Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Last week marked the seventh annual commemoration of the Yazidi genocide, though you wouldn’t know it from watching establishment media. Nor would you know that there is an ongoing genocide of Christians taking place in Nigeria, nor that throughout the Islamic world countless women and girls are enduring kidnapping, forced marriages, forced conversions of Christians to Islam, genocidal rape, and/or widespread sex trafficking even in countries that are supposedly our allies in the War on Terror.
To keep abreast of these crises, one needs to seek out the work of such concerned journalists as the Freedom Center’s own Raymond Ibrahim or Dutch journalist Sonja Dahlmans, who work desperately to bring international attention to the plight of the victims of an actual war on women.
I recently interviewed Ms. Dahlmans about these issues. She currently writes (in Dutch only) for the conservative political news site PAL NWS, and is studying Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology, where she will be starting her thesis.
For those readers who would like to help make a change – and to participate in the effort to protecting and liberating the victims of Islamic Jihad, sex slavery and rape, please contact Sonja on her Twitter at: @SonjaDahlmans.
Mark Tapson: Sonja, please tell us what the focus of your journalistic work has been in recent years, and why you’re passionate about it.
Sonja Dahlmans: I focus mainly on Christian persecution, but I have also written about persecution of the Yazidis in Iraq and Syria and of Hindu girls in Pakistan. Women and girls from these groups are often targeted in Islamic countries or regions. The abduction, rape, forced marriage and forced conversion (to Islam) of non-Muslim women and girls is a widespread problem. This is the subject I write about the most, because I am afraid it is still underestimated, although lately there has been more attention to it. Unfortunately not often in the mainstream media, the subject is almost only discussed on Christian (or other religious minority) pages or reports.
MT: This past week was another annual commemoration of the Yazidi genocide, but it’s not over, is it? Western media give this little attention, but there are still literally thousands of women and girls missing today, aren’t there?
SD: No, it is not over at all. First of all, ISIS is still active in Iraq and Syria as we have seen for example in Syria (last February) when they helped jihadists within al-Sina prison to escape. There are so called sleeper cells too and they still carry out attacks. With regard to the Yazidi women and girls that they took captive, there are still around 2.700 of them in the hands of ISIS, or at least they are missing and we don’t know where they are. This is devastating for them and their families, as you can imagine. While there is only a little attention to this, the Yazidi women and girls that are probably still in the hands of ISIS, let’s not forget that there are also Christian women and girls who were taken by ISIS and are still missing. That is a subject you hardly hear anything about, but it does not mean it doesn’t exist.
I still hear and read that women and girls are being bought back, sometimes for a lot of money, and brought back to their families. This is really gruesome; these men, jihadists, have already earned money by trading these women, sexually exploiting them, and now earn money by selling them back to their own communities. There should be a lot more media coverage on this; it is not over, not by far for these victims and their families.
Then I would also add that in my opinion what happened under ISIS to Yazidi and Christian women and girls was not rape, but genocidal rape, as I have argued in an article that I wrote in 2017. There is a difference between rape during wartime and genocidal rape. The latter is often used for rape on the basis of a group’s race or ethnicity, but I think that in the case of the Yazidis and Christians we could say that this happened because they are part of an ethnic-religious group. A UN report states that ISIS came to destroy the Yazidis through sexual slavery. Genocidal rape is a strategy, it is organized from above, meant to make a group or community fear the rape of their women and daughters so much that they will try to escape the region. We know this has happened. And Yazidi victims are also telling stories of forced conversions or at least that they were being put under pressure to do so.
This is not new at all, unfortunately. The Sayfo, what is known as the Armenian genocide (but included Aramaic, Greek and Assyrian Christian women and girls as well) was also – according to many scholars – gender specific. Some even called it “a fate worse than dying.” During this period we have also seen forced conversions, abductions, planned, organized rape of women and very young girls.
MT: Can you tell us a bit about how sex trafficking is a problem even in countries that are supposedly American allies in the War on Terror, like Turkey?
SD: First of all, sex trafficking of Christian women and girls is a huge problem in several Islamic countries such as Nigeria, Syria, Egypt and Iraq. With regard to the women and girls ISIS took, we know from witness statements, from several reports, that some of them were held captive and/or were freed from a place in Turkey (Ankara, for example). Not just in Turkey; these women and girls were also sold to men from other countries in the Middle East, but Turkey certainly plays a huge role in this. This is also a claim the Yazidi Justice Committee makes in their report in which they say that Turkey, Iraq and Syria could and should be held responsible for not preventing genocide of the Yazidis within their own borders. This committee also states in their report that Turkey, bordering both Iraq and Syria, failed to take all available measures to protect Yazidi women and girls from transportation, trade and enslavement on Turkish territory.
Then there currently are Turkish-backed groups, supported by Ankara, operating in Syria who are – according to many observers – committing human rights violations. Some reports say that they are committing war crimes. Rape and torture, kidnapping too, of women are certainly huge parts of these violations.
According to a report by the UN, women and girls have been sold to men from Morocco, Libya, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. In an interview on Dutch national radio I said a few months ago that I think it is time we hold these countries accountable for what their citizens have done. And this is, as I said during the interview, something we hardly read or hear about in the media nor in the political arena and I think it is high time we do. Some of these countries – all Islamic – are so called “allies in the war against terror” or even NATO allies. Where are the restrictions, where is the demand that these countries will find these men who purchased women for their own pleasure and hold them accountable for it?
MT: There is an ongoing, literal genocide of Christians being carried out right now in Nigeria, which the Western media largely ignores. Can you talk a bit about that and how Christian women and girls are being especially targeted?
SD: Yes, the situation in Nigeria is a huge problem right now. I not only read about this in reports from experts, but also hear it from Nigerian friends within the police force and journalists. According to a report by Aid to the Church in Need, 95% of the victims being held by Islamists in Nigeria are Christian. We know there are several groups active: Boko Haram is well known to the public, I think, but there is also Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) and the militant form of the Fulani Muslims. Very young girls can get abducted and sold for example, but boys too, which makes parents decide to keep their children at home. Many children in Nigeria do not attend school due to fear for these abductions that actually happen on a daily basis. A few years ago we talked to each other about the situation of Leah Sharibu. She was one of the Dapchi girls that were abducted from school by Boko Haram, and Leah, being the only Christian girl, was never released. She was 14 at the time, she is still in captivity, although I believe she is now in the hands of ISWAP, a splinter cell of Boko Haram. They have declared that she, for refusing to deny Christ, will be their slave for the rest of her life.
I hear stories, but haven’t been able yet to dive into this, that some of these rapes are being filmed and sold for example to pornography sites. That is a horrible thing; this would mean that this horrible act will be online, probably forever, and relatives might see their loved ones being brutally raped, might be confronted with these brutal acts. Obviously for these women and girls this is a nightmare; their dignity is completely stolen from them by these groups that have no respect for human life at all.
Abduction of women and girls – boys too – is a huge problem in Nigeria that is done not only by jihadist or Islamist extremist groups but also by bandits who are doing this to benefit financially. Then we must also not forget that Nigeria is, regardless of any specific religion, a transit and destination country for human trafficking. There are also, for example, so-called “madams” within Pentecostal churches who are trafficking young, underaged girls. But because Christians in almost every Islamic society are marginalized and/or discriminated against, Christian women and girls are much more vulnerable to be exposed to this type of violence and abuse.
MT: What are a few other problem areas around the world that people might not be aware of, where women and girls are targeted for abuses like sex trafficking and child marriage?
SD: This is a very, very big problem around the Islamic world in particular. For example in Egypt and Pakistan the situation for Christian girls – mostly underaged – is particularly problematic. In Pakistan an estimated 2.000 girls, Christian, Hindu and Sikh, “disappear” every year. They are abducted, forced to marry a Muslim man and then forced to convert to Islam. Within Islamic Law (sharia) a non-Muslim parent cannot be the guardian over a Muslim child. So by forcibly converting these girls to Islam, it is much more difficult, not impossible, for parents to get their daughters back. In Pakistan Christian (and Hindu) girls are also abducted and trafficked to China. Some are victims of sexual exploitation, others end up being “married” to a Chinese man. In some cases, both have happened: a girl or woman first being forced to marry a Chinese man, then forced to have sex with other men. This just adds to the vulnerability of religious minority women in Pakistan.
We see similar things happening in Egypt where Christian girls and women are taken from the streets into a car and married off to a Muslim man and converted to Islam. They then often appear in the media, veiled, claiming they have converted to Islam freely. That is most of the time not the case; it happens by force. Some girls from poor families are groomed with gifts, fancy dresses or nice meals, and lured into a relationship/friendship with a Muslim man. I also hear stories of women being abducted and having their clothes stripped off and then they are filmed which makes them very vulnerable for blackmail, threats to expose this type of material online or show it to their communities.
With regard to these forced conversions, don’t forget that in many Islamic countries your religion is mentioned on your ID card. So once they have converted, under pressure, it will be really difficult to convert back to Christianity or Hinduism, due to the apostasy laws in Islam. And another important thing I would like to mention, is that this abduction and marrying fertile women and girls, converting them to Islam, also changes the demographics of a country. These Christian or Hindu or Sikh women and girls will now have Muslim children.
Don’t forget that child marriage, including abduction, is also an issue within the Islamic communities in these countries as well. For example, wealthy men from Saudi Arabia are traveling (and have been doing so for at least decades) to poor Islamic regions or countries to “marry” minor girls under Sharia for a short period of time. This could be a couple of days, a week or a month. We know this is happening in Egypt, Mauretania, Indonesia, Yemen and many other countries as well. So there is also abuse of Muslim women and girls.
Bride kidnapping happens for example in former Soviet states such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and others. During the Soviet Union it was suppressed, but during the fall of the Soviet Union and since we have seen an increase of that custom again, unfortunately. Women’s rights, girls’ rights, are a problem in the countries I have mentioned, but we can definitely say that being a woman from a religious minority group makes women and girls even more vulnerable.
MT: Is there anything the ordinary American citizen can do to have an impact on any of these urgent issues?
SD: I think it all starts with getting the message out, speaking about it to each other, within your church, community, friends, family. Write to your congressman (or -woman) and ask what will be done for the Yazidis in Syria and Iraq, for example, that are still held captive. Make sure nobody can hide from the responsibility to help these women and girls, that they are not forgotten.