Yazidis

Yazidis and their faith: There's more to it than just a quick paragraph

Yazidis and their faith: There's more to it than just a quick paragraph

One often hears how one person can make a world of difference. In a recent New Yorker piece,  “The Daring Plan to Save a Religious Minority from ISIS,” a writer who specializes in greater Kurdistan --  an area that overlaps into four countries -- talks about the Yazidis. (Some spell their name as “Yezidi;” either are correct).

We are not talking about just any Yazidis: Three men who took it upon themselves to try to save their countrymen in Iraq from genocide. With so many Christians fleeing Iraq, that leaves the Yazidis as the largest non-Muslim minority in the country. (This policy brief from the Middle East Institute explains their history and religion, which is based on the worship of a peacock angel, pictured with this piece).

The New Yorker article began with three Yazidis: Hadi Pir, Murad Ismael and Haider Elias, who became interpreters for the American military in Iraq. All received visas to move to themselves and their families to United States (to escape reprisal in Iraq) and were leading more or less ordinary lives until Aug. 2, 2014, when ISIS moved against Yazidis about 6,700 miles away.

At three in the morning, when they pulled into the parking lot of their apartment complex, dozens of their Yazidi neighbors were outside on the lawn, talking on their cell phones and crying.
“Isis has taken over Sinjar,” a neighbor said. “Everyone is running to the mountain.”
Isis came into Sinjar at dawn, with the intention of wiping out Yazidism in Iraq. The group’s Research and Fatwa Department had declared that, unlike Christians or Shia Muslims, Yazidis were a “pagan minority.” The Kurdish soldiers retreated without warning, after determining that their position was untenable. Yazidis ran from their homes and scrambled up the rocky slopes of Mt. Sinjar. Trucks jammed with people overturned on narrow roads. Homes north of the mountain quickly emptied; with the roads controlled by Isis, thousands of Yazidis were trapped in the southern villages.

Back in the States, the horrified Yazidis could follow the fighting via cell phone as their relatives called them whenever they could to relate the increasing horrors they were facing. About 100 former interpreters formed a crisis management team to try to bring media attention to the coming genocide.

By Aug. 7, they were in Washington, D.C., demonstrating in front of the White House, then showing up at the State Department to plead their case. Notice the details of this meeting.

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Why is Foreign Policy magazine grumpy about U.S. aid going to Christians in Iraq?

Why is Foreign Policy magazine grumpy about U.S. aid going to Christians in Iraq?

With ISIS more-or-less cleared out of Iraq and Syria, money for rebuilding efforts is coming into the region amidst some debate as to where that money should land.

Why anyone would oppose money going to the Christians, Yazidis and others is a mystery, as it’s clear they suffered the brunt of the brutal ISIS occupation of broad swaths of eastern Syria and western Iraq. In the previous administration, Secretary of State John Kerry used the term "genocide" to describe what happened to Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and other religious minorities. Christians were so decimated, their religion has been said to be going “extinct” in Iraq.

But Foreign Policy magazine sees any U.S. aid going to Christians and others as a bad thing. Here, it says:

The Trump administration has decided to steer humanitarian aid funding to Christian and other minority communities in Iraq, against the advice of some officials at the State Department and others at the United Nations, who initially feared the move could backfire.
The administration, prompted in part by Vice President Mike Pence’s strong links to Christian advocacy groups, recently clashed with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over how to spend aid funds in Iraq, insisting more resources be channeled to Christian communities and other minority groups in the Nineveh Plains. The administration rejected UNDP’s assessment -- and that of some officials at the State Department -- that the aid should be focused on more populated areas around the war-damaged city of Mosul. …
Since Donald Trump entered office a year ago, the issue has gotten high-level attention. Vice President Pence has spoken frequently about the importance of direct U.S. support for religious minorities in the Middle East, and current USAID Administrator Mark Green -- long an advocate for minority communities -- has made these efforts a centerpiece of his tenure.

What it comes down to, the article adds, is about $55 million in funds. But Washington’s preference toward Christians, it argues, could undercut other diplomatic efforts.

The move raised eyebrows throughout the aid community. “Taking $55 million and putting it into an area where there’s no chance that the Islamic State is going to come back doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” the Western official said. With stabilization funding -- designed to address the potential resurgence of the Islamic State -- “what you want to do is focus on the areas where they might come back,” the official told FP.

But who says ISIS couldn’t return to the Christian and Yezidi areas? Are there no voices on the other side to debate some of these conclusions?

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Attention Washington Post: ISIS forced women from several religious faiths into sexual slavery

Attention Washington Post: ISIS forced women from several religious faiths into sexual slavery

The Islamic State isn't making as much news as it once did, as the so-called caliphate continues to decline in size and, in some ways, power. However, it leaves behind a complex legacy of persecution, torture, slavery and, yes, genocide.

There are many victims with stories to tell and it's clear that some journalists and diplomats have not mastered all of the details of this tragedy.

Consider the Washington Post story that ran the other day with this headline: "‘Somebody had to tell these stories’: An Iraqi woman’s ordeal as an ISIS sex slave." It's a horrifying and important story.

The Post international desk did a fine job of presenting the story of Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad. That's important, since the Yazidis remain an obscure religious minority for most American readers.

But there is a problem: The Post report never mentions that the Yazidis were not alone. Christians, Shia Muslims and others suffered the same fate, with mothers, fathers and sons slaughtered and girls sold as sexual slaves. As Secretary of State John Kerry said in 2016:

... (In) my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions -- in what it says, what it believes, and what it does. Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.

Kerry went on to specifically say that "Daesh captured and enslaved thousands of Yezidi women and girls -- selling them at auction, raping them at will, and destroying the communities in which they had lived for countless generations." He added: "We know that in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and elsewhere, Daesh has executed Christians solely because of their faith ... and that it has also forced Christian women and girls into sexual slavery."

The problem isn't that the Post focused so tightly on the details of Murad's story, since her testimony is what this report is all about. The problem is in the summary paragraphs that failed to inform readers that women and girls in other religious minorities suffered the same faith.

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Crux reports from Lebanon-Syria border, where Western ideals clash with deadly local realities

Crux reports from Lebanon-Syria border, where Western ideals clash with deadly local realities

One of the greatest gifts I’ve derived from being a journalist has been to repeatedly face situations in which what seemed obvious to me made no sense to someone else. This helped me understand that's it's an enormously complicated world that requires empathy toward others to comprehend it at any depth.

This can happen when you're fortunate enough to mix with people who have a world view that’s quite different than you're own. You learn that preconceived notions about “the facts” of a story can be a barrier to grokking the heart of the story.

Crux, the online Roman Catholic journal, reminded me of this last week via a series of stories it published about besieged Christian villages in the Lebanese-Syrian border region.

That's a pretty tough neighborhood. In such places, simple survival -- particularly for religious and ethnic minorities -- can mean assuming positions that seem morally unthinkable for those of us fortunate enough to live in far gentler environs.

Take the case of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for example. Who of us thinks him to be anything less than a brutal murderer with little -- “none” might be the better word -- regard for anything but his own survival? Who of us would be willing to live under his leadership?

As part of the series, Crux editor John L. Allen, Jr., in a piece labeled analysis, wrote that what seems apparent about Assad to most of us in the West holds little sway for Christians living in Lebanon and Syrian. His piece ran under the following headline: “Meeting Middle East Christians is where Western stereotypes go to die.”

 

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Immigration EO, round 2: Maybe Christians merely 'claim' to be persecuted by Islamic State?

Immigration EO, round 2: Maybe Christians merely 'claim' to be persecuted by Islamic State?

Does anyone out there in news-consumer land remember the 21 Coptic Christian martyrs of Libya who were slaughtered on a beach in that Islamic State video? As Pope Francis noted, many of them died with these words on their lips: "Jesus help me."

Remember the reports of Christians -- along with Yazidis and other religious minorities -- being raped, gunned down, hauled off into sexual servitude or in some cases crucified?

Surely you do. These hellish events did receive some coverage from major American newsrooms.

The persecution of religious minorities -- Christians, Yazidis, Alawites, Baha'is, Jews, Druze and Shia Muslims -- played a role, of course, in the #MuslimBan media blitz that followed the rushed release of President Donald Trump's first executive order creating a temporary ban on most refugees from lands racked by conflicts with radicalized forms of Islam.

So now journalists are dissecting the administration's second executive order on this topic, which tried to clean up some of the wreckage from that first train wreck. How did elite journalists deal with the religious persecution angle this time around?

Trigger warning: Readers who care about issues of religious persecution should sit down and take several deep breaths before reading this USA Today passage on changes in the second EO:

Nationals of the six countries with legal permanent residence in the U.S. (known as green card holders) are not affected. People with valid visas as of Monday also are exempt. And the order no longer gives immigration preference to "religious minorities," such as Christians who claim they are persecuted in mostly Muslim countries.

The key word there, of course, is "claim."

You see, we don't actually have any evidence -- in videos, photos or reports from religious organizations and human-rights groups -- that Christians and believers in other religious minorities are actually being persecuted. Christians simply "claim" that this is the case.

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A weekend of #MuslimBan: Did it help for press to ignore key contents of executive order?

A weekend of #MuslimBan: Did it help for press to ignore key contents of executive order?

What a train wreck. There is really no way to dig into the thousands, maybe millions, of words that the mainstream press poured out over the weekend in coverage of President Donald Trump's rushed, flawed executive order creating a temporary ban on most refugees from lands racked by conflicts with radicalized forms of Islam.

My main question, in this post, does not concern the merits of order or the process that created it. That's clearly part of the train wreck and, as someone who was openly #NeverTrump (and #NeverHillary), I think mainstream reporters should go after that mess that with the same fervor they dedicated to the humanitarian impact of the previous administration's policies in Syria, Iraq, etc. We need to know who decided to rollout such a important executive order in such a slapdash, incompetent fashion -- especially whatever it did or didn't say about people in transit or those with green cards.

Now, I would like to focus on one question in particular related to this journalistic blitz that I think will be of special interest to GetReligion readers.

The hashtag for the day was clearly #MuslimBan, even though the order contained language specifically trying to protect many oppressed Muslims. The media also focused on Trump's statements pledging to protect oppressed Christians (I know it's hard to #IgnoreTrump, even when it's wise to do so), even though the text of the order said something else.

My question: Did journalists make this tragic crisis worse by ignoring or mangling some key contents of this order? Following the action on Twitter, it seemed that there are two stances on that.

The first was from Trump critics on the left, which included almost all elite media. It said: The news coverage of the executive order was fine. We all know what Trump meant, no matter what the order's words said. So there.

The second -- with very few exceptions -- was among conservative Trump critics (click here for essential National Review essay by #NeverTrump stalwart David French). I said: The EO was messed up and flawed, but press didn't help by ignoring the order's content. This, along with Trump sloppiness and ego, helped add to the panic and added to the firestorm that hurt real people.

It certainly did appear that, in many cases, panicky police and immigration officials acted like they were enforcing what press reports said the executive order said, rather than the text of the order (which was rushed out in a crazed, flawed manner). I hope there is follow-up coverage on that issue.

So, when considering these questions, what is the key passage of the #MuslimBan order?

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Who are the Yazidis of Iraq? (And why are they facing such bitter persecution?)

Who are the Yazidis of Iraq? (And why are they facing such bitter persecution?)

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

I’ve heard of Yazidis but don’t know much about them. What are some basics of their beliefs?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The genocidal effort by the “Islamic State” (I.S.) to exterminate devotees of this small Kurdish religion centered in mountainous northern Iraq is a great moral outrage of the era. The opponents’ bloodthirsty zeal exceeds even the persecution, enslavement, exile, and murder I.S. has visited upon Christians.

With Mosul as the current focus of coalition combat to expel I.S., note that just 36 miles northeast of that metropolis lies Lalish, the holy city of the Yazidi (also transliterated as Yezidi, Azidi, Zedi, or Izdi). It’s the site of the major shrine and pilgrimage destination, the tomb of 12th Century Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, venerated as the founder (or co-founder) of the faith.

Yazidism is also in the news because refugee Nadia Murad Bassee has emerged internationally as the Yazidi voice for thousands of fellow young women subjected to kidnapping, sexual trafficking and rape at the hands of I.S.  In recent weeks she was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, and shared the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought with another Yazidi, Lamiya Aji Bashar.

Such hate has persisted over centuries and Yazidi annals count 72 previous waves of persecution. Muslim extremists find the Yazidis especially repellent and threatening. They are considered apostates from true Islam and thus deserving of death, and also as supposed “devil worshippers.”

In fact, this is a unique and lavishly syncretistic creed.

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Foreign Policy's story on ISIS' brutality of women tantalizes but disappoints

Foreign Policy's story on ISIS' brutality of women tantalizes but disappoints

It drew my eyes immediately: a story about how ISIS brutalizes Yazidi women in the name of Islam. It’s not the first time the topic has been covered but I’m always interested in stories with Iraqi datelines; in this case the oil-rich Kurdish city of Kirkuk.

Northern Iraq has gotten a lot more interesting ever since ISIS arrived there and began kidnapping non-Muslim women who were unfortunate enough to be in their way. An article in Foreign Policy Review got in touch with some of these women but the result was heavy on promise but short on delivery. It begins with the author interviewing a captured ISIS fighter:

The prisoner is in his mid- to late 30s, relatively fair-skinned for an Iraqi, with curly auburn hair and light brown eyes. According to the Peshmerga, the fighting force of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), he was the leader of an Islamic State intelligence unit. His jailers explain that the prisoner was responsible for interrogating people in Islamic State-held territory, trying to gather information and root out any internal dissent.
I purposefully twirl a piece of my hair around my index finger. I am aware that the prisoner, as a member of an organization that insists on the complete submission of women, is likely fighting back fury at the sight of an unveiled woman looking at him without fear.
“Tell me about your wife,” I begin. “How did you treat her?”
“My wife completely covered her body and face and never left the house without me,” he replies sullenly. I don’t know how much encouragement he received from his captors before speaking with me, but he seems healthy and uninjured. “She is forbidden from going anywhere without me.”

This is, of course, interesting and I'm hoping at this point we can learn why this man treats his wife as indoor chattel.

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Is ISIS a reliable source on its treatment of Christians? Sure, because terrorists don't lie

Is ISIS a reliable source on its treatment of Christians? Sure, because terrorists don't lie

Nod your head affirmatively if you agree that journalists are only as good as their sources, no matter what the story. Seeing nothing but affirmative head bobbing in GetReligion land, I'll now ask my follow up question:

Who or what constitutes an authoritative and trustworthy source?

Does the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) qualify as a trustworthy source in stories about how the terrorist group treats Christians in its self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq?

No way, you say? An absurd proposition? An even worse idea than taking as unquestionable truth the preposterous pandering of a certain presidential candidate (feel free to name your favorite political villain)?

Agreed.

But wait. It seems some international news outlets, western politicians and UN diplomats may not be as careful about this as we're trying to be. That, according to a recent essay in The Spectator, the nearly 200-year-old British news and culture weekly that leans right.

Here's the top of the Spectator piece, penned by Luke de Pulford, a member of the British Conservative Party's human rights commission.

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