by Richard Dawkins
This book is the ghost-written memoir of an almost superhumanly brave and heroic young woman, captured and sold into sexual slavery by ISIS. Farida Khalaf (not her real name, for obvious reasons) is a Yazidi teenager from the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. A high-flying mathematical scholar, she dreamed of becoming a teacher and won a coveted scholarship to Germany. But her dream and her happy family life were shattered when jihadist scum invaded her home village. The men of the village were lined up and shot for the crime of not being Muslims (the Yazidis are monotheists but their God is evidently distinguishable enough from Allah to justify murder) and the women were taken away and sold as slaves: sex slaves in the case of the young women and children, virgins being especially prized. In the slave market, customers would come to inspect the merchandise before haggling over the price in full hearing of the goods themselves. One prospective buyer put his finger in Farida’s mouth to check her teeth, as one might when buying a horse. She bit him, and I’m sorry she failed to bite his finger right off. Farida and her dear friend Evin deliberately tried to make themselves as unattractive as possible, in the hope of postponing the moment of purchase, although the conditions in which they were kept while imprisoned and awaiting sale were beyond appalling.
Farida was bought, sold on, bought again, raped repeatedly by her “owners”, starved, and beaten to the point of serious injury. Mercifully, we are spared the details of the rapes, but one horrific scene sticks in the memory:
“I’ve waited long enough”, he said. “God is my witness that this is so. I have a right to you.”
His long “wait” had been while Farida was incapacitated by her attempted suicide after he bought her, cutting her wrists with a broken bottle, the only weapon she could procure. She had barely recovered from the massive loss of blood before this rape scene.
He rolled out his mat and got ready to kneel down and pray. I’d heard from my friends that the particularly religious ones commonly did this before taking a woman, thereby celebrating their rape as a form of worship.
Farida desperately tried to jump out of the window while he was distracted at prayer but he caught her.
I tried biting his arm. But nothing helped. I could not prevent Amjed from doing what he’d planned. When he finally got off me, I curled up into a ball and stayed on the bed, crying.
That night, Farida had an epileptic fit.
Evin was bought too and the two friends saw each other only intermittently after that, which added to their distress for they found great solace in each other, and their mutually supportive comradeship in unspeakable adversity is among the most moving features of the book. Farida pretended not to speak Arabic and Evin posed as her sister who had to stick with her to translate into Kurdish.
With nauseating regularity, the girls’ “owners” would explain that their conduct was sanctified by the Koran: infidel women taken in war are your property to do what you like with. Obviously, everyone knows that, just ask the nearest “scholar”! And of course, infidel men are to be killed unless they convert to Islam. It must be great to have such confidence in your religion that you find it necessary to kill people who don’t follow it. Their captors made repeated attempts to convert the girls to Islam, and made them learn the Koran by heart, on penalty of being caned if they failed.
After several brave but unsuccessful escape attempts, Farida and Evin eventually led a group of six girls in a hazardous break-out. Evin had an uncle living in Germany, whom she had managed to telephone with a mobile phone that they stole from their guards. He made contact with a Scarlet Pimpernel-style underground which, for a price, would smuggle them to safety if only they could escape. In a terrifying feat of daring, they managed it. The escaping party included twelve-year-old Besma (twelve is not too young to be raped, holy scripture sanctions it). Their epic trudge through hostile ISIS-held territory has the reader’s heart in mouth, the danger of recapture was ever present and the fear of what would happen to them if they were recaptured was inerasable. Their escape was worthy of a Colditz thriller, and Farida and Evin covered themselves with glory, shepherding the younger girls safely through, including little Besma who was so ill with starvation they feared for her life. Their odyssey ended with a boat crossing of the Euphrates where Farida’s uncle, and other relatives of the girls, had been briefed to meet them. Farida was later tearfully reunited with her mother, who had also managed to escape slavery but who was almost unrecognizable, so vicious had been her treatment. Farida’s younger brother was the only survivor when the males of the village were shot because they weren’t Muslims. He was wounded but feigned death and got away with it.
Even after her escape, a shadow hung over Farida. By the lights of the culture in which she was reared, the fact that she had been raped was seen as dishonouring her family, almost as though it was her fault. It was only once spoken out loud, but she and Evin and their comrades could sense it. She finally realised her ambition of going to Germany, where she now is. She is making good progress in learning German, and has revived her hopes of becoming a mathematics teacher. All credit to Germany. Would Britain have accepted her? Brexit Britain? Farage’s shameful Britain? I hate to say it but I think I know the answer.
What a wonderfully gallant young woman, what a shining example to all of us spoiled brats fretting about our first world problems. Read the book, although I must warn you it’s highly distressing. But also uplifting. Never to be forgotten.