How to Help Yazidi Girls and Women

 

Turkey SE7(Note: These are photos of southeast Turkey, in 2013.)

Two weeks ago, The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi wrote an article about the systematic rape and enslavement of Yazidi girls by ISIS. If you haven’t read the article, and even if you think you know the story already, read it:

The Islamic State’s formal introduction of systematic sexual slavery dates to Aug. 3, 2014, when its fighters invaded the villages on the southern flank of Mount Sinjar, a craggy massif of dun-colored rock in northern Iraq.

Its valleys and ravines are home to the Yazidis, a tiny religious minority who represent less than 1.5 percent of Iraq’s estimated population of 34 million.

The offensive on the mountain came just two months after the fall of Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. At first, it appeared that the subsequent advance on the mountain was just another attempt to extend the territory controlled by Islamic State fighters.

Almost immediately, there were signs that their aim this time was different.

Please read it all, even if it makes you vomit, as it should.

While the girls and women have met a fate that is arguably worse than death, the fate of the boys and men is inarguably just like death:

Turkey SE8Survivors say that men and women were separated within the first hour of their capture. Adolescent boys were told to lift up their shirts, and if they had armpit hair, they were directed to join their older brothers and fathers. In village after village, the men and older boys were driven or marched to nearby fields, where they were forced to lie down in the dirt and sprayed with automatic fire.

Although the outlines of this story were already widely known, Rukmini’s reporting is the best that’s been done. It pushed the issue into the headline news in the United States, for which we owe her and The New York Times our gratitude and, yes, our admiration. The New York Times often makes disreputable editorial decisions, but it has the ability to support reporting like this. When it does, I’m reminded that they are still one of the world’s greatest newspapers.

Turkey SEI wrote about the story here, and Cameron Gray wrote about it here. Many of you asked me in the comments and in private messages whether there was anything you could do. I replied that I would do some research, find out the best way to help as many people as possible, and let you know what I found out.

I lived in Turkey for a decade, and saw many well-meaning charity efforts there come to naught, including my own. It’s a difficult culture to navigate. I would be careful about donating money to groups that may have the very noblest of intentions, but may lack the knowledge of the region you’d need to be effective. I am not casting aspersions on any group in particular. I’ve found nothing to suggest that any of the groups who say they are working to save the victims of ISIS are ineffective. I just know from experience that this is possible, given that any effort to rescue these girls and women requires dealing with locals who won’t necessarily behave as well-meaning Americans expect. It would require speaking several local languages, first of all, or finding reliable translators and fixers, which in itself is a challenge. But more importantly, it would require a lot of contacts and experience in the region. Donations could easily be wasted on fixers, security, corrupt officials, or unreliable intermediaries. I’m not saying that they are, just that this seems to me an obvious risk.

Southeastern Turkey is culturally similar to the areas on the other side of the border. I’ve spent time in places where Yazidis live; I’ve written about cities and villages in this region:

For hundreds of miles, the Tigris flows serenely as it always has, passing sandbanks, bluffs, gorges, and fertile wetlands. In its shallows, local women wTurkey SE5ade; children splash and wrestle. Platforms on the riverbanks, elaborately carved of wood, are furnished with low cushions; locals eat grilled river fish there while dangling their feet in the water. This isn’t an Ephesus, reconstructed as a museum. Human beings have lived and worked here uninterrupted since the dawn of recorded history. Genesis informs us that the Tigris was one of the four branches of the river that watered the Garden of Eden. The Tigris is also where Daniel saw his vision of a mighty man: “Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz. … ”

Dicle Tuba Kılıç, of Turkey’s Nature Association, describes the Tigris as “not only of our nation but of all of Anatolia and Mesopotamia, the last wild river in this region, really the last.” The residents of Hasankeyf, for the most part, speak Kurdish, Turkish, and Arabic, but she tells me that the Arabic dialect used in the region is isolated and unique. “People here still live in the caves; they use fishing techniques they’ve used for centuries. We have the last examples of the culture of Upper Mesopotamia. We have Yazidis living behind these mountains—they are pre-Islamic, pre-Christian, they pray to the sun.” She is wrong about this; Yazidism was introduced to the area by Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir in the twelfth century. It is a highly syncretic complex of local beliefs: a bit of Zoroastrianism; a dash of Sufi Islam, Gnosticism, and Judaism; some neo-paganism for good measure. Yazidis believe that God created the world and then placed it under the care of seven holy beings, chief among them Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel. But they do pray in the direction of the sun, in magnificent white robes.

Assyrian Christians live in this region, too, speaking and writing dialects of Eastern Aramaic and using the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity. They trace their history to a Christian community established in the first century by the Apostle Saint Peter. And this region also holds the last traces of the Armenians who once called it their homeland: a scattering of ruined churches and monasteries.

Dicle tells me that theTurkey SE3 local lore is rich with tragic love stories. “Here is a strange story, like Romeo and Juliet,” she says. “There was a Muslim man living on this side of the river. He was in love with an Armenian girl living on the other side. They communicated every night with lights. The man swam across the river every night to see her. Then, one day, he noticed a blemish on her face. The girl was distraught. ‘Now you cannot see my beauty,’ she said, ‘because you’ve seen my flaw. You mustn’t try to cross the river, because you won’t be strong enough.’ Too proud, he refused to listen. But the next day, he tried to swim across the river and drowned.” Dicle meditates on the meaning of the fable. “I think it means that if you love somebody, you must accept them completely—their nationality, their religion. When you start to see their flaws, you lose your power.” Sadly, this is not a part of the world where that moral has ever been taken to heart.

When I was there, however, I saw all of these people living in relative peace. Not perfect, but good enough. I do not and will never believe that rape and genocide are inevitable in “that part of the world.” They are not.

A friend took the photos in this post. Demographically, most of the kids you see in them are apt to be from families that identify as Muslim, but there’s no way to tell. My friend was just taking snapshots, not conducting a survey about who worshipped what. Some might be Christian. It’s not impossible that there’s a Yezidi among those faces.

The key is that it doesn’t matter. I can’t tell what religion they are from these photos, and no God worthy of the name would care; they are, obviously, human. I’m sharing them because it might help explain why I’m unable to think of this as “another inevitable horror in a faraway land.” When I read the news from Syria and northern Iraq, I think of faces like these. The people in these photos are lucky, in that they’re on the Turkish side of the border — although even that is not so lucky.

I contacted Rukmini and several people I know to ask about the best way to help. I’m not going to explain everything I was told, because explaining the details would endanger the people we want to help. Likewise, I’m not going to share all that much about who I spoke to, or why I think he or she is qualified to assess the best way to approach the problem. But in broad outline, here’s an answer from someone I trust. The edits are mine:

Turkey SE9… all Yazidis I spoke with said the same thing: Help women and children escape ISIS captivity. Unlike places like Congo and Somalia, money actually can help women and children reach safety. This is possible through [redacted] The biggest obstacle seems to be first, knowing where the hostages are. Second [redacted] are risking their lives (about 7 have been killed thus far while working). But it’s not just a question of money — it’s money over time. Often, these women have very narrow windows to escape — a few hours, a few days maybe — and families simply do not have the funds on hand to pay.

In real world terms, this means women and children who have been hostages for a year are finally [redacted], and can’t due to short-term cashflow issues. [redacted] … one woman enslaved by ISIS failed to escape because of a [redacted] shortfall in funds. This is [redacted] a solvable problem.

From a policy standpoint, the issue seems to be that the [KRG] has a program to reimburse families, but it takes a few months, and [redacted] This leaves [redacted] families destitute and in debt to other [redacted] family and friends who have lent them the money (sometimes $[redacted] for a woman and children). There are issues with corruption, and a lot of talk about “running out of funds.” [redacted] pressure, and funding, from foreign governments to reimburse relatives who have paid to rescue women and children would go a long, long way toward a [redacted] program to free these women.

On the individuals and charity side, we are working on [redacted].

Right now, we are in conversation with the US government on [redacted].

So there are three things I’d recommend. First, if you’re donating money, donate it to Yazda. I’ve heard nothing but praise for them. It makes perfect sense to me that Yazidis themselves would know their situation best, know the region best, and be most motivated to ensure every penny you donate is used in the most effective way.

Second, for reasons I won’t detail, sign this petition, share it on social media, and encourage everyone you know to sign it:

The Yazidi and the local government in Iraq want to rescue them too, but they don’t have the resources they need to get them out. If the United States can step up and provide much-needed support to these groups, they can start to save these women and children. But the more time that goes by, the longer they have to live tTurkey SE2hrough this nightmare.

If nothing is done, thousands from my community will be doomed to a life of rape and torture by ISIS. Urge President Obama to help save them while there is still time.

I say this in marked distinction to what I’d usually say about signing petitions on Change.org. Usually I’d say that’s pointless moral preening in lieu of doing the difficult work of changing something. I’d usually say, “Don’t sign. Your conscience will be pointlessly assuaged.” I have reasons for feeling differently about this one, but don’t want to explain them here. If you send me an e-mail, though, I’d be happy to.

Finally, if you’d like to be part of a network of volunteers who will continue to fundraise, organize, and lobby toward the goal of freeing these girls and women, send me message with the e-mail at which you’d like to be contacted.

There is, in fact, a lot you can do.

Members have made 51 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Mike Rapkoch Member

    We simply cannot remain still in the face of this evil. We will have no right to complain of the darkness grows so deep that we stumble and fall.

    • #1
    • August 30, 2015 at 2:28 am
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  2. Profile photo of Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Mike Rapkoch:We simply cannot remain still in the face of this evil. We will have no right to complain of the darkness grows so deep that we stumble and fall.

    Unless, of course, we’ve been ordered to. “We” is a funny word. Funnier than most.

    • #2
    • August 30, 2015 at 2:43 am
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  3. Profile photo of Lucy Pevensie Inactive

    Thank you, Claire. It’s good to feel slightly less helpless.

    • #3
    • August 30, 2015 at 5:17 am
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  4. Profile photo of Retail Lawyer Member

    Does anybody know what happened to “D2P”, duty to protect? Samantha Power wrote about this duty, and it was the foundation of her move into politics. Now that she is the US Ambassador to the UN . . . its whatever.

    • #4
    • August 30, 2015 at 6:25 am
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  5. Profile photo of Carey J. Inactive

    Send an armored division or two over there with orders to wipe out any ISIS detachment small enough to be overrun. Support them with every B-52 in the fleet to smash any ISIS strong point, including those in cities, and have the tactical air support craft, such as A-10s and gunships harry them when they run. Repeat until you have driven them into the Mediterranean Sea.

    Kill them all, let Allah sort them out.

    • #5
    • August 30, 2015 at 7:26 am
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  6. Profile photo of Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Carey J.:Send an armored division or two over there with orders to wipe out any ISIS detachment small enough to be overrun. Support them with every B-52 in the fleet to smash any ISIS strong point, including those in cities, and have the tactical air support craft, such as A-10s and gunships harry them when they run. Repeat until you have driven them into the Mediterranean Sea.

    Kill them all, let Allah sort them out.

    My enthusiasm for killing ISIS is second to none, as I’m sure you know. But please do, meanwhile, sign that petition and share the link. If my explanation about why I think this will be of use is too cryptic, don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail: I’ll fill in more of the details. And let me know if you’d like to volunteer time in the future. I’d prefer to be addressing this with a B-52 as well, but I don’t have one under my control right now. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can do, however.

    • #6
    • August 30, 2015 at 7:39 am
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  7. Profile photo of Carey J. Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Carey J.:Send an armored division or two over there with orders to wipe out any ISIS detachment small enough to be overrun. Support them with every B-52 in the fleet to smash any ISIS strong point, including those in cities, and have the tactical air support craft, such as A-10s and gunships harry them when they run. Repeat until you have driven them into the Mediterranean Sea.

    Kill them all, let Allah sort them out.

    My enthusiasm for killing ISIS is second to none, as I’m sure you know. But please do, meanwhile, sign that petition and share the link. If my explanation about why I think this will be of use is too cryptic, don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail: I’ll fill in more of the details. And let me know if you’d like to volunteer time in the future. I’d prefer to be addressing this with a B-52 as well, but I don’t have one under my control right now. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can do, however.

    Done.

    • #7
    • August 30, 2015 at 8:16 am
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  8. Profile photo of Concretevol Thatcher

    I had already dontated and have signed the petition. We all can do that at a minimum

    • #8
    • August 30, 2015 at 8:36 am
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  9. Profile photo of Tom Phillips Inactive

    This group and its ideology is the single greatest threat facing the human race in my opinion. Their wanton destruction of lives and cultures for what appears to be pure pleasure is reason enough to eliminate them with a level of dedication unseen since 6, August 1945. But bombs and bullets are a short term solution at best. Truly dealing with such groups requires an interest in addressing the conditions that give young men an excuse to join them.

    • #9
    • August 30, 2015 at 8:45 am
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  10. Profile photo of Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Tom Phillips: This group and its ideology is the single greatest threat facing the human race in my opinion. Their wanton destruction of lives and cultures for what appears to be pure pleasure is reason enough to eliminate them with a level of dedication unseen since 6, August 1945. But bombs and bullets are a short term solution at best. Truly dealing with such groups requires an interest in addressing the conditions that give young men an excuse to join them.

    So, nuke the regional capitals as well?

    • #10
    • August 30, 2015 at 9:20 am
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  11. Profile photo of Carey J. Inactive

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Tom Phillips: This group and its ideology is the single greatest threat facing the human race in my opinion. Their wanton destruction of lives and cultures for what appears to be pure pleasure is reason enough to eliminate them with a level of dedication unseen since 6, August 1945. But bombs and bullets are a short term solution at best. Truly dealing with such groups requires an interest in addressing the conditions that give young men an excuse to join them.

    So, nuke the regional capitals as well?

    I think we have enough B-52s available to flatten pretty much any city without using nukes. It would take a few passes, but Cortez managed to smash Tenochtitlan with nothing but black powder cannon, and not all that many of them.

    And if you place the city under siege first, with full circumvallation, allowing no one to leave, the refugees from the destroyed neighborhoods create chaos for the defenders in the undamaged areas.

    An extended siege might goad ISIS into trying to send a relief force. Such a force would be easy meat for tactical aircraft.

    Conan had it right. The best in life is to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.

    • #11
    • August 30, 2015 at 9:40 am
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  12. Profile photo of Tom Phillips Inactive

    Ball Diamond Ball: So, nuke the regional capitals as well?

    It’s a reason to use force, not a recommendation. The nations of the ME are also at war with ISIS.

    • #12
    • August 30, 2015 at 9:40 am
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  13. Profile photo of Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Tom Phillips:

    Ball Diamond Ball: So, nuke the regional capitals as well?

    It’s a reason to use force, not a recommendation. The nations of the ME are also at war with ISIS.

    There’s a lot of play in “at war”. I’ve been at war, and I’ve been “at war”, and the distinction is disgusting.

    The only thing America is at war with right now is Americans. The rest is “war”.

    • #13
    • August 30, 2015 at 9:42 am
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  14. Profile photo of Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Carey J.: Conan had it right. The best in life is to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.

    Settle down, Conan. Sign the petition. Let’s hear a little less about the lamentation of women, okay?

    • #14
    • August 30, 2015 at 9:55 am
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  15. Profile photo of Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Ball Diamond Ball: The only thing America is at war with right now is Americans. The rest is “war”.

    I basically agree, which is why I think by the time those B52 start flying, all of these girls and women will be dead. Let’s get a few of them, at least, out of there. Help me out with this, okay? I’m not saying, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing,” I’m saying, “e-mail me and I’ll tell you why I think this might help to save at least some of these people — and even if it saves one, it saves a universe.

    • #15
    • August 30, 2015 at 9:58 am
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  16. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    Carey J.:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Carey J.:Send an armored division or two over there with orders to wipe out any ISIS detachment small enough to be overrun. Support them with every B-52 in the fleet to smash any ISIS strong point, including those in cities, and have the tactical air support craft, such as A-10s and gunships harry them when they run. Repeat until you have driven them into the Mediterranean Sea.

    Kill them all, let Allah sort them out.

    My enthusiasm for killing ISIS is second to none, as I’m sure you know. But please do, meanwhile, sign that petition and share the link. If my explanation about why I think this will be of use is too cryptic, don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail: I’ll fill in more of the details. And let me know if you’d like to volunteer time in the future. I’d prefer to be addressing this with a B-52 as well, but I don’t have one under my control right now. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can do, however.

    Done.

    Aye. Done here as well.

    • #16
    • August 30, 2015 at 10:32 am
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  17. Profile photo of Douglas Inactive

    The comments at that article. Sheesh. “I hope this doesn’t make Islamaphobia worse”. “The problem isn’t Islam. The problem is religion”. “We need to evolve beyond rape”. etc etc etc.

    • #17
    • August 30, 2015 at 10:41 am
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  18. Profile photo of Leigh Member

    Douglas:The comments at that article. Sheesh. “I hope this doesn’t make Islamaphobia worse”. “The problem isn’t Islam. The problem is religion”. “We need to evolve beyond rape”. etc etc etc.

    Or this:

    Maqroll
    North Florida August 13, 2015

    This is so intensely repulsive that I could read it only in installments. It speaks volumes of ISIS and slave masters, but what does it say more broadly of the practice of allowing truth texts to trump common secular values of decency?

    Yes, your “common secular values of decency.” Maybe you should have had a talk about that with Stalin — he seems to have missed the memo. And maybe you should research a little more where what decency we have in America came from.

    • #18
    • August 30, 2015 at 10:51 am
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  19. Profile photo of Sabrdance Member

    Signed.

    I hope it does something.

    • #19
    • August 30, 2015 at 11:26 am
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  20. Profile photo of AQ Member
    AQ

    Signed. God bless your efforts.

    • #20
    • August 30, 2015 at 11:54 am
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  21. Profile photo of Brad B. Member

    I’m curious to know if you have heard of this organization (link below): The Liberation of Yezidi and Christian Children of Iraq. The work is the brainchild of a Jewish businessman in Montreal who has rescued upwards of 130 young girls from sex slavery in Mosul. After fronting his own money for the rescue of the first 100 or so girls, he has since opened a charity. Steve Maman, the founder, has been on Mark Levin, Fox News, and a number of other places.

    I am friends with several Yezidis both in Iraq and expats in the States and they all have effusive praise for this organization. You can also find videos of the girls being reunited with their families.

    Yazda is a great organization as well. Good people.

    https://www.facebook.com/CYCIFoundation

    • #21
    • August 30, 2015 at 12:12 pm
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  22. Profile photo of katievs Inactive

    I am re-activating my long-lapsed membership just so I can message you and get on that list. I’ll make a donation to Yazda too. Thank you, Claire!

    • #22
    • August 30, 2015 at 1:34 pm
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  23. Profile photo of Manny Member

    Oh man, was that article hard to read. My stomach is twirling with anger and nausea. A few years ago, a friend of mine, an Evangelical Christian and fairly moderate in her views, said to me that Islam is a gutter religion and not to be fooled between the moderates and what they called extremes. I took it with a grain of salt. I’m a pretty tolerant guy and under most circumstances I think the best of people. Well, slowly but surely I’ve come to realize she was right. I don’t care about any distinction between moderates and extremes. They read the same filthy religious book and whether they go as far as the book tells them to or not, it’s still a gutter religion. Islam is evil.

    Why aren’t we there in Iraq killing those [expletive redacted; Ricochet’s style is to redact expletives in full — so, no printing them even with an asterisk or a vowel deleted]? Why are we letting this evil rule the day?

    • #23
    • August 30, 2015 at 1:51 pm
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  24. Profile photo of MarciN Member

    I’m not reading the article.

    But I signed the petition.

    And I’ll add my prayers too.

    • #24
    • August 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm
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  25. Profile photo of Mike Rapkoch Member

    Leigh:

    Douglas:The comments at that article. Sheesh. “I hope this doesn’t make Islamaphobia worse”. “The problem isn’t Islam. The problem is religion”. “We need to evolve beyond rape”. etc etc etc.

    Or this:

    Maqroll

    This is so intensely repulsive that I could read it only in installments. It speaks volumes of ISIS and slave masters, but what does it say more broadly of the practice of allowing truth texts to trump common secular values of decency?

    Yes, your “common secular values of decency.” Maybe you should have had a talk about that with Stalin — he seems to have missed the memo. And maybe you should research a little more where what decency we have in America came from.

    Is this really the thread on which we want to argue about religion? This is about human beings who are suffering now. The religion yay or nay argument seems better suited to a separate thread.

    • #25
    • August 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm
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  26. Profile photo of MarciN Member

    The older I get, the more interested I become in forming the Grandmothers’ Army.

    We would be a formidable force. We would take no prisoners.

    • #26
    • August 30, 2015 at 2:04 pm
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  27. Profile photo of Leigh Member

    Mike Rapkoch: s this really the thread on which we want to argue about religion? This is about human beings who are suffering now. The religion yay or nay argument seems better suited to a separate thread.

    I see what you mean, but that was not my intent, or Douglas’ either, I believe. To be clear, the quote I included was from the NYT article, not from a Ricochet member.

    If you read the article, the comment thread pops up first, and that was the top one — the first thing I saw on the article, and it was a trend. It was in your face. I agree that it would be inappropriate to get into a fight over Islam or Christianity on this thread, but that wasn’t my point — and to be honest, I think I took it for granted that no one on this thread would. The response of an overwhelming number of NYT commentators to this story… is not your response, or mine, but to make a cheap, dishonest point. That is important and perhaps makes it all the more urgent. It certainly made it all the more horrifying for me, reading it first. I can’t apologize for being repulsed by that as well, or by noting it on the post which linked the article for us to read and discuss.

    The story itself calls for something more substantial than a comment — and I don’t have any better words than those already used anyway.

    • #27
    • August 30, 2015 at 3:03 pm
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  28. Profile photo of Douglas Inactive

    katievs:I am re-activating my long-lapsed membership just so I can message you and get on that list. I’ll make a donation to Yazda too. Thank you, Claire!

    It’s about time. We missed you.

    • #28
    • August 30, 2015 at 3:03 pm
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  29. Profile photo of Douglas Inactive

    Mike Rapkoch:

    Leigh:

    Douglas:The comments at that article. Sheesh. “I hope this doesn’t make Islamaphobia worse”. “The problem isn’t Islam. The problem is religion”. “We need to evolve beyond rape”. etc etc etc.

    Or this:

    Maqroll

    This is so intensely repulsive that I could read it only in installments. It speaks volumes of ISIS and slave masters, but what does it say more broadly of the practice of allowing truth texts to trump common secular values of decency?

    Yes, your “common secular values of decency.” Maybe you should have had a talk about that with Stalin — he seems to have missed the memo. And maybe you should research a little more where what decency we have in America came from.

    Is this really the thread on which we want to argue about religion? This is about human beings who are suffering now. The religion yay or nay argument seems better suited to a separate thread.

    Who is arguing about religion? I’m pointing out the smarmy self-righteousness of progressives.

    • #29
    • August 30, 2015 at 3:04 pm
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  30. Profile photo of Crabby Appleton Coolidge

    If I may strongly recommend a book that provides and superb historical background that points to the magnitude of the tragedy occurring before the world’s eyes it is The Lost History of Christianity (Harper One, 2008) by Philip Jenkins. Before I read it I had no knowledge or appreciation of the enormous debt the faithful owe to the Christian communities of the east.

    The world’s governments, individually and collectively do not care about this tragedy and shame falls especially heavily on the Obama administration.

    • #30
    • August 30, 2015 at 3:08 pm
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