Who Will Confront the Islamic Rape State?
I am saddened but not surprised that not many media cover what the Islamic State is doing to the women of Iraq. Few of us want to think about organized, mass rape sanctioned by a government. Even uglier is the fact that religious minorities are targeted — Christian women, but especially Yazidis, whom Islamic State authorities consider polytheists, and therefore fair game for any kind of abuse. Women in many other countries face persecution and abuse at the hands of Islamists, such as the dozens of girls abducted and sold in Nigeria by Boko Haram.
I am an Assyrian Christian and a religious refugee in America. Our small, defenseless people was targeted along with the Armenians in the great Genocide that began in 1915. My great-grandmother and both her sisters were brutally raped by Muslim soldiers, and my great-grandfather and great uncle were murdered. My parents would later flee the country for refuge, but it was only here in the United States that I found a society that respected my religious freedom, my human dignity and my rights as a woman.
On behalf of the suffering women of Iraq and Syria, I would like to thank Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times for a brave and heartrending account on August 13 (“ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape”). Callimachi documents a brutal reality: the fact that the Islamic State is recruiting thousands of fighters to its cause, not merely with the standard Islamist promise of rewards in Paradise, but with a much more sinister, this-world bounty: fighters will be granted sexual slaves in the form of Kafirah (unbelieving) girls and women whom they capture. As Callimachi reports, the selection, transport, registration and sale of female sex slaves on Islamic State territory competes with the practices of human traffickers throughout the world, and recalls the grim efficiency of the African slave trade. She shows the brutal human price paid by even pre-pubescent girls who are torn from their families and sold to the Islamic State’s soldiers, to use as they will.
The Iraqi Christian Relief Council, which I lead, provides refuge, shelter and care to some of the women who escape from ISIS’s horrors. My colleagues on the ground have told me of the aftermath of such abuse. Some of the women are so ashamed that they look for broken glass so that they can cut their own throats. One young woman, every evening, seems to be reenacting her trauma: She tears off all her clothes and rushes around the camp, incoherently screaming.
Mass rape is a conscious policy practiced by ISIS from the top down to troops on the ground. Indeed, we learned last weekend that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, repeatedly raped American hostage Kayla Mueller, under the pretext of a forced Muslim marriage. Scholar of Islam Srdja Trifkovic pointed to this crime to remind us that abuse of female captives has a long history in Islamic conquest, going all the way back to Muhammad, whose own capture and ownership of female slaves is cited by Muslims to this day as justification for their own abuses.
Of course it is not only Muslims who act this way. Women’s bodies have been treated as commodities for capture since the dawn of human history. Soviet soldiers advancing in Germany in 1945 conducted a wave of brutal rapes against German women, and Bosnian Muslims themselves were targeted by Serbian nationalists in a campaign of organized rapes in the 1990s. But of all world religions, it is only Islam that today finds itself cited as a pretext for slavery and rape, with significant support from its recognized religious authorities. As Muslim-born human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali has argued, it is up to Muslims themselves to convince their co-religionists that such practices have no place in our world today. It is up to countries with the military power to act in the region to disarm and defeat ISIS’s army of religious rapists.
I have just returned from a pilgrimage to the memorial at Auschwitz, the place where the organized, industrialized destruction of human dignity attained the perfection of evil. Jewish survivors of the Shoah have adopted the sacred injunction, “Never Again.” When we repeat those solemn words, do we mean them as a promise, or merely a wistful prayer?