Yazidi Islamic State survivor latest victim of 'cancel culture' -opinion

This past week, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad was the latest victim of the West’s cancel culture, as she was disinvited from a book event by Canada’s Toronto District School Board.

Displaced Yazidi women protest outside the headquarters of the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), north of Baghdad, in 2015. (photo credit: AZAD LASHKARI/REUTERS)
Displaced Yazidi women protest outside the headquarters of the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), north of Baghdad, in 2015.
(photo credit: AZAD LASHKARI/REUTERS)

Alongside colonialism, imperialism, and nation-building, “cancel culture” is the latest of toxic Western ideas to be foisted upon the Middle East. This past week, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad was the latest victim of the West’s cancel culture, as she was disinvited from a book event by Canada’s Toronto District School Board. This may sound trivial, but it’s a big deal.

Murad is a member of Iraq’s Yazidi ethno-religious minority. She was kidnapped at age 19 by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. ISIS, at the ascendancy of its power, pillaged, executed, and sexually exploited locals with reckless abandon. In just her village, some 600 innocents – including her mother and six of her brothers – were summarily executed. Murad was taken to be one of 7,000 Yazidi women and girls enslaved.

Her first attempt at freedom resulted in gang rape by the savage jihadists. Her powerful story of successful escape and survival lent a voice to the world’s voiceless victims of human trafficking and exploitation – and led her to become the first UN goodwill ambassador on the issue. Murad was also awarded the Sakharov Prize and the Clinton Global Citizen Award, among other prestigious distinctions. 

The rise of cancel culture sweeping Western politics accelerates to the fore, a leading issue at the center of an increasing sociopolitical divide about the freedom and limits of self-expression. To break down the term for those in Israel and abroad: if you are (or ever were) afoul of an ever-shifting cultural sensitivity toward acceptable expression or behavior, you will be canceled from the public sphere.

Cancel culture is affecting pop culture icons and historical legends, dead or alive: African American comedian Dave Chappelle was canceled for a Netflix monologue containing a deemed slight of the transgender community. 

A statue of American founding father president Thomas Jefferson was recently toppled, after 187 years in New York’s City Hall, for his past ownership of slaves. And in the most infamous case, former president Donald Trump was banished from social media for perceived incitement and general animus.

Mourners stand next to the coffins with the remains of people from the Yazidi minority, who were killed by Islamic State militants, after they were exhumed from a mass grave, to bury them in Kojo, Iraq February 6, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)Mourners stand next to the coffins with the remains of people from the Yazidi minority, who were killed by Islamic State militants, after they were exhumed from a mass grave, to bury them in Kojo, Iraq February 6, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)

MURAD, HOWEVER, simply wanted to tell her story to students in Toronto who wanted to hear a discussion on her book, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State. Toronto officials egregiously claimed that the book event would “offend” students of the Muslim faith and potentially “promote Islamophobia.” 

Unless sexual enslavement of minorities is a tenet of Islam (it isn’t), then it is not clear what the problem is. Would an event by a victim-author about priest abuse be offensive to Catholics – let alone canceled – by these officials? Can we discuss the Imperial Japanese Army’s use of “comfort women” in World War II, or is it too offensive to the Japanese among us? 

Curiously, one also never hears of anti-Israel campus events being canceled out of an abundance of precaution for possible antisemitic implications. It comes as no surprise that Toronto is also the scene of a campus debate on banning kosher foods that “normalize Israeli apartheid.”

So, are Muslims the actual aggrieved people here? It could simply be caterwauling from a group of self-appointed “woke” white protectors, desperate to convolute evermore extreme constructions of someone else’s victimhood for their social gain. 

Or maybe this event is a trigger to Canadian school administrators who have long sought to brush their dark legacy of cultural genocide under the rug. Countless indigenous children were seized from their parents by the Canadian regime in a system that existed in various forms from the 1600s until the 1990s. 

Often abused, some youth also faced medical experimentation. When things went wrong, the children were disposed of in unmarked, mass grave sites on a scale still unknown to this day. 

This absurd theater is an affront to any of the many devout and secular Muslims that I know. It’s also an insult to the discerning intellect of this and the future generations of curious students.

Personally meeting Murad and her husband before a 2016 speech at the UN in New York City, I saw a person who is so much more than a victim. She gave a compelling testimony that held up a mirror to mankind, and showed our human race that the post-Holocaust mantra of “never again” was but a hollow ideal. 

In multiple visits to the region, I observed the devastating destruction of Sinjar and numerous Yazidi and Christian villages, holy sites and homes. Almost nothing compares to the soul-killing impact of ISIS upon children and women who are to this day living in “temporary” ratty tents since 2014’s summer of horror. 

This is hard for most readers to imagine. So reader, here’s a homework assignment for you. Do this before you forget. Go to YouTube and search “Nadia Murad returns,” for a clip by TRT World, of her first visit home since the slaughter of her family. Hear her account on Trevor Noah. Did your eyes stay dry?

Now, consider her experience as but one of the Yazidi people at large. The Yazidi never had postwar reparations. They have been abandoned, with little reconstruction, limited prosecution of their persecutors, and left alone to contend with mental scars. To add insult to injustice, Murad – the Yazidis’ one promising hope for global advocacy – is now being silenced and shunned in the West. 

Meanwhile, there are sickening reports of former ISIS child sex slaves encountering their former captors on the streets of Germany, among other places that toe a compassionate line to the jihadists. A saying from the Midrash goes roughly, “All who are merciful to the cruel in the end become cruel to those who deserve mercy.” 

The West, once a striving lodestar of morality – now fraught and wrangling with an internal identity and cultural crisis – needs to introspect on how it treats victims of terror and heinous sexual violence. If shutting down a Nobel laureate like Murad is not crossing a line for how far “cancel culture” can go, then what is?

The writer is a Kurdish affairs analyst and graduate student at The University of Chicago. He has reported from the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey since 2015.