Teaching About the Horrific - ISIS, Slavery and Rape

Dear Teachers,

How do we explain the horrific and how do we engage secondary students in meaningful discussions of very disturbing events? Should we focus narrowly on the issues presented in a document or do we encourage students to place them in a broader historical context?

This lesson on ISIS draws on Common Core English/Language Arts guidelines for close reading of informational text and National Council for the Social Studies curriculum standards but the writing assignment and class discussion do not stop with close reading. The lesson asks students to compare events in Iraqi and Syrian areas under the control of ISIS with genocidal events in the 20th century and requires them to write about and discuss how human beings and societies that purport to be civilized can act in this way. The events discussed in the New York Times article are especially disturbing because they involve the rape and enslavement of adolescent and teenage girls the same age as middle school and high school students in the United States, but they should not be ignored.

The topic has to be approached with sensitivity and seriousness. Prior to reading the article, students should be alerted to what the topic is and there should be preliminary discussion of why topics like these cannot be ignored. A possible opening is Martin Niemöller's poetic statement after World War II about the consequence of ignoring Nazi oppression of socialists, trade unionists, and Jews. The New York Times has a brief video showing men discussing the sale of girls at an ISIS slave market, but this may be too distressing to view in class. Discretion is advised.

I hope high school social studies and English teachers can use it at the start of the school year. Feel free to edit it to meet the needs of your curriculum and students.

Aim: How can we explain the horrific events in Syria and Iraq?

Instructions: This passage is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the New York Times on August 14, 2015. It describes the systematic rape of kidnapped adolescent and teenage girls by soldiers connected to the group known as ISIS that is fighting in Iraq. Overwhelmingly, readers who commented on the Times webpage viewed these events as horrific. But how do we explain events like these or genocidal killings in Europe during World War II, Cambodia during the 1970s, and Rwanda and Bosnia during the 1990s. Read the passage, discuss it with your teammates, and answer questions 1-5. Discuss your answers with your teammates and then complete the extended written response. Be prepared to share and discuss your written response with the full class.

1. According to sections A and B, why did the Islamic State fighter believe the rape of a 12-year old girl was not a "sin"?
2. In section C, what does the author of the article mean by the "radical theology of the Islamic State"?
3. In section C and E, what evidence does the author provide to support the assertions made in the article?
4. In section E, the author asserts, "the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies." In your opinion, how could the rape of adolescent and teenage girls become a "recruiting tool" to attract young men to fight for ISIS?
5. In your opinion, do these actions by ISIS reach the level of genocide and call for intervention by outside forces? Explain.

Enslaving Young Girls, the Islamic State Builds a Vast System of Rape
By Rukmini Callimachi
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/world/middleeast/isis-enshrines-a-theology-of-rape.html

A. In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her -- it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted. He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.

B. When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.
"I kept telling him it hurts -- please stop," said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. "He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God," she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity.

C. The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group's official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group's core tenets.

D. The trade in Yazidi women and girls has created a persistent infrastructure, with a network of warehouses where the victims are held, viewing rooms where they are inspected and marketed, and a dedicated fleet of buses used to transport them.

E. A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.

Written Response: Horrific events like the ones described in this New York Times article challenge how we view ourselves as civilized people with moral codes. In your opinion, how do we explain the rape of adolescent girls by ISIS fighters? Are we looking at some deep-seated flaw in human nature, moral weakness in the version of Islam practiced by ISIS, a continuation of the historic mistreatment of women, what happens in societies under stress when normal civic institutions breakdown, the standard practice of war throughout history, a combination of all of these, or some other factors?

Explain your views in a well-structured paragraph referring to information from the text, your previous study of history and society, and your own values and ideas.

Follow-Up: In follow-up lessons students should examine the United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the role the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies played in destabilizing the region and creating conditions for the emergence of ISIS as a major military and political force. Students can post blogs expressing their views and send ideas on possible action to their political representatives.