ISIS claims partial control of Palestinian camp in Damascus.
(photo credit: screenshot)
A friend posted an article on Facebook claiming that “ISIS is to Islam what the Westboro Baptist Church is to Christianity.” That would be accurate if the Westboro Baptist Church had murdered thousands of people, ethnically cleansed 300,000 indigenous people from America, blindfolded men and elderly women and shot them in the back of the head and buried them in mass graves and then sold 6,000 women into slavery and mass rape. But the Westboro Baptist Church didn’t do any of that. Islamic State (ISIS) did. “Genocide has occurred and is ongoing,” the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic said in a statement recently on the crimes of ISIS against Yazidis.
The desire to ignore, excuse or diminish the crimes of Islamic State is evident in media and popular culture, and is part of a general tendency toward genocide denial.
We deny that genocide takes place because, as a US State Department official noted during the Rwandan genocide, “a genocide finding could commit [us] to actually do something.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the basketball champion, wrote an article for Time magazine discussing ISIS and claiming that “the problem with some fundamentalists – whether Christians, Jews or Muslims – is that they want to impose their values on us through violence.” Abdul-Jabbar needs to visit northern Iraq and see the mass graves of Yazidis himself. ISIS doesn’t want to impose its values through violence, ISIS has imposed its values through violence and genocide.
A YEAR ago I went to the Kurdish region of Iraq along with my colleague Laura Kelly and met with Yazidis in their main temple in Lalish. Before the modern-day Nazis of ISIS overran northern Iraq in 2014, Lonely Planet had described Lalish as a prime destination for travelers. The most sacred place for the 600,000 Yazidis, “tucked away in a green valley in the Kurdish controlled Ninawa province.” Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers guarded the entrance to keep these holy sites safe, some of the more than 100,000 Kurds who had gone to war with ISIS much as my countrymen had gone off to war to fight the Nazis.
When people disregard the genocide in Iraq and Syria, they disrespect the destruction caused and the massive numbers of men and women who have had to go to war against ISIS. Lalish was an island of quiet in 2015, but the people there were traumatized, still waiting for the return of thousands of women and children held by the mass murderers.
In December of 2015 I went back to Kurdistan after Shingal had been liberated. This province that borders Syria is dominated by the mountain called Sinjar in Arabic and Shingal in Kurdish. On the flat, parched plains that stretch down towards Mosul and Nineveh, the genocide took place. The Yazidi organization Yazda has confirmed 22 mass graves uncovered since Kurdish forces removed the ISIS murderers from this region, but more than 10 other mass graves are still estimated to exist in ISIS-held areas, in former Yazidi villages now abandoned.
The drive to Shingal passes through refugee camps with tens of thousands of Yazidis, and through abandoned towns to which only a few have returned. It passes over the mountain, where we saw thousands of people living in tents and shacks – the Yazidis who refused to leave the mountain in August 2014 and flee their homeland. Where was the international aid? There was one lonely Kurdish female doctor on top of the mountain giving out aid to families in the cold. In Shingal we found Kurdish de-mining teems, but where was the foreign aid to de-mine the town, to rebuild it? The mass graves were washed with rain, the bones lying on the surface, the blindfolds the modern-day Nazis used exposed to the sky.
At one grave the only marker was some torn red tape, such as might be used to cordon off a crime scene. I felt something of what the first Americans who came upon the liberated concentration camps in Germany must have felt, and these Kurdish Peshmerga reminded me of the liberators from 1945.
How could this have happened in our time? In the age of Twitter and Facebook and drones and satellites? Remember how people claimed they “didn’t know” about Auschwitz? We knew exactly what ISIS was doing.
ISIS members, some of them foreign volunteers who spoke English, from places like Australia and the UK, posted on Facebook about selling Yazidi slaves and their desire to “murder the kuffar.” The UN panel’s 11 reports detail how “ISIS made no secret of its intent to destroy the Yazidis of Sinjar and that is one the elements that allowed us to conclude their actions amount to genocide,” Carla Del Ponte told The New York Times.
The evidence of ISIS crimes grows daily, with the harrowing and sickening accounts of women who have come forward with tales of ISIS fighters praying before raping them repeatedly, murdering their children, forcing birth control on them, selling them from fighter to fighter. People knew about this genocide, just like they knew about Rwanda, Darfur and even the killing fields of Cambodia, and did nothing. There is an international coalition bombing ISIS, but in terms of aid for genocide victims and the 300,000 Yazidis in refugee camps, almost nothing is being done.
The US supplied the Iraqi army with the 2,000 Humvees and vehicles ISIS captured in 2014 and used to overrun Yazidi villages, and you’d think the West could give at least the same amount in aid and reconstruction. ISIS used American-made bullets to execute Yazidis. I saw these bullets in the mass graves. So how about attempting to heal the wounds those bullets caused? How about justice for survivors and for victims? To all those Americans angry about “gun violence,” how about getting angry about the gun violence of ISIS, and supporting rehabilitation for the women saved? There are far too many excuses being made for ISIS’s behavior and too little interest in its victims. There is a fear of facing the mass graves in Iraq, of looking at the skulls and matted human hair and admitting: this happened in 2014, and we let it happen. Again. Just like all the other genocides. Denmark even gave returning ISIS fighters gym memberships. The New York Times article that revealed this in December 2014 claimed returning murderers were getting a “second chance.” How about a second chance for the Yazidis, and the millions of refugees from Mosul, including many Christians and Muslims, who live today in refugee camps? What about the European countries who birthed 5,000 ISIS volunteer genocide-jihadists giving some aid to the victims? How about social media companies that made millions of dollars while ISIS fighters posted pictures of Yazidi slaves they were selling on Facebook donating some money to aid the people murdered because of the genocide fueled and spread by propaganda online? Every young person should see the mass graves themselves.
You must educate yourself about genocide, demand justice for victims and ask hard questions about how it happened under our noses. And then you should thank those hundreds of thousands of Kurds and other volunteers who went to fight and put a stop to this modern-day Nazism