially-constructed baseline that defines which acts should never be considered acceptable regardless of religious belief? That discussion goes well-beyond this article. But it does lead back to the original New York Times headline, “Isis Enshrines a Theology of Rape.” Is the institutionalization of rape through religious doctrine truly a mark of “theology?” Or is a religion simply being used – victimized itself – as an excuse to commit violent sexual acts against women, to perpetrate a genocide against a perceived enemy and to strengthen a propaganda campaign to recruit new young male followers?

The world’s Islamic leaders are decrying these atrocities and publicly discussing the secondhand destruction being caused to their faith practice and belief system. There is a distinction being made between Islam and Islamism; between Muslims and Islamists. In a recent CNN report, Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed wrote:

 I am an observant Muslim. And because I am a Muslim, I believe in pluralism. I believe in tolerance. These are the beliefs that Islamist totalitarians are determined to extinguish in the world as they oppress and brutalize those they deem to be ‘the other.’ … Because of their abuses in the name of Islam, Islamists smear each and every Muslim, tarring us all with the same brush.

As the world has became increasingly aware of Daesh’s slavery practices, some people are asking why the world’s governments don’t appear to be focusing more on this particular horror. “Do they believe it is just a women’s issue?” In a 2014 article published at Foreign Policy, Aki Peritz and Tara Maller, former CIA analysts ask that very question. They observe, “Rarely do [sexual attacks] seem to be the focal point of politicians’ remarks, intelligence assessments, or justification for counter-terrorism actions against the group.” Peritz and Maller conclude, “Sexual violence carried out by terrorist groups should be catalogued as ‘terrorist attacks.”

Before Daesh’s 2014 Yazidi offensive, there were already reports of rapes and kidnappings in the general Iraqi region. Where once the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) was steadily working to improve Iraqi women’s legal rights, it now, as reported Foreign Policy in Focus, “takes everything the organization has just to keep their shelters open and women safe.” The article explains how, in war-torn Iraq, all men have guns and can do whatever they want. Women live in fear.

Along with OWFI, human-rights organizations around the world are joining the struggle to help the region’s women. Yazda is an Iraqi-based international Yazidi organization that is sponsoring relief efforts. YezidiTruth is a U.S.-based organization that educates and collects donations. In Israel, The Combat Genocide Association is also working to educate, raise money and find ways of actively assist the many refugees from the affected areas. These are only four examples.

While grass-roots efforts and government action may end the nightmare and alleviate some of the trauma. None of those actions can fully root-out a more deeply embedded problem – one of indoctrination found within the pages of Daesh’s manifesto and the writings by the organization’s supporters. All of these works continue to teach boys and men that it is culturally acceptable and even their right to objectify women’s bodies.

Living far away from the violence and the realities in Iraq, American women can walk freely, secure enough in their own struggle for equality. But even in the U.S. there are reminders that a very similar problem still lies deep beneath the lands where once the suffragettes marched. This was recently demonstrated by several back-to-school fraternity banners displayed at Old Dominion University. “Freshmen daughter drop off,” one read. While these manifestations and related traumas are not comparable to the open institutionalization of sex slavery and rape in Iraq, a connection remains.

In celebrating the advancements made over the past 95 years, we also acknowledge there is much work to be done. That work includes continuously encouraging our young girls to stand up and speak up because they are half the sky. But at the same time we cannot forget to teach our boys that they are only half the sky.

And, without both, the sky will fall.

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[i] The term “Half the Sky” is borrowed from a movement that addresses the worldwide oppression of women. The term originated as the title of a book written by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and then was adopted for a corresponding effort to help women worldwide. The Half the Sky movement is not to be confused with the foundation of the same name, which specifically addresses child welfare in China.

[ii] There are countless published articles and essays by Daesh supporters that demonstrate and theologically justify the promotion of the slavery practice. However, we have made editorial decision to not link to any of these pieces.