- RB -
“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther” - Rupi Kaur
“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther” - Rupi Kaur
As the Islamic State has lost its territorial control in Syria and Iraq, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to the hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals who decided to join the “caliphate” at its peak in power.
Many ISIS recruits joined from various countries located in the Middle East and North Africa, but let us not forget the overwhelming number of individuals from Western nations who joined the terrorist organization. Amongst others, the recruits came from the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
In 2015 alone, it was noted that approximately 30,000 fighters from at least 85 countries had joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The number has now increased to 40,000 foreign nationals from 110 countries.
Just last month, American substitute teacher Warren Christopher Clark was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led and American-supported group. Clark had allegedly sent the Islamic State a resume and cover letter in 2015, expressing his interest in teaching English to young children that were being held captive by ISIS terrorists.
Clark was amongst the 40,000 individuals living in more or less economically, socially, and politically stable countries who decided to join a fundamentalist movement in Iraq and Syria using religion as the justification to torturing, killing, and destroying the lives of millions of families. These foreign nationals were aiding and abetting in the forceful conversions, abductions, and enslavement of religious minority groups such as the Yezidis and Christians.
So, where are they now?
According to a U.S.-based think tank, 33 countries had reported arrivals of over 5,600 foreign fighters returning to their home countries. In the European Union, 1,200 foreign fighters have returned out of the 5,000 reported recruits.
While the respective countries must develop strategies in tackling the issue of these returning recruits, the question still remains: What happened to the remaining approximately 35,000 terrorists from these various foreign countries?
Although nobody seems to have an exact answer regarding their whereabouts, some of the foreign terrorists are being held in Baghdad and are currently under the control of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service.
Many of the Western countries have shown no interest in wanting their nationals back, and holding trials in Syria is currently not a possible alternative, making Iraq the only possible country able to serve justice to the many victims affected by the self-reclaimed caliphate.
In Syria, Kurdish-led forces backed by the US military have captured over 900 foreign fighters, handing them over to Iraqi authorities.
More than 300 people have already been sentenced to death in Iraq for their involvement with ISIS, with many others being sentenced to life in prison. While an Iraqi court does exist and proceedings are still ongoing, there has been major criticism regarding trials held in Baghdad. Human Rights Watch expressed its concerns stating that the foreign nationals are “at risk of torture and unfair trials in Iraq.”
The situation for the foreign terrorists remains extremely unpredictable, and with the U.S. deciding to withdraw troops in Syria, finding a quick solution seems too far-fetched.
Last week, the United States has called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who traveled to Syria and Iraq, yet very few nations are ready to take them back. France’s Interior Minister stated that some French jihadis have returned home with more to follow soon, while Britain has stripped many of their British citizenships and refuses to take any of them back.
Whether facing trials in Baghdad, or returning home to their country of citizenship, these foreign terrorists must be held accountable for the ruthless actions and crimes they committed in Syria and Iraq. Let us also not forget, as stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that these foreign detainees must be given the right to a fair trial.
Everyone by now is familiar with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal that began in 1995. After I watched a recent documentary however, we see Monica Lewinsky— for the first time since the scandal— finally share her side of the story.
The affair started when Monica Lewinsky interned at the White House during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Lewinsky was only 22 years old when the scandal began, and was naturally starstruck to be in the presence of someone in such a high position. It literally doesn’t get any higher than the president of the United States of America.
Before the intimate relationship began, Lewinsky told Clinton in private that she had a crush on him. Choosing not to recognize the 27 year age gap between the two, and aware of her immaturity (at such an age, isn’t everyone a little bit immature?), Bill Clinton decided right then and there that he would engage in a sexual relationship with a young woman who really didn’t know any better at the time.
BUT, I can't help but wonder...
When someone in such a high position has all the power in the world, shouldn’t it be their responsibility to maintain an ethical and respectful work environment, regardless of what his employees may do or say?
It is extremely crucial for women and men to understand that Bill Clinton took advantage of a young woman who was in awe about working for such a big figure. The affair was a clear abuse of power on Clinton’s end. Regardless of whether she shared her feelings towards him, it is his sole responsibility, as the President of the United States of America, to step back and reiterate that he was a married man, had a young daughter, and needed to maintain his reputation as the president of the United States.
Had Clinton really cared about Lewinsky as his employee, he would have protected her future by not engaging in sexual relations. Rather, he ignored all facts only so he could experience some short-lived pleasure.
We are used to seeing men use their position in power to take advantage of women, particularly young women. The consequences that two individuals have to deal with after a sex scandal are far bigger for women than they are for men. We have internalized the idea of male sexual drives to such an extent, that we no longer care when men engage in sexual relations with multiple women. Yet, when women engage in the exact same activity, their reputation and character will forever be questioned.
And because of society's internalized bias, when the political sex scandal finally came to light in 1998, America turned their back on Monica Lewinsky.
It is also important to mention that Lewinsky never had the intention of admitting the sexual affair, perhaps because of her personal feelings for Clinton. She even signed a false affidavit to protect Bill Clinton. He however, denied any allegations of the affair, and even stated that he had never spoken to her, even though evidence clearly proved otherwise.
Many were quick to instantly judge Lewinsky for her actions. But why are we blaming an intern (who happens to be very young and single) when we could just as well be blaming the man (who happens to be much older AND married)?
Lewinsky was harassed, bullied, ridiculed and even threatened. But what’s even worse? She was (and till this day continues to be) slut shamed for something she did when she was only 22 years old. Something that most people do when they’re 22 years old, maybe just not with a president of a powerful nation.
This sexual affair could have been avoided had Clinton put his selfishness aside. Instead, he ruined the life of a young woman who was just starting out in her career, and who remained loyal to him even throughout the ordeal. After the scandal was put to rest, Lewinsky could not find any employer who would hire her. Her reputation was and is tainted forever. Monica Lewinsky has been a household name since the scandal, and she will most probably never step out of the shadows of what was the most traumatic experience of her life. Lewinsky’s life is forever changed, while Bill Clinton was able to finish his presidential tenure and return back to his normal lifestyle with his wife and daughter.
Lewinsky recently made a statement that perfectly describes the faults of our society when it comes to scandals like this:
“Now I admit I made mistakes…but the attention and judgment that I received — not the story, but that I personally received — was unprecedented ... I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, ‘that woman’. I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget ‘that woman’ was dimensional and had a soul.”
I must admit, growing up and hearing about the scandal at such a young age, I regretfully found myself judging Lewinsky. My perception of this scandal was a visible outcome of the society I was living in. Society labeled her as a ‘slut’, therefore, I should label her as a ‘slut’ as well. But that is not and should not be the case.
We cannot continue to foster a culture that is based on inequality and feeds off the degradation of women based on their sexual relationships. America owes Monica Lewinsky an apology because Bill Clinton had a clear responsibility to avoid the scandal from happening in the first place. In my eyes, he fell through and not only failed America as a nation, but he more specifically failed all the women of America.
Transforming the Fashion Industry one Garment at a Time
Every now and then I encounter women who inspire me through their work. A couple months ago, I had the privilege of getting to know Natalia, an individual who stands for what she believes in – even in an industry that doesn’t always agree with her.
At age 10, Natalia Montero had already found her true passion in this world: creating beautiful garments. What she was perhaps unaware of was how her love for fashion would not only shape her future career, but it would also ultimately determine her role in the industry as a designer.
Currently receiving a formal education in the fundamentals of fashion and business, Natalia strives to emphasize the importance of implementing eco-friendly fabrics into the fashion industry. She is currently developing a streetwear collection for men and women using eco-friendly fabrics and hopes to educate her customers on fashion sustainability through her work.
“Ethical fashion and sustainability are important subjects, and people could make better shopping decisions by becoming educated on these subjects.” - Natalia
At a young age Natalia recognized that fashion is “wearable art that conveys messages about ourselves.” Soon after Natalia’s parents saw her potential, they found a local fashion school for her to attend alongside her normal secondary-school. “I loved fashion so much that I was driven to learn despite the rough schedule” Natalia says.
Born and raised in Mexico, at age 13, Natalia moved to the States to attend a boarding school. While she discovered her passion for fashion in Mexico, she found her entrepreneurial spirit in the US.
While pursuing her education in fashion, it did not take long for Natalia to realize how polluted the industry really is. “The industry totally clashes with my values on being eco-friendly and my love for nature.” Natalia particularly criticizes the unethical working conditions in sweatshops and the distorted beauty standards that are set forth in the industry, stating, “In order to see positive change, it is up to every designer, brand and individual customer to work together to restructure the business operations of the fashion industry.”
Rather than focusing on how her personal morals clash with the industry that she so desperately wants to [and deserves to] play a part in, Natalia saw an opportunity to improve the fashion industry by bringing ethics into the game. Natalia seeks to focus on fair workers compensation, replacing the highly-polluting textiles with eco-friendly fabrics, and changing the industry’s beauty standards.
But that’s not to say she hasn’t encountered obstacles along the way. “Some people (actually, the majority) will try to squash you down with their negative comments. They will try to put off the light within you, especially if you shine bright!” But her response to those wearing her down is: “Take their efforts to put you down as a compliment, smile, and keep on shining.”
Natalia is the exemplification of how young people in this generation can contribute to the improvement of society all whilst pursuing something they love doing. We as individuals hold a responsibility to put ethics in the forefront of what we do, whether its politics or fashion – everyone can make a positive contribution to their communities and to leave this world a little better than we found it.
A lot has crossed my mind during my time here in Kurdistan. Everybody knows how much I love this place. But sometimes we need to look at the downsides of our societies and ask ourselves if one could live a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life there. I’ve come up with a list of 10 questions that determine whether you are living in a society that is developed in any & every way possible. If your answer is NO to most of these questions, you probably don’t live in a developed society, in which case you need to ask yourself WHY?
I want you to reflect on your community and ask yourself the following questions (comment your answers below- I’d love to know what your overall answer is to these questions):
Share your answers!
When Saddam Hussein came into power in 1979, one thing was for sure: he was going to do whatever it took to eradicate the entire Kurdish population off this planet. Total annihilation of the Kurds was his goal. Saddam signed a deal with the devil, but is he the only one who should have been held accountable for his actions?
On March 16th, 1988, Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime carried out a genocide attack on the Kurdish minority in Iraq. The Anfal included a series of attacks resulting in an estimated 50,000-100,000 deaths throughout northern Iraq. It also included executions, forced relocation and the use of poison gas and nerve agents against the Kurds. During the Halabja attacks, 5,000 Kurds were killed; tens of thousands injured, and till today, has left thousands severely suffering from health consequences.
Shortly after the Holocaust tragedy, the United Nations criminalized acts of genocide, defining the term as:
[A]ny of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Although the United Nations definition of genocide composes of the same acts carried out by the Iraqi regime during the Anfal Campaign, no country has officially recognized the Halabja attacks as genocide, except for the British, Norwegian, and Swedish parliaments.
Regardless of the international recognition of the Kurdish genocide, the killings of 100,000 people are a direct violation of human rights, stated under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, article 3, “the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
So, here we are, wondering how a leader of the Republic of Iraq had the tools and power to fulfill his goal of wiping all Kurds off the map. Here’s how it went down:
Only years after the investigation of the genocide, it was found that European companies—specifically German, French, and Dutch companies, were involved in aiding Saddam Hussein with the chemicals used to annihilate the Kurds. A mixture of Mustard gas, VX, SARIN and TABUN.
Saddam’s Ba’athist regime systematically targeted and eliminated large numbers of Kurdish communities under the supervision of Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan Al-Majid, also known as “Chemical Ali.” In cooperation with Al-Majid, a Dutch chemical supplier named Frans van Anraat was held responsible for supplying the Iraqi government with “tonnes of base materials for chemical weapons” used in the Kurdish genocide. In the Dutch court, van Anraat admitted to supplying the chemicals, but denied knowing what they would be used for. And although the Dutch court did not recognize the attacks on the Kurds as genocide, Frans van Anraat was sentenced to 15 years in prison for supplying the Iraqi government with chemicals. It is also said that van Anraat was ordered to pay 400,000 Euros to a small number of the victims from the attacks.
In 2013, twenty Kurds took to court in an attempt to sue the French companies involved in the Kurdish genocide. Although the names of these companies are not named, there has been extensive evidence showing that, “The French companies… have made equipment for producing chemical agents, reactors and columns and steel tanks to contain toxic agents to be used to make gas.” The twenty Kurds who have filed a lawsuit against the French companies are currently also in the process of suing German and Dutch companies involved in supplying chemicals in the genocide.
The reason as to why Western companies were not held liable for their complicity in the Kurdish genocide is due to the fact that, according to the 1925 Geneva Convention, the use of chemical weapons are prohibited, while the possession of these chemicals are not prohibited. The Chemical Weapons Convention however, outlawed possessing chemical weapons in 1997- very shortly after the genocide campaign. Needless to say, European corporations discontinued the supply of chemical weapons to Iraq in the aftermath of the Kurdish genocide.
In addition, while the transfer of chemicals of mass destruction was a violation of domestic German law, Germany failed to enforce the prohibition of the export of these weapons. Similarly, the Dutch and French domestic laws were also not sufficiently enforced on the respective companies.
The most pressing issue in regards to holding European companies accountable for their complicity in the Kurdish genocide, is that these companies denied knowing what the chemical weapons would be used for, and, although doubtful, claim not to have known that its main (and only) use would be for chemical warfare.
There are many issues that come with the Kurdish genocide, but what needs to take priority is the mere thought that, as a result of the Anfal campaign, 100,000 lives were lost on the grounds of ethnic differences in Iraq. More than 5,000 Kurds were murdered during the chemical gas attack, and thousands of Kurds continue to suffer from miscarriages, birth defects, colon cancer, and other detrimental health consequences as a result of these attacks.
Since the attacks, the United States and its Western allies enforced a ‘no-fly zone’, creating a safe haven for the Kurds in northern Iraq. Ever since, the Kurdistan Regional Government has been trying to gain international recognition for the sufferings of their people.
Perhaps one of the primary concerns of the Halabja attacks derives from the fact that the Kurdish genocide has not yet been recognized on an international level. Once it is recognized, those involved in the acts can be held responsible on the grounds of crimes against humanity.
In the case of the ongoing Kurdish suffering, international law should expand and enhance to include a direct responsibility of those committed violations, specifically to hold corporations directly accountable.