ISIS arrived on the outskirts of Kocho (Sinjar, Iraq) early in the morning of August 3, 2014. The Yazidi village was under siege for two weeks; the people were held captive inside their homes awaiting their fate at the hands of the Islamic state.
In her memoir ‘The Last Girl – My story of captivity and my fight against the Islamic State’, Nadia Murad describes her journey from being held captive by the ISIS as their ‘Sabaya’(sex slave) to becoming a human rights activist. It’s been a few years since she escaped the brutality that many young Yazidi girls are still forced to endure even in 2018. While the ‘war on terror’ may or may not end, what irks me the most is the perpetual war on women which does not seem to end and exists since time immemorial. The history despite the bias has been unable to hide the fact that women have been rendered voiceless and dehumanised more often than we would admit. Even the recorded history is replete with instances of crimes against women.
ISIS killed 18 members of Nadia’s family including her mother. With a fraction of her family left by her side, Nadia continues to fight for the rights of women and children who are left vulnerable in the conflict zones. She is the UN’s first goodwill ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
Her memoir is not just her story; it’s the story of the entire Yazidi community across the world. She describes the history of her people, their culture and religion. The religion which the ISIS wishes to wipe off the face of earth – through its systematic destruction of the minority they refer to as ‘unbelievers’ or ‘infidels’. The ethnic cleansing/genocide of this community is one of the biggest human rights nightmare that went on while the world chose to look away.
‘The Last Girl’ is the story of a victim-turned-survivor-turned-fighter who chose to raise her voice against the injustices meted out to her community by a group of terrorists. She describes the political turmoil in Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the rise of the Islamic state. She basically traces the journey of the militant group’s rise to power through terrorism. This book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand what ISIS is and how it operates.
“First they kill the men, then they take the women”
The destruction of Yazidis, a small ethnic and religious minority in Iraq and Syria was carried out by ISIS in a strategic manner. They destroyed their infrastructure – their homes, schools and places of worship, killed the men and took away the women and children. Hence, making sure they had no place to return to or a way to get back to the life that was snatched away from them. The women were systematically raped, beaten, sold and passed on among the militants and children were brainwashed into becoming ISIS fighters. Forcible conversion to Islam, and enforcing new names and identities was an ISIS tactic to completely destroy the people they considered ‘Kaffirs’.
“I tell my story because it’s the best weapon I have”
Nadia’s story is one of the thousands of stories from the survivors of the ISIS’ highly gendered crimes. While she has been brave enough to give the details of her harrowing experience at the hands of her captors – Nadia keeps on emphasising throughout her memoir- that it’s not just her fight or her story alone. She has in fact given these details matter of factly – almost distancing herself – but the story still hits you hard. She does not try to evoke your emotions but it still overwhelms you, leaving you angry and drained.
“I wanted to talk about everything- the children who died of dehydration fleeing ISIS, the families still stranded on the mountain, the thousands of women and children who remained in captivity, and what my brothers saw at the site of the massacre.”
Nadia escaped her ISIS captors after a period of three months and moved to Germany as a refugee in 2015. Later that year she began her campaign to raise awareness against human trafficking. Since then she has used every platform available to her to speak on minority issues. She continues to demand justice and rights for the victims of war with her focus being on the recognition of sexual and gender-based violence as crimes under the international law. She demands that the international community overcomes political barriers to prosecution in these crimes.
“I don’t understand how anyone could stand by while thousands of Yazidis are sold into sexual slavery and raped until their bodies break. There’s no justification for that kind of cruelty, and no greater good can come of it.”
Nadia was awarded the 2018 Nobel peace prize with Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
She has indeed been brave not only in recounting her story to the world multiple times – but also speaking on behalf of so many others.
And just like her I too hope she becomes the last girl in the world with a story like hers.