Skip to main content

What chance do Yazidis have against group too brutal for al Qaeda?

By Maajid Nawaz, Special for CNN
updated 4:18 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • ISIS has taken control of Sinjar in Iraq, home to members of the Yazidi religious minority
  • Thousands fled from their homes, with some 30,000 families now stranded
  • Maajid Nawaz says ISIS' hatred of the Yazidis is clear and a "new Kosovo" is transpiring
  • He says rhetoric is not enough and the international community must take action to halt ISIS

Editor's note: Maajid Nawaz is co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, a think tank formed to combat extremism in society, and the author of "Radical." The views expressed in this commentary are solely the author's. For more on this story watch The World Right Now with Jim Clancy at 7:30 p.m. GMT tonight.

(CNN) -- The terror group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) which has shortened its name to "Islamic State" or "IS", led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, its self-proclaimed caliph, has hit a new low. Having spread across huge swathes of Iraq and Syria, leaving absolute devastation in its wake, its latest offensive has brought it to Sinjar, a city in the north western region of Nineveh in Iraq and home to at least 200,000 of the world's 700,000 members of the Yazidi faith

ISIS has always worn its love for sectarianism on its sleeve, and its vicious hatred for Yazidis has been no mystery. Repeatedly, disturbing videos have been circulated on social media depicting Yazidis held in tiny cells being cruelly taunted by ISIS prison guards. On top of this, "IS" propagandists have continuously warned of their intention to execute or enslave the adherents of this ancient Zoroastrian-linked religion, whom they view as "devil worshippers" on account of their revering a fallen angel.

Maajid Nawaz
Maajid Nawaz

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, when it seemed that ISIS were about to sweep into Sinjar last week, thousands upon thousands of Yazidis fled from their homes. Tragically, alongside the local Yazidis that fled were others who had taken refuge in Sinjar the month before, when ISIS captured Tal Afar, a neighboring city.

Everyone's fears proved to be rightly placed, with ISIS fiercely battling and soon routing the Kurdish Peshmerga, leaving them in control of Sinjar and many of its surroundings.

What's transpiring now is a new Kosovo, an ethno-religious cleansing on a huge scale. That it is taking place at the hands of a jihadist group too extreme for al Qaeda, a group that has repeatedly shown that it has internationalist ambitions, is all the more worrying.
Maajid Nawaz, Quilliam

While most fled to refugee camps in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, some 30,000 families ended up on Mount Sinjar, where they are now stranded, surrounded by jihadists.

They are forced to sleep in caves, faced with temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and have no food or water, let alone arms to defend themselves with. Initially, they could contact the outside world using mobile phones. Now, though, most of these have run out of battery and there is no telling how critical the situation has become. What is for certain is that their prospects for escape are minimal.

This is yet another instance of the appalling brutality of "IS", a group that has consistently abused the most basic human rights of the people it has forced itself upon. Over the last two months, it has committed countless mass summary executions of Shiite soldiers and tortured and shot hundreds of Sunni tribespeople who resisted its rule before taking to social media to boast about their actions.

Likewise, it recently gave the entire Christian population of Mosul a choice -- either they leave their homes and livelihoods, or they pay a tax to IS on the basis of their religion. Those who refused to do either faced death.

Yazidi lawmaker: We're being slaughtered
Christians forced to flee ISIS in Iraq
Kurdistan calls on U.S. to intervene
Christians in Iraq facing persecution
Christian leader: ISIS beheading children

The list of human rights offenses goes on. These jihadists are making a mockery of international law. It is becoming increasingly clear that they will not stop committing these criminal acts unless they are forced to stop. Unfortunately, the prospects for this are becoming more remote by the day, as ISIS fighters continue from strength to strength, capturing most of north-west Syria's largest military facilities and repelling all counter attacks by the Iraqi Armed Forces (IAF).

We, the international community, must not turn a blind eye to what's happening in on Mount Sinjar like we did in the wake of the expulsion of Mosuli Christians or the mass executions of Shiite soldiers. What's transpiring now is a new Kosovo, an ethno-religious cleansing on a huge scale. That it is taking place at the hands of a jihadist group too extreme for al Qaeda, a group that has repeatedly shown that it has internationalist ambitions, is all the more worrying. It is ludicrous that no one has acted against it already when it is clear that neither the IAF nor the Peshmerga is capable of shutting it down alone.

ISIS has acted with impunity in the region for far too long. It has been allowed to take control of an area larger than the United Kingdom, commandeer hundreds of thousands of dollars of U.S.-made weaponry and subjugate nearly 6 million people.

The international community needs to step up to this most troubling challenge. It must provide substantial and coordinated humanitarian assistance to all refugees and internally displaced people -- of any faith or ethnicity -- in the region. Furthermore, diplomatic pressure must be exerted on Turkey, the only military power in the region that stands a chance of crushing this false caliphate. Ankara must be ready to bury its differences with the Kurds and extend all the assistance it can to them on a human rights basis, even if this means military support.

Lastly, it is imperative that states across the world reaffirm their absolute commitment to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes the right to free thought, conscience and belief. If we do not stand by our principles, who will?

It is not enough to just condemn something with rhetoric; the world must react robustly and directly to these reprehensible developments.

The views expressed in this commentary are solely Maajid Nawaz's.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Iraq
Get all the latest news and updates on Iraq in Arabic by visiting CNN Arabic.
updated 11:50 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
The beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants brings into focus once again the risks faced by reporters in modern conflicts.
updated 1:20 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
When war reporter James Foley wasn't writing for GlobalPost or recording video for AFP, he occasionally shared stories on his own blog, aptly titled "A World of Troubles."
updated 11:17 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
A video released by ISIS shows the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley and threatens the life of another American if President Obama doesn't end military operations in Iraq.
updated 5:34 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
"May God help you," the speaker of Iraq's parliament told Haider al-Abadi the day he was nominated prime minister.
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
The answers to this question lie in some clear differences in the two conflicts.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Framing the intervention in religious terms bolsters theories of U.S. bias, says Fahad Nazer.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
They are the faces of an entire community on the run.
updated 4:54 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
In an exodus of almost biblical proportions, thousands trudge across a river to escape killers belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Theirs were the faces that stood out in the chaotic helicopter evacuation off the Sinjar Mountains.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Browse through photos of thousands of refugees trudging across a river to escape ISIS.
updated 11:41 AM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
The face of 15-year-old Aziza -- rescued from Mount Sinjar in Iraq -- says it all.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
CNN's Ivan Watson flies along with the Iraqi military as they drop emergency supplies.
Why do the militant Islamists have the Yazidis in their cross hairs?
updated 1:50 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Images illustrate the ongoing violence in Iraq.
updated 12:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
The message from a growing number of actors inside and outside Iraq is the same: Maliki must go if the country is to be saved.
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
ISIS gives young men "cars to drive, guns, cell phones and cash money."
updated 6:15 AM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Which is worse: Running desperately for your life, or seeing others' lives end without enough to eat or drink?
updated 1:01 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
The Sinjar Mountains have always been a special place of refuge for the Yazidis.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Sat August 9, 2014
Will the U.S. air strikes increase the terrorist threat in the U.S. and Europe?
updated 10:51 PM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
Which religious and ethnic groups are under threat from ISIS militants?
ISIS has spread from Syria into Iraq. Learn where the militant strongholds are.
updated 9:56 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
'Why do these people kill other people?" For Iraq's youngest residents, the tragedy is almost incomprehensible.
Even those who aren't in the line of fire feel the effects of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq since extremists attacked.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT