As ISIS’s widespread enslavement of Yazidi and Christian women continues unabated, the Daily Beast offers a look at how some activists are working to buy back girls and reunite them with their families. From the piece:
“The goal of [the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI)] is to reunite families and bring them back to their villages. I’m not in the business of humanitarian work,” [founder Steve] Maman tells The Daily Beast.
He says that because he works with local brokers to buy back girls who have been repeatedly raped, beaten, and therefore are no longer wanted by their captors, he does not “purchase” them, but rather “refunds” them for their selling price. He describes the system as an underground railroad of sorts in which the women and girls are sent to Kurdish-run refugee camps for food and medical care before being sent to their ancestral villages under the direction of the Reverend Canon Andrew White, a former vicar from Baghdad who led the only Anglican church in Iraq.
The article is worth reading in full for its picture of the dilemma that Westerners seeking to liberate ISIS’s captives face: Does one pay a ransom, knowing that the money might support ISIS’s operations, not to mention encourage it to enslave more girls? Furthermore, critics, including some prominent Yazidis, have condemned CYCI for its refusal to give details about its rescue missions, and for what they say is an unrealistic number of captives it purports to have freed. The claims and counter-claims don’t resolve neatly in favor of any side of this debate, as the article makes clear.
Though the Daily Beast article gives voice both to CYCI and its critics, it reproduces a framing for which we criticized the NYT not long ago. Both news sources focus on ISIS’s sexual brutality towards Yazidi girls; as the Daily Beast put it, “according to the extremists’ own publications the Yazidis are unique in being specific targets for sexual violence and enslavement.” But as Nina Shea pointed out in her must-read article on this site, Christian girls too have been enslaved, with official sanction of ISIS’s religious authorities. She writes:
The Fatwa Department of the Islamic State made clear that the females of the “People of the Book,” including Christians, can be enslaved for sex as well, though Muslim “apostates” cannot. The number of Christian sex slaves is unknown. Three—Rana, Rita, and Christina—are publicly known. In March, 135 women and children were among those taken captive, from 35 Christian villages along Syria’s Khabour River. Their families, unable to afford the $23 million ransom demand, were told by ISIS, “They belong to us now.” The older women were released; the younger ones may be enslaved, though this has not been confirmed. […]
Under rules for “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour [of Judgment],” Dabiq gives a theological justification for selling women as war booty: “The enslaved Yizidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers as the polytheists were sold by the [Prophet’s] companions.” It also cites more recent precedents: namely, the “enslavement of Christian women and children in the Philippines and Nigeria by the Mujahidin there.”
Articles like the Daily Beast‘s and the NYT’s do a great service in shedding light on these unspeakable horrors, which the Western media has not covered extensively in the past. As Shea notes, while ISIS does not hide its slave markets, it does not produce and disseminate video of its sexual crimes as it does its gruesome executions. However, just as the Western media has an obligation to make this inhumanity public, so does it have an obligation to report it in full. For Shea’s whole piece, go here.