Nadia Murad, who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, was only 19 in 2014, when Islamic State (ISIS) militants invaded her Yazidi village, Kocho, in northern Iraq. They killed all the village’s men and older women, and abducted Murad and the village’s other young women. They gave the captives two choices—convert to Islam or die—then sold them as sex slaves. Murad and the other women were each sold or traded—and raped and abused—many times. Describing her experience later, she said, “I found my soul, my body, my emotions … to be occupied and used by people who look like humans, but they are not human.”
Kocho was far from the only village that was brutalized in this way: ISIS militants carried out genocide against the Yazidi people, murdering countless other innocents—including the elderly and disabled—and abducting hundreds of other women to sell as sex slaves, all the while asserting that this would please a god they describe as “merciful.”
Since Murad’s heroic escape from ISIS, she has become a voice for the Yazidi people and an advocate for their human rights. She describes her experiences in a 2017 memoir, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State. Her eyewitness accounts are horrifying. It is a miracle that she survived.
She has shown incredible courage in her willingness to tell her story publicly; now the rest of the world has a responsibility to muster the courage to express our abomination of these horrors. And yet, recently, a school board in Toronto, Canada, did just the opposite: they decided to cancel a book-club event, scheduled for February 2022, at which Murad had been due to speak—and to refrain from distributing her memoir to students, claiming that the description of her life story might “foster Islamophobia” and offend Muslim students.
These board members were unable to differentiate between peaceful, law-abiding western Muslims and brutal Islamic State forces. The idea that criticising ISIS’ vicious regime would somehow offend peaceful Muslims is not only far from supportive of them—it deeply demeans them.
It is also appalling—and ironic—that the board used the spectre of “Islamophobia” to silence a critic of a militant force that silences its critics through violence and intimidation—as if protecting those militants’ religious sensibilities is more important than preventing them from continuing to brutalize innocents.
The Canadian school board members later half-heartedly apologised to Murad for cancelling the event and promised to review the contents of her memoir and distribute it to district students. Nevertheless, this episode reeks of cowardice, performative political correctness and indifference to the plight of Yazidi women.
The board’s cancellation decision is an example of how western progressives often get their priorities terribly wrong. On the one hand, they support silencing a woman who has been brutally treated by ISIS; on the other hand, they support giving airtime to so-called ISIS brides—western women who joined ISIS—instead of holding such women to account for abetting ISIS’ crimes.
For example, in February 2018, a reporter for the UK Times published an interview with Shamima Begum, who left the UK in 2014, at the age of 15, to join ISIS in Syria. Since that interview, other mainstream media outlets have repeatedly given her opportunities to tell her story, and she has consistently been portrayed as a victim and a mere impressionable young girl, even though serious allegations have been levelled against her—for example, that she was a “member of the feared ISIS morality police” who helped to stitch suicide vests for ISIS fighters.
Begum’s husband Yago Riedijk has described life under ISIS as “beautiful.” He still hopes for the establishment of the Caliphate.
However, Begum desperately wants to leave Syria. But the UK government has refused to change their stance on revoking Begum’s British citizenship. Her pleas to return to the UK have been rejected on national security grounds. In an attempt to change this judgement, Begum has been making appearances on mainstream media in western clothing in a bid to sway public opinion in her favour. She has asked the British people for forgiveness, insisting that there is no evidence of her involvement in any crime and stating that she is ready to face trial in the UK. She has also offered to fight terrorism in the UK by providing relevant information to the authorities.
In her talks and interviews, Begum hardly ever mentions the victims of ISIS’ atrocities. She has expressed something approaching regret for her support of ISIS—but only after she was stripped of her British citizenship.
Some ISIS brides are known to be directly involved in the brutalisation of ISIS sex slaves. Yazidi women and girls who have escaped ISIS sex slavery have described being beaten and locked up by ISIS brides who would shower them, clothe them and put make up on their faces before handing them over to be raped by the jihadi fighters.
Begum presents herself as a victim. In light of her wish for clemency, it is worth noting that, in England and Wales, children can be held criminally responsible for their actions from age 10. Yes, any young person can be impressionable. But does that justify committing atrocities? It is a travesty of journalistic ethics to put a sympathetic spotlight on people who have been complicit in ISIS crimes, and to portray them as mere victims.
Whether or not one believes that ISIS brides should be allowed to return to the western world, it’s disappointing that many westerners seem to accord more respect and sympathy to them than to the hundreds of Yazidi women and children who were taken and sold as sex slaves by ISIS militants.
The victims of ISIS deserve the full support of the international community in bringing their persecutors to justice. And their stories should be told and retold. Anything less is a betrayal of these innocent people, who have suffered atrocities under ISIS’ brutal regime.