Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Letter From the Islamic Killing Fields

'Women Survive. They Do Not Live.'

Sulome Anderson
Stuff: The Washington Post

A handcuffed man sits on a dirty couch in a small room. The walls are painted a sickly, pale yellow that is even less appealing in the harsh fluorescent lighting. Two fighters and an officer clad in green camouflage stand by, watching.  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.  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."  The Islamic State prisoner says he left his wife in the town of Hawija when he was sent to set up a sleeper cell in Kirkuk, which is held by the Peshmerga.  She was going to follow after him, but he was arrested while trying to enter Kurdish territory with a group of refugees.

Now, he says, he's been gone for more than four months - which, under the Islamic State's understanding of sharia, means she is probably married to someone else.  "How do you think she feels about that?" I ask.  "[My wife] is just a woman, like every other woman," he says coldly. "Women exist to be married and have children. In jihad, feelings do not matter. Women survive; they do not live."

The brutal treatment of women living under Islamic State rule is no secret. Horrific accounts of rape, torture, and murder against women of all religious and ethnic backgrounds have been proliferating since the fundamentalist group emerged as a significant power in the region.

But if the evidence for these crimes is unimpeachable, the motives for them are much hazier. Why exactly do Islamic State members commit such vile atrocities against women? What mental processes do they go through that lead them to a place where women can be bought and sold like sheep? That is what I hoped to discover by interviewing imprisoned Islamic State members, as well as women who have fallen victim to their merciless ideology.

Through my interviews, it became clear to me that the Islamic State has perfected a process of dehumanisation that allows its members to indulge their misogyny, aggressive sexual tendencies, and need for power - all in the name of Islam. . . . 

Inside the house, the woman, whom I'll call Farida, ushers us into a room away from her uncle and male cousin.  Cultural and religious restrictions in this part of the world often prevent sexually abused women from speaking freely about their experiences in front of men.

Farida is indeed beautiful, with flawless skin and shapely curves - but it is her eyes that immediately strike me. Though she is a perfect hostess, I can see the grief and rage roiling in them, barely restrained by her good manners.  "My sister is 16 years old," she begins bitterly.  "They married her to seven men. She is still in Syria. . . . I saw a man rape four women in a row. I saw them rip a baby from his mother's breast as he was drinking milk.  One man would marry me, then one of his friends would see me and like me, so he would marry me. I was sold to five men." . . . .

Many people have suggested that Islamic State members are on drugs, Farida says, but she doesn't believe that explanation. She never saw her captors take any such substances during her imprisonment.  "They are doing this freely and from their hearts. They eat, sleep, and breathe Islam. They are high on it. That's what makes them crazy. It's a sickness. Even their children are raised to be like that. I didn't see a single one of them who didn't have that mentality." . . . 

I ask the auburn-haired prisoner about the Islamic State's ideology concerning Yazidis, and whether he ever kept one as a slave. . . .  "I had one girl, but the doctor at our hospital saw her and liked her and he outranked me, so he took her," he responds, not meeting my gaze.  "The Yazidi women are given to high-ranking IS members. The younger ones are valued most highly. . . . With the Yazidis, it is different from the wives, because they are slaves and spoils of war. They belong to the Islamic State, and we can do whatever we like with them."

"What if that were your mother?" I ask him, trying to keep my voice even. "How would you feel about your mother being sold as a slave and raped, or even if she was Sunni, being married off to several of your friends?"  That gets a response. When he looks me in the face, the overwhelming hatred in his expression is utterly chilling.

"Even if it were my mother, that is Islamic sharia law and I would not mind because it would be for the jihad," he says finally.  "We treat women the way we are required to by Islamic law, not human law. This is how they are supposed to live. They are second-class humans."

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