Insight into IS treatment of Yazidi

A confronting memoir provides a disturbing insight into Islamic State's treatment of Yazidi, writes Joshua Riddiford.

Farida Khalaf and Andrea C Hoffmann
Penguin Random House


The Girl Who Beat Isis tells the story of Farida Khalaf (a pseudonym), a teenage Kurdish Yazidi girl who is taken as a slave after Islamic State forces capture her hometown of Kocho in northern Iraq.

Farida dreams of becoming a maths teacher. She loves the subject because ``everything's so clear, so structured, so logical''. She speaks fondly of her favourite brother, Delan, who, despite a socially conservative culture, teaches his sister to drive.

Farida is a Yazidi (an ethnically Kurdish religious community). In early chapters, relations with local Muslims are described. These are smoothed through the wheels of commerce - local Kocho children welcome Muslim traders who sell fruits and sweets - but Muslims and Yazidis do not mix easily.

Farida's logical life, we learn, is soon to be thrown into turmoil by approaching IS forces.

Farida's father is a soldier in the Peshmerga (the Kurdish military force) and tries to reassure his family that the IS men will not reach Kocho. He and his fellow soldiers will protect them. Television news reports the IS soldiers do not pose a threat but Farida's mind is not at ease. Her fears are realised when IS eventually arrives and, seemingly easily, captures the town after the mayor surrenders.

IS soldiers separate the men and the women and a commander then offers an ultimatum to the women: convert to the IS creed of Islam or face the consequences.

``In our Islamic State we will not tolerate any infidels. we will give you three days to make your decision. Otherwise we will deal with you in the way that infidels deserve,'' the IS commander says.

This was quite an important moment in the book because of the central role which faith plays for Farida and her family. Farida's father declares ``it would be better to die'' rather than to renounce his faith.

Faith is clearly important to Farida, too.

It sits at the core of her being and the attempts, not to convert (for that implies choice in the converter), but to compel her towards the IS' representation of Islam are emotionally disturbing for her.

IS' treatment of Farida does not, as you may imagine, stop at the merely metaphysical. Farida is sold as a slave, where she is physically beaten by various masters and raped.

The story is confronting in parts (Farida describes attempts at suicide, first to avoid being raped and then afterwards to avoid the shame she believes she will bring on to her socially conservative Yazidi family).

I had high hopes the book would provide a compelling personal window on the experience of dealing with IS from a victim's perspective. It does in parts, but I found it did not flow in an easy and readable fashion.

This is probably because Farida told her story to journalist Andrea Hoffmann in Kurdish, which was translated into Hoffmann's native German before being converted into the English edition.

That criticism aside, the book does capture the extreme cruelty of IS operatives, and gives an example of the human toll this organisation has had on innocent people in the Middle East.

Joshua Riddiford is a reporter for Allied Press community newspaper The Star.

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