Monday 23 August 2021

The Last Girl,by Nadia Murad: Book Note


The Last Girl by Nadia Murad: Book Note

A couple of weeks ago (July 2021) I read The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight against the Islamic State

Nadia Murad 
(New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017).

Nadia Murad is a Yazidi, a member of a small religious group of about one million members in Northwest Iraq, bordering on what is now (unofficially) Kurdistan.  As readers might remember, the world because aware of this minority religious group in 2014, when ISIS conquered this region of Iraq. ISIS did not consider the Yazidi to be “People of the Book “(Jews and Christians) rather, it considered the Yazidi to be heretics, whom it was free to murder and enslave.  Thus, before the world had a chance to even know who the Yazidi were, ISIS began a genocide, killing all military-age men and boys and kidnapping marriageable girls and women, along with small children whom it could indoctrinate into it fundamentalist Islamist belief system. ISIS claimed that because they were heretics, Yazidi women could be used as sex slaves

Nadia grew up in a very large extended family in a village called Kocho. Yazidi speak Kurdish, and practice a religion which sees to combine elements of pre-Abrahamic Zoroastrianism with elements of Abrahamic religions, Nearby there were other villages inhabited by Sunni Muslims or by Christians. Despite this religious segregation of residential arrangements, everyone interacted at periodic markets, and her family’s doctor was a Sunni. Nadia’s father had abandoned her mother and his eleven children with her, to live with his younger second wife and their four children. Nadia had some education and worked hard on the family farm as well, Despite this relatively hard life, she describes her family and village with much love and nostalgia.

At 19, Nadia was one of the young women ISIS kidnapped. She was taken to Mosul where she was sold in a sex slave market. Her buyer was a high-status ISIS commanded who took her to a notary where she was forced to convert to Islam.  This apparently gave him license to rape her. When she tried to escape his clutches, he ordered six of his guards to rape her as well, then sold her to someone else. Eventually, after about three months, she managed to escape when her most recent buyer left the door to his house open. She threw herself on the mercy of complete strangers, a Sunni Muslim family, who at great risk to themselves decided to help her escape by sending one of their adult sons to escort her to Kurdistan, pretending she was his wife. Her oldest brother, who was already in Kurdistan, helped arrange her escape using a network of Yazidi activists and paid smugglers.

Unfortunately, factionalism among the Kurds resulted in information about Nadia and her rescuer – pseudonymously named Nasser- being circulated quite widely, endangering him. At the time of writing her book, Nadia still did not know if his family had been found out and punished for assisting her.

ISIS knew that the Yazidis prized the virginity of unmarried girls and women, thus they especially enjoyed defiling these virgins. To their credit, according to Murad, the surviving Yazidi elders got together and decided that girls and women who escaped ISIS would be welcomed back into the Yazidi community, as they obviously had neither converted to Islam nor engaged in sexual activities of their own free will. However, it seems that despite this, a fairly large percentage of former sex slaves felt rejected by their communities when they returned.

As I write this book note, the Taliban have conquered all of Afghanistan. There are now reports that they have begun to kidnap young girls to become their “wives”: that is, their sex slaves. Nadia Murad herself won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, and is now the UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

Meantime, as of 2018 Nadia’s rescuer, whose real name is Jabar, was living in poverty as a refugee in Germany, separated from his wife and two children still in Iraq. ISIS had come knocking on his door the day after he returned from taking Nadia to Kurdistan. He escaped by jumping out a window and joined the long trek of Middle Eastern refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe. His family managed to convince ISIS that he had acted alone. But despite his heroism, Jabar was just one of many refugees in Germany.









Thursday 12 August 2021

Sex-Based Privacy


Sex-Based Privacy

When I was a visiting scholar in the Netherlands for six months in 2000, I met a middle-aged “autochtonous” Dutch woman who told me how upset she’d been when she was obliged to share a hospital room with a man. When she asked if a Dutch Muslim woman would have had to share with a man, she was told no, as that would violate her culture. But as she told me, it was her culture too. It’s mine as well. Like probably every other culture in the world, “Western” culture allows women and men separate spaces for intimate physical acts. It also doesn’t expect unrelated men and women to share bedrooms in hospitals or other such venues.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I were on

the third floor of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto looking for a men’s bathroom. We came across two bathrooms with three stalls each, with only partial doors, the norm in Canada for segregated one-sex bathrooms. Both were labelled “all gender.” My husband, a very shy man in his 70s, didn’t know what to do, so I told him to go into the one on the right and I would guard it for him.

A couple of minutes later, two young Middle-Eastern looking men arrived, looked at the signs, and seemed confused. I told them where my husband was, so they went into the same bathroom. Then a family arrived: grandma, dad and baby in stroller. Grandma looked at the signs and decided to go downstairs to the first floor, where bathrooms were labelled “men” and ”women.” Then a grandmother and mother in hijab arrived, also with baby in tow. Grandma wanted to use the bathroom, but looked upset at the signage. I suggested to her daughter that her mother go into the empty bathroom on the left, and that she go in with her stroller to guard her mother from men who might enter. They did that.

Transgendered people want to use the bathroom of their chosen gender. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if bathrooms were clearly labelled male or female, and transgender people could use the one they identify with.  It would be even less of a problem if bathrooms were single-stall and had full-length doors that could be locked.  But what the Royal Ontario Museum did is the wrong way to go about accommodating transgender people, forcing everyone to risk using bathrooms with people of other genders.

Some people dismiss the “bathroom question” as a silly side-issue. But it isn’t. Bathrooms exist for the purposes of urination, defecation, and – for women of child-bearing age—menstruation. These are functions that both men and women usually perform privately or, if not completely privately, only with members of the same biological sex in the same location.

Consider, for example, campaigns to build separate latrines for schoolgirls in countries like India, so that the girls do not have to quit school in shame when they start menstruating. Consider, also, that refugee camps maintain separate latrine facilities for men and women. It is considered undignified and shameful to urinate, defecate and attend to menstrual cleanliness in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex.

The presumably Middle Eastern men and the presumably Muslim woman who followed my husband into the bathrooms at the ROM might have asserted that their culture prohibited them from entering mixed-“gender” bathrooms. In Canada at the moment, much attention is paid to preserving the culture of minority groups. But white Canadians of European ancestry also have cultural values that prescribe privacy for both men and women with regard to urination, defecation, and menstruation.

Must cultures if not all cultures, in most parts of the world, separate men and women for dignity’s sake. In some cultures, there are public baths. Men and women usually go to separate public baths. It would undignified and shameful for either men or women to be naked in these baths in the presence of people of the opposite biological sex.

Ideally, in the longer term, this problem can be solved by new ways of building infrastructure. Many newer restaurants, for example, have fully enclosed single-unit toilets, which anyone of whatever sex or gender may use. Perhaps also, women’s shelters could build separate units for transgender women whose biological sex does not conform to their gender identity.

But women and girls should still be entitled both to physical safety and to dignified privacy. So should men and boys. And no one should be vilified for pointing out that while there should be accommodation for people whose social gender and biological sex do not coincide, some consideration should be also given to people whose sex and gender do coincide. Many if not most of those people feel uncomfortable—if not unsafe—conducting their intimate private business in the presence of those whose sex they do not share.