There was a remarkable report on Channel 4 news last night around a film by Mehran Bozorgnia, which featured an interview with half a dozen young Yazidi women from the Iraqi village of Kucho. They were taken captive by Islamic State, but managed to escaped from their stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.
It was horrible beyond words: one young woman taken as a sexual slave spoke of Isis fighters breaking the arms or fracturing the skulls of girls who refused to cooperate, of the shame of forced conversion, of the girls begging their captors to kill them. Her captor was an Australian Isis member; his Yazidi slaves were in addition to his wife. A 30-year-old woman obliged to act as minder for the younger women spoke of seeing girls as young as nine or ten taken for sex.
That rather puts into perspective the helpful Isis guidelines on the condition of women, translated and released yesterday by the Quilliam Foundation, which identifies nine years of age as the Islamic age of consent. (Those who maintain that this is un-Islamic may like to check the age of Mohammed’s youngest and favourite wife, Ayisha, when he married her.)
And no, the Yazidi refugees don’t want to go back to Kucho; it was their Sunni Muslim neighbours who betrayed them to Isis
Not quite as harrowing but still remarkable was the testimony of a Yazidi journalist and campaigner interviewed afterwards, who made some salient points (naturally, this being Channel 4, she was counterbalanced by a nice but beside-the-point woman from a Muslim feminist charity). One point she made was that the thousands of women still held captive by Isis rather put into perspective the furore in the Arab world over the killing of that unfortunate Jordanian pilot. The Yazidi sex slaves count for less, it seems, than he does.
Another is that there were, quite recently, opportunities to rescue the women; last October and November, she said, she and her colleagues transmitted details almost hourly about the captives’ whereabouts to Westerners. And what happened?...well, quite. None of which is to suggest that the captured menfolk got off lightly; they were killed.
In this context, the performance by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, was almost fantastical, talking about Britain’s contribution to the bombing campaign as being second only to that of the US. What, more than Jordan? He rather desperately pointed out the sterling performance by Kurdish forces in Kobane, in er, Iraq.
But worryingly, Jon Snow, interviewing him, seemed to miss the point too. He suggested that the Commons vote a year and a half ago declining to give the Government carte blanche to intervene in Syria was the explanation for Britain’s reluctance to intervene against Isis now. Naturally Fallon was anxious to agree. But hang on. The Commons vote, which personally I was all in favour of, was in the context of William Hague’s bid to intervene in the Syrian civil war against the Assad regime. It had nothing to do with action against Isis. And I fancy that another vote, specifically about limited intervention on the ground against Islamic State (rather than simply via airstrikes, which the Commons voted for in September), in Syria as well as Iraq, would have a very different outcome. Hell, it takes a lot to make Assad look like the lesser of two evils, but Isis pulled that off.
Remember, when Isis first surfaced apparently out of nowhere to capture Iraq’s second biggest city, Mosul, with all its top grade American weapons and central bank, the British intelligence services, like others, were caught unawares. I can tell you where political attention was back in London: the Foreign Secretary was, with Angelina Jolie, launching a British government initiative against sexual violence in war, a very admirable initiative. Funny though, that the most egregious recent example of sexual violence in war took place in short order afterwards, when Isis dealt with the Yazidi unbelievers by taking the women as spoils of war (that too has a precedent in the life of Mohammed).
Oh, and you’ll want to know about the Yazidi children. They were taken by Isis too, and the boys are being trained up as jihadists.