Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Nadia Murad Basee Taha

Nadia Murad Basee Taha (Murad), was born in 1993 in the village of Kocho in Sinjar, Iraq.  Her family members are part of the Yazidi ethno-religious minority.  Their livelihood was faming.  The Yazidis have come into focus and captured the world’s attention on account of the fact that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has made repeated attempts to annihilate them.  It has been estimated that there are some 700,000 members of this community living in the countries of Iraq, Armenia and Georgia and other parts of the world.  Taha has become an international voice of conscience in regards to her peoples’ plight.  The vast majority of the Yazidis reside in northern Iraq around Mt. Sinjar

Who are the Yazidis?
As mentioned earlier, estimates put the global number of Yazidis at around 700,000 people, with the vast majority of them concentrated in northern Iraq, in and around Sinjar.  The following description is taken from a report that appeared in The Guardian in August of 2014 authored by Raya Jalabi.

“A historically misunderstood group, the Yazidis are predominantly ethnically Kurdish, and have kept alive their syncretic religion for centuries, despite many years of oppression and threatened extermination.

“The ancient religion is rumoured to have been founded by an 11th century Ummayyad sheikh and is derived from Zoroastrianism (an ancient Persian faith founded by the philosopher Zoroaster (~630 – 550 BC), Christianity and Islam. The religion has taken elements from each, ranging from baptism (Christianity) to circumcision (Islam) to reverence of fire as a manifestation from God (derived from Zoroastrianism) and yet remains distinctly non-Abrahamic.   This derivative quality has often led the Yazidis to be referred to as a sect.

“At the core of the Yazidis’ marginalization is their worship of a fallen angel, Melek Tawwus, or Peacock Angel, one of the seven angels that take primacy in their beliefs. Unlike the fall from grace of Satan, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Melek Tawwus was forgiven and returned to heaven by God. The importance of Melek Tawwus to the Yazidis has given them an undeserved reputation for being devil-worshippers – a notoriety that, in the climate of extremism gripping Iraq, has turned life-threatening.

“Under Ottoman rule in the 18th and 19th centuries alone, the Yazidis were subject to 72 genocidal massacres. More recently in 2007, hundreds of Yazidis were killed as a spate of car bombs ripped through their stronghold in northern Iraq. With numbers of dead as close to 800, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent, this was one of the single deadliest events to take place during the American-led invasion.

The Yazidis had been denounced as infidels by Al-Qaida in Iraq, a predecessor of Isis, which sanctioned their indiscriminate killing.”

ISIS fighters invaded the village of Kocho where Murad was a student.  She was nineteen years old at the time when she witnessed the massacre that followed resulting in the death of 600 inhabitants including six of Murad’s brothers and step-brothers.  The younger women were forced into slavery.  She was one of 6,700 women taken prisoner by ISIS.  As a prisoner she was beaten, tortured and raped when she made a failed attempt to escape her captors. 
Murad ultimately did escape when her captor unwittingly left the door unlocked in the house where she was imprisoned.  She was eventually smuggled out of ISIS-controlled territory and was safely transported to a refugee camp in the neighboring town of Duhok.  In February of 2015, she gave her first testimony of her horrific ordeal to reporters.  Murad moved to Germany, taking advantage of a refugee program sponsored by the German Government.

The following, is the statement Murad made to the UN Security Council on December 18, 2015 -
Mr. President:
Ladies and gentlemen, Delegates of the Security Council, Good afternoon.
“I would like to thank United States for calling for this debate and for inviting me to speak.
“It is with great sadness, gratitude and hope that I stand before you today as one of the few survivors of one of the world’s oldest ethnic and religious group now threatened by extinction.
“I am here today to speak on the way the so-called Islamic State trafficked us, transformed the Yazidi women into Sex slaves, and the way IS committed a genocide against my people. I am here to tell what has happened to me and my community that lost hope is headed to the unknown, I am here also to speak on behalf of those who remain in captivity.
“I am here to speak about a global terrorist organization that came to end our existence, culture and freedom, to speak about the nightmare that change life for a community overnight.
“Before August 3, 2014, I was living with my family in Kocho village with my single mother and brothers and sisters, our village was beautiful, we were living in peace. But on August 3rd, the militants of the Islamic State, attacked our areas and we found ourselves faced with a brutal genocide. These large groups of armed men of various nationalities in uniforms with weapons, had decided that the Yazidis were infidels and had to be eradicated.
“The Islamic State didn’t come to kill the women and girls, but to use us as spoils of war, as objects to be sold with little or to be gifted for free.
“Their cruelty was not merely opportunistic. The IS soldiers came with a pre-established policy to commit such crimes.
Islamic State had one intention, the destroy the Yazidi identity by force, rape, recruitment of children, and destruction of holy sites they captured, especially against the Yazidi woman where the used rape as a mean of destruction for Yazidi women and girls and ensuring these women will never return to a normal life.
“On August 15th, the Militants called us to the school building, where the separated men from us; I witnessed from the second floor of the school, they took the men and killed them, including 6 of my brothers and step brothers who were killed, and 3 who escaped the mass killing with Creator Blessing.
“We, the women and the children, were driven away to another area. Along the way, they insulted us, they were forcefully touching women and girls.
“I was taken with some other 150 girls to Mosul, in a building in Mosul, there were thousands of Yazidi women of children and who previously captured by ISIL to be offered as gifts.
“A militant approached me, he said they would take me, I was looking down, I was terrified, when I looked up, I saw a big man, he looked like a minister. I cried, I said I won’t want you, I told him you are too big for me, I am a little girl. Another militant walked in, I was still looking down, I saw his feet, he had small feet, I begged him to take me for himself, I was so scared from the big militant.
“The one who took me asked me to convert, I did not, he then one day asked me for “marriage”, I told him I am sick, most of the captive women there had their menstrual period due to the fears. Then he one day forced me to dress for him and put make up, I did, and in that black night, he did it.
“He forced me to serve his militant squad, he insulted me by forcing me to dress improperly. And I was unable to bear more rape and torture, I decided to escape, but I failed and I was captured by on the guards.
“That night, he beat me up, forced to undress, and put me in a room with 6 militants. They continued to commit crimes to my body until I became unconscious.
“After three months of abduction, finally I was able to escape. Now I live in Germany. Thanks to Germany who accepted to treat me.
“But it was not only me who suffered, it was a collective suffering, The Islamic State gave us two choices, covert of die, for those who accepted to convert fearing their lives, their men were killed, women were enslaved and children were recruited.
“To date, 16 mass graves have been found, including a mass grave of 80 women who they didn’t desire, therefore decided to kill. more than 400,000 Yazidis are displaced, more than 40 percent of our areas remain under control of IS, and the liberated areas are not habitable because of the destruction and Yazidi fears to return and live in their homes with peace.
“Over the past week only, more than 70 Yazidi women and children drowned on their way through dangerous paths to Europe, thousands are seeking and exit, a great percentage see immigration in the only choice.
“Mrs. President, Ladies and gentlemen:
“The Islamic State have made the Yazidi women a fuel for human trafficking.
“I am presenting to you our requests and I have hope that humanity has not died, yet:
  1. Bring back more than 3400 women and children currently suffering under the mercy of those who lost every bit of mercy.
2.      Recognize the mass killing, enslavement and human trafficking committed as a genocide, I appeal to you to find a way to open a case before the International Criminal Court.
3.      Liberate our land, Liberate Kocho so that Kocho people can bury the remains of their dead, provide Yazidi Areas and other threaten minorities Areas with international protection so we can return one day and live in peace, I also request that you allocate an international fund to compensate victims and build our areas.
4.      Open your borders for my community, we are victims of a genocide and we have the right to seek a safe place where our dignity will be preserved. We request that to give Yazidis and other threatened minorities the choice to resettle, especially to the victims of human trafficking, as Germany Did.
5.      Bring an End to ISIL, I have seen them, I have lived the pain they caused. We have to bring all human traffickers criminals and Those who committed a Genocide to justice so that the women and children in Nigeria, Syria, Somalia, and everywhere in the world can live in peace. These crimes against women and their freedom shall stop now.”
This statement paints a compelling and moving story of the experiences of a young woman and is an indictment of the abhorrent and extremist behavior of those who are apparently “possessed” by a fanatical ideology that sanctions such unimaginable brutality in the name of religious belief.  It is also illustrates the remarkable persistence, courage and strength of character of Murad in the light of her horrendous experiences in her native Iraq. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Black Pregnancies at Risk in the U.S.

The fundamental racial disparity in the nation's health care system is demonstrated by the following report from the New York Times -

Saturday, April 14, 2018

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce, born in August of 1759, was a powerful advocate for the abolition of slavery in the then extensive British Empire.  Great Britain’s involvement in the promulgation of slavery was, for most part, driven by economic and commercial interests that spanned the globe.  The industrial revolution that began in England, was essentially financed by its colonial activities that embraced slavery.

Wilberforce was born into a wealthy and influential family in Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England.  Following his father’s untimely death in 1768, his mother sent her nine-year old son to his affluent uncle and aunt who had residences at St. James’ Place, London and Wimbledon.  He eventually became very attached to his “new” family.  His mother, however, was a member of England’s traditional Anglican Church and was concerned about her son’s exposure to Evangelical Christianity and had him return to her at the age of 12.  It was his Aunt Hannah who was especially influential in this regard.
At eighteen years of age (1777), Wilberforce attended St. John’s College in Cambridge University.  He was not an exceptional student; he already had an inheritance and was not particularly motivated.  However, there be became close friends with William Pitt who would later become Prime Minister (1783-1801 and 1804-1806).  Nearing the end of his stay at Cambridge, Wilberforce decided to run for Parliament and won a seat at the age of 21 as an independent.
While he was in Parliament, he distinguished himself as an eloquent speaker.  There, he met James Ramsay in 1783 and for the first time the subject of slavery was discussed.  The Reverend James Ramsay (1733 – 1789) was a ship's surgeon, Anglican priest, and was a leader in the abolitionist movement.  This relationship signaled a change in Wilberforce’s perception.  Between 1784 and 1786, Wilberforce seemed to have experienced an intense religious conversion.  As a result, he was tempted to abandon his political ambitions; however, his good friend and mentor John Newton encouraged him to use his political position to push for social reform.  John Newton was an Anglican clergyman and former slave ship master who eventually spoke out against the slave trade.  In 1789, Wilberforce witnessed his country’s loss of the American Colonies after its defeat in the American Revolutionary War.  This may have impressed upon him the reality of a shrinking British Empire as further encouragement for the need for major reform.
Using his new-found religious conviction, Wilberforce began to lead, guided by conscience.  The slave trade and the abhorrent character of slavery, inspired him to become a forceful advocate for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade.  He was encouraged by Sir Charles Middleton to represent the cause in Parliament.  Charles Middleton was a British Royal Naval officer who, in his later years, played a critical role in the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. He was also influenced by the writings of Rev. James Ramsay (as mentioned earlier).  Furthermore, in 1787, Wilberforce was introduced to Thomas Clarkson who gave him a copy of his treatise on slavery entitled, “Essay on Slavery.” They joined together in a collaborative effort to abolish the slave trade that lasted nearly a half of a century.
The following is Wilberforce’s impassioned speech in support of the abolition of slavery to the Parliament in 1789 in its entirety –

“When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House—a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause—when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candor I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours;—when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end;—when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage—I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade. I wish exceedingly, in the outset, to guard both myself and the House from entering into the subject with any sort of passion. It is not their passions I shall appeal to—I ask only for their cool and impartial reason; and I wish not to take them by surprise, but to deliberate, point by point, upon every part of this question. I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty - we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others; and I therefore deprecate every kind of reflection against the various descriptions of people who are more immediately involved in this wretched business. Having now disposed of the first part of this subject, I must speak of the transit of the slaves in the West Indies. This I confess, in my own opinion, is the most wretched part of the whole subject. So much misery condensed in so little room, is more than the human imagination had ever before conceived. I will not accuse the Liverpool merchants: I will allow them, nay, I will believe them to be men of humanity; and I will therefore believe, if it were not for the enormous magnitude and extent of the evil which distracts their attention from individual cases, and makes them think generally, and therefore less feelingly on the subject, they would never have persisted in the trade. I verily believe therefore, if the William Wilberforce’s 1789 Abolition Speech National History Day 2007 61 wretchedness of any one of the many hundred Negroes stowed in each ship could be brought before their view, and remain within the sight of the African Merchant, that there is no one among them whose heart would bear it. Let anyone imagine to himself 6 or 700 of these wretches chained two and two, surrounded with every object that is nauseous and disgusting, diseased, and struggling under every kind of wretchedness! How can we bear to think of such a scene as this? One would think it had been determined to heap upon them all the varieties of bodily pain, for the purpose of blunting the feelings of the mind; and yet, in this very point (to show the power of human prejudice) the situation of the slaves has been described by Mr. Norris, one of the Liverpool delegates, in a manner which, I am sure will convince the House how interest can draw a film across the eyes, so thick, that total blindness could do no more; and how it is our duty therefore to trust not to the reasonings of interested men, or to their way of colouring a transaction... As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might - let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.”

After years of concerted effort during which time public sentiment in favor of abolition grew, Wilberforce put forth a bill called the Slave Trade Act that made it illegal for slave owners to participate in the trading of slaves with the French colonies.  Although this bill fell short of an entire ban on the slave trade, it reduced the slave trade by 75% - it was a masterful piece of legislation.  It became law in 1807.
However, the battle was not yet won.  Finally, in 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed.  This act made slavery illegal in most parts of the Empire.  Just three days after this monumental reform in British law and custom, Wilberforce died on July 29, 1833.
Without Wilberforce’s persistent and undaunted efforts to end the support of slavery In the British Empire, it probably would not have happened in a timely fashion.  It would take some thirty years before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863} that ended slavery in the United States in the midst of the disastrous American Civil War.