From an interview published on www.opendemocracy.net – Iraqi woman human rights defender Yanar Mohammed spoke to Jennifer Allsopp at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference about grass-roots responses to the atrocities women are facing under ISIS.
On the second day of the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on building global support for women human rights defenders, the 100 participants delivered a sobering and urgent message: history is still repeating itself. Watching the military-industrial complex wreak havoc in the Middle East, reflected Shirin Ebadi, holder of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, is like ‘rewinding a movie’. Women human rights defenders from across the globe were in agreement: the incalculable suffering of the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria have taught us, once and for all, that bombs lead to suffering, and never peace.
In her keynote speech, Shirin reflected on what a different world might have looked like if, in response to the atrocities of September 11th, the United States and its allies had built schools in Afghanistan in memory of the victims instead of retaliating with war and occupation. ‘You can’t fight an ideology by bombing it’, she told us, speaking of the heinous war crimes currently being committed by the Islamic State. ‘If a terrorist is taken out, his children will replace him. We must throw books not bombs’.
One participant who knows first-hand the horrors that come from forgetting history, and from erasing women from history in particular, is Yanar Mohammed, co-founder and Director of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. I spoke to hear about the situation in her country 12 years after I first marched for peace in London, and 12 years since the war on terror began.
Jennifer Allsopp: Yanar, what is the situation of women’s human rights in Iraq right now?
Yanar Mohammed: The new update of 2014-2015 is, of course, the attack of ISIS. But this is rooted in recent history. It is the direct result of all the politics that came into Iraq with the occupation. The US empowered the Shi’a Islamic political groups and marginalised a big part of the country who were recognised as Sunni people. It was only to be expected that the next step would be for the sectarian religious dynamics to surface, for one religious group to be fighting another religious group. The leading members of ISIS were either tortured in US military prisons or in the prisons of the Shi’a government which the Americans put in place. When you torture a person for long periods you might get a very passionate human rights defender but most probably you will get a beast whose only concern is to seek his revenge in the best way possible. And that’s what happened with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who was in Bucca prison, being tortured by the Americans and being prepared for his next role in life, head of ISIS. Before 2003, none of us knew which part of the country was Sunni and which part was Shi’a. This was something new to Iraq and we are reaping the results at this point. Women’s wellbeing has paid the price.