The continued growth and appeal of ISIS is a living argument that history does not, in fact, have a “side,” and the worst behaviors that the world thought long-suppressed can not only make a return but even be used as recruiting tools. And so it is with the rebirth of large-scale slavery, including sex-slavery, in the Islamic State. Today’s New York Times features the stories of Yazidi girls who’ve managed to escape their ISIS captors, and the details are simply depraved:
In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.
He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.
When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.
“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity.
According to the Times, the ISIS drive into Yazidi territory may have been motivated not by simple desire to gain more territory but rather by the desire to seize Yazidi slaves. Under Sharia, polytheists like Yazidis are due less respect than Christian “people of the book,” and thus they can be bought and sold — and used to recruit new fighters — with a clear conscience. It’s all grounded in theology:
A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.
A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.
The report is excellent, and it doesn’t shy away from the religious justifications for ISIS’s slave system — even quoting a scholar who argues that there is a “great deal of [Islamic] scripture that sanctions slavery.” But the Times is still the Times, so the report features this not-so-subtle jab at American Christianity:
In much the same way as specific Bible passages were used centuries later to support the slave trade in the United States, the Islamic State cites specific verses or stories in the Quran or else in the Sunna, the traditions based on the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, to justify their human trafficking, experts say.
Regardless, the Times report highlights in stark language the true nature of our enemy. And as you read, remember that none of this was inevitable. Remember that the Iraq President Obama inherited was far more stable than the Iraq he’s leaving his successor, and stories like the stories you read above represent the human cost of weakness and withdrawal. History doesn’t have a “side,” but it does teach lessons. And one lesson is that the power vacuums we leave tend to be filled not by partners but by predators — men who remind us that evil has not left this world.