Two years ago, as Islamic State swept through northern Iraq in a rampage of conquest, pillage, rape and murder, the fighters under its ominous black banner singled out Christians and Yazidis for maltreatment.
Members of these ancient minorities were killed and compelled to convert to the Sunni variant of Islam, while their women were subjected to mass gang rapes and forced into sexual slavery.
Majed El Shafie, the founder of One Free World International, a human rights organization based in Toronto, was shocked and appalled by these developments.
El Shafie, an Egyptian Muslim whose conversion to Christianity cost him dearly, went to Iraq in an attempt to rescue some of victims of Islamic State oppression. He describes his humanitarian mission in The New Holocaust, which will be broadcast on June 8 at 9 p.m. on Vision TV, a Canadian station in Toronto.
The 22-minute documentary is a melange of recent file footage and talking heads. Clips of heavily-armed Islamic State fighters in battle mode are juxtaposed against the quiet but impassioned observations of El Shafie, a man who’s particularly sensitive to religious intolerance.
When El Shafie converted to Christianity in the 1990s, he was summarily arrested and tortured. He escaped to Israel via the Sinai Peninsula and wound up in Canada. He has since devoted himself to improving the lot of imperilled minorities around the world.
In the Arab world, the status of such groups has always been rather tenuous. After the creation of Israel in 1948, Arabic-speaking Jews were pressured to emigrate. More recently, Christian Copts in Egypt have felt the sting of their minority status.
Christians have lived in Iraq for centuries, but since the fall of the dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, their position in Iraqi society has sharply deteriorated. The rise of Islamic State, an off-shoot of Al Qaeda, has only worsened matters for Christians.
Two years ago this month, Islamic State conquered Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, and went on to capture a succession of towns and villages inhabited by Christians and Yazidis. In the jaundiced eyes of Islamic State, Christians were infidels and Yazidis were devil worshippers.
The atrocities committed by Islamic State were the stuff of newspaper headlines, but they pale in comparison to the crimes of the Nazis against Jews during the Holocaust.
The Iraqi army, having fled in the face of Islamic State’s offensive, was unable to protect Christians and Yazidis. As a result, they either fell into the hands of Islamic State, or managed to flee to safety in Kurdish areas under the control of the peshmerga.
According to El Shafie, One Free World International has saved upwards of 400 Iraqis. But 7,000 Iraqi Christian and Yazidi girls are still unaccounted for, having been kidnapped by Islamic State.
El Shafie hopes that the Canadian government will admit as landed immigrants some of the Christian and Yazidi refugees who survived the Islamic State onslaught in Iraq. They would certainly be able to preserve their religious beliefs and cultural customs in Canada.