Nadje Al-Ali on ISIS, Gender, Violence, and Minorities

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Zanan TV

9 October 2014

September 26, 2014 – London

In late September 2014, Nadje Al-Ali, Professor of Gender Studies at SOAS University in London, gave a talk on sexualized and gender-based violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the context of Da’ash (ISIS) and the atrocities they have perpetrated in Iraq. This talk was part of a panel entitled, “Beyond Religion: ISIS and the Crisis in the Middle East,” held at SOAS.

In this talk, Al-Ali addresses sexualized violence against ethnic and religious minorities from several angles. First, she reviews the three primary manifestations of this form of violence as it has appeared mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade: privatized, state-employed, and as a form of “Islamic retribution.” Al-Ali identifies the latter as most indicative of ISIS, a group, she suggests, that seems to represent “a new stage in terms of sexualized and gender-based violence particularly in relation to minorities.” Speaking to the acute sense of terror ISIS has inspired, Al-Ali argues, “what makes some of the violence of ISIS so particularly horrific is that they actually try to doctrinally justify it. It’s a performance…they allege to perform an Islamic retribution and they allege that their actions, their forms of violence, are doctrinally justified.” However, Al-Ali suggests that one has “to be careful not to take them at face value.”

Al-Ali also speaks to this issue in the context of the Iraqi Women’s Network’s recent call for the international community to somehow intervene on behalf of the women being targeted by ISIS forces. At the end of the presentation, Al-Ali insists that “we must think very carefully of what it is we can ask for that might help women in Iraq without falling into the ‘let’s liberate women’” mindset that marked the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Al-Ali ultimately links the violence perpetrated by ISIS to “the broader continuum of gender-based violence.” She stresses at the beginning of the lecture that “ISIS has not emerged in a vacuum, but there has been a long history of sexualized and gender-based violence in Iraq” and also a history, as she later notes, “of turning a blind eye” to that violence. She provides examples from the militia invasions in the early 2000s, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and how, since 2003, sexualized violence has “been working to reconfigure masculinities and femininities in the post-invasion context.”

Al-Ali concludes by underscoring that since 2003, “women were used as markers of the control of territory” and now, with ISIS, this practice “has taken on a very different dimension.”

This video was produced in collaboration with the SOAS Students’ Union and in association with the London Middle East Institute (LMEI) and Centre for Gender Studies at SOAS.