Entertainment Books

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Brave escape from Isis torture to asylum

Non-Fiction: The Girl who Beat Isis, Farida Khalaf and Andrea C Hoffman, Square Peg, €16.99

Farida Khalaf tells her incredible story of how she escaped the grips of the most feared group on earth
Farida Khalaf tells her incredible story of how she escaped the grips of the most feared group on earth
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

It is only two years since 18- year-old Farida Khalaf was on school holidays with ambitions to become a mathematics teacher. She had a contented life in the remote Yazidi village of Kocho in northern Iraq. The family garden was a little haven of mulberry, almond and apricot trees. Her father trained her to shoot an AK-47 at the age of 15, in case of attack while he was on army duty at the border with Syria. The reason why millions of people have risked their lives over thousands of miles, to reach a boat not fit for purpose, to cross the Mediterranean, is provided in Farida's story. Hers is a vivid human insight into the necessity to conquer Isis.

Since 2012, Sunni Muslim terrorist groups took over much of northern Syria, forcing inhabitants to follow strict Islamic behaviour. The most brutal group was Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - or Isis. Muslims believe that Yazidis worship the 'Prince of Hell'. Although Farida's grandad explained to her that this was a deliberate misunderstanding. The Yazidi worship Melek Taus, one of the seven angels whom 'God ordered to kneel before Adam'.

According to her grandad, Melek Taus refused to kneel out of allegiance to God. Muslims believe God is still raging against Melek Taus, calling him the 'fallen angel'. In the eyes of Isis the Yazidi are devil-worshippers who must be exterminated - or enslaved.

In 2014, Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself a caliph, the new ruler of Iraq and Syria, the spiritual and political leader of Muslims around the world, successor to the prophet Muhammad. The Kurdish military, the Peshmerga, had been protecting Farida's village but abandoned it to defend the border. When Isis jihadists arrived, they fooled the villagers into giving up their weapons in exchange for protection. The men were subsequently separated from the women and children and commanded to forsake their religion for Islam. Nobody did. As the women huddled together in the school hall, shots rang out as their husbands were murdered. The women were warned: "If you become Muslims, nothing will happen to you, your men are dogs that is why we've got to kill them."

Farida's nightmare began. She and her friend Evin were shoved on to a bus for Mosul where they and fellow schoolgirls were imprisoned and paraded in the Isis ritual system of sexual slavery. They ended up at a slave market in Raqqa, where Farida fought tooth-and-nail to preserve her faith and overcome the brutality of rape and horrific beatings. As punishment for her escape attempts she was sold to the infamous leader of the Bater in the Syrian desert. All the while, she and Evin tried not to be separated and lovingly supported each other. But Farida became weaker as her captors meted out crippling punishments. Eight of the girls were sent to a military camp and new owners. An Azerbaijani bought Farida for $50.

After four-and-a-half months in captivity, one cold, dark night, with the Jihadists on combat missions, the girls attempted one more escape. No film could convey the bravery and ingenuity of this incredible girl in challenging the most feared group on earth.

Eventually, Farida was granted asylum in Germany, where journalist Andrea C Hoffman interviewed her for this compelling read.

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