Supporting Yezidis: a fight against apathy

Recently I had the honor of sharing my story at the San Francisco Bay Area interfaith event “Saving Yezidis from Slavery and Genocide of the Islamic State: A Race Against Time.” The program, organized by the Association for Human Values, was co-sponsored by a number of wonderful faith-based organizations including the Hindu American Foundation, Sewa International and my organization, JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. Sadly there were no Muslim organizations or activists involved in the program.

I spoke to the audience as a woman and a victim of terror who was nearly murdered in my native Libya in 1967 only because I am a Jew. It was thanks to a righteous Muslim and Christian that I am alive today. In the second half of the 20th century, my entire Jewish community, along with nearly one million Jews living in nine Arab countries were either expelled or forced to flee countries we inhabited for over 2,500 years.

I spoke as a human rights activist who fled Libya as a stateless refugee. In America, I use my religious freedom to extend empathy and protection to those who face religious oppression but don’t have the same freedoms, tools, and platforms that I have at my disposal.

The history of the Jews of Iraq was most relevant to this talk so I spoke on behalf of my Iraqi-Jewish brothers and sisters. The Jews of Iraq lived in the region for over 3,000 years, since Babylonian times, and their community produced some of Judaism’s most venerable rabbis, scholars and sages.

In 1941, during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Iraq’s pro-Nazi government led by Rashid Ali al-Kailani encouraged mobs to pillage the Jewish quarter of Baghdad and to kill and rape innocent men, women, children, and babies. This pogrom or Farhud left 120 dead, dozens wounded and the Jewish quarter destroyed. In 1952, 120,000 Iraqi Jews were stripped of their nationality and fled with only the clothes on their backs. Today the Jewish community of Iraq is extinct.

Similar events are currently taking place in Iraq and again, violence is directed at minority communities who have been part of the fabric and the history of Iraq, and the Middle East, nearly 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. Violent attacks by ISIS targeting Yezidis, Shabaks, Assyrian Christians, and other groups have escalated to ethnic cleansing and genocide. The Middle East, which used to be one of the most diverse regions of the world, is sadly becoming one of the most homogenous.

Muslim-Arab leadership, in the Middle East and beyond, has failed to reform their culture and societies to accept and promote the ideals of modernism, pluralism, human rights and religious-tolerance. The growing dominant Muslim culture of the Middle East is based on Islamic supremacy that accepts and promotes hate education, gender inequality, and violent discrimination against non-Muslims and homosexuals.  The Muslim world continues to ignore and be apathetic to genocide, abduction, forced conversion, violence, rape and slavery. Rarely do we hear moderate Muslim voices in protest of the atrocities currently being committed by ISIS and other extremist groups in the region.

Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which was designated a terror group by the United Arab Emirates, filed a U.S Supreme Court brief on a lawsuit levied against Abercrombie and Fitch. CAIR’s 38-page brief, supports the plaintiff, Samantha Eluf, a Muslim woman who wanted to wear a Hijab headscarf to work. While CAIR works hard to protect the rights of women to wear the Hijab headscarf, they’ve done little more than issue a four-sentence statement condemning ISIS. Where is their outcry and where are their actions to condemn one of the most brutal, inhumane Islamic terrorist organizations in modern history?

Thousands of Muslim women in France, Spain, Belgium and many other Western countries have come out to protest against prohibitions of the hijab headscarf and yet, when our Yezidi sisters are being systematically raped and sold into slavery with their children, when they face genocide, only because of their faith, the vast majority of Muslim women sit silently and hide behind the Hijab. Is Samatha Eluf’s right to wear a hijab more “haram” or more sinful than the basic human rights of the Yezidi woman are being raped, and sold to slavery.

If a Muslim woman marries outside the faith, she is subjected to the Muslim law of Takfir and is excommunicated from her community. I don’t see Al­ Azhar University, the oldest center for Islamic learning, declare ISIS leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and his butchers subject to Takfir! Is a Muslim woman’s “crime” to marry outside her faith bigger than ISIS’s crimes against humanity?

I ask moderate Muslims: where is your fight for civil rights on behalf of the estimated 7,000 Yezidi women who have been abducted by ISIS? Where are the civil rights of the Yezidi men, women and children who are being buried alive because they refuse to convert to Islam? Do you not hear their cries? To Muslim Americans, who choose silence and to hide behind CAIR, The Holy Land Foundation and other organizations who support the Muslim Brotherhood, I only have one message: Haram Alekem – shame on you!

The time has come for members of the Muslim Community to join us, to work through civil society to mobilize activists, to extend a protective shield to those communities who are being ethnically cleansed and to fight for the basic human rights of men, women and children in the Middle East.  It is time for us to join hands, Muslim and non-Muslims, to let Yezidi, and other minority communities, know that they are not forgotten and that they have allies, partners and empathetic voices here in North America.

As an activist, I raise my voice on behalf of the silenced women and children whose cries we cannot hear, whose tears we cannot see, and whose suffering we cannot begin to endure. The Yezidi voice has been pierced by a bullet –  their women and children have been forced into conversion, beaten, raped and sold into slavery. Our moderate, Western voices must be their voices. Their plight must be our plight.

To the Yezidi Community, we want you to know that we know your names, we see your faces, we shed your tears, we know your plight, and we hear your cries! I appeal to Muslims to join us to work together so that yesterday’s Holocaust will not be the Yezidi’s tomorrow.

About the Author
Gina Waldman is the co-founder and current President of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. She has had a long career in political activism in California. She is the former Director of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jewry.