In my regular weekly news posts about Syria and Iraq, I write often about the many obscenities committed by the Islamic State.
What those women and children must be going through, physically, emotionally and psychologically, particularly as many will be under-age, beggars belief.
As a psychotherapist I known that the consequences of these experiences, even if they ended today, will be with them for the rest of their lives.
Having worked with many victims of sexual abuse over the years, I can assure you that they do not just “get over it” as many people will exhort them to do.
Sexual abuse deeply damages a victim’s sense of self-esteem and leaves psychological and emotional scars that only prolonged therapy over many years will heal.
Typically, sexual (and physical) abuse victims will be afraid of close or intimate contact with others, particularly with those who look or behave like their abusers, will exhibit hypervigilance and anxiety which monitors everything (but everything) in their environment and be so stressed that normal functioning is almost impossible without the use of anti-depressants or stimulants of some kind.
On top of that, most victims of sexual abuse, male and female, feel so worthless, powerless and inadequate that they will be unable to seek, sustain or afford therapeutic help, even if it is available.
Those very, very brave souls that do undertake the journey of recovery and who are helped to feel and expiate the emotional pain from terror to anger, will do well. But they will never forget.
All the more alarming then that in the 21st century, slavery, and the sexual abuse that often accompanies it, is more prevalent than ever.
Across the world there are currently an estimated 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking. Add to that the estimated 20.9 million trapped in forced labour plus those in bonded labour where they endless work to repay a debt, child labourers working in clothing factories and other places for cents and the estimated 51 million girls that have been forced to marry against their will.
Getting out of poverty, of course, is often the driving force for those that end up in some form of slavery or extreme exploitation, plus the promise of a “better life” that never comes but only gets worse.
If you think this is not happening in your “backyard” – think again.
I guarantee that in your everyday activity you have passed someone who is trapped into servitude or exploitation in some way or you have purchased an article of clothing, a carpet, electronic products, cocoa and many other products that were made or harvested by someone on the poverty line and with no future prospects, for a few cents pay a day if they are lucky.
According to End Slavery Now.org, “The standard price for sex at a brothel in the U.S. is $30.
Typically, trafficked children see 25-48 customers a day.
They work up to 12 hours a day, every day of the week; every year, a pimp earns between $150,000 and $200,000 per child”.
Between 1995 and 2012, judges in the US allowed 178 children between the ages of 10 and 15 to marry in New Jersey, often to older adults and the Tahirih Justice Center reported a suspected 3,000 forced marriage cases across the US between 2009 and 2011.
In the UK, where forced marriage is now outlawed (though most assuredly still takes place in exploitative and closed domestic settings) there have been a number of cases of young Asian girls, who were born and educated in Britain, being taken to Pakistan or India for a “family holiday”, only to discover that they are actually there to be married off to much older relatives they have never met and with whom they have little in common. That is both sexual abuse and slavery.
Other cases in the UK have involved road and driveway laying gangs who have picked up off the streets men with mental health and addiction problems, imprisoned them and forced them to work for little or no wages and minimal amounts of food or illegal immigrants collecting cockles (seafood) in dangerous tidal waters for less than minimum wages while paying back “accommodation and signing on fees” all the time living in appalling, overcrowded and filthy conditions.
Slavery, in one form or another, is still common across the Middle East and especially in the Gulf States.
Although King Faisal abolished slavery in Saudi Arabia in 1962, the “employment” of domestic servants from the Philippines, Bangladesh, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Africa often results in conditions of enforced slavery and sexual exploitation.
Karl Anderson, a former Californian accountant, who became an accidental anti-slavery activist when a Facebook friend from the Philippines asked for help, now aids about 10 women a month escape abuse to go to one of the little-discussed shelters in Saudi Arabia established for “household maids.”
“It is slavery,” Anderson says. “Every day, I see the face of slavery.”
“There is a woman who was forced to eat a child’s faeces out of a diaper because she didn’t clean the diaper soon enough,” he says.
“Women are raped, tortured, denied food, denied water, made to work 20 hours a day, seven days a week. One woman was only allowed to eat the food that her sponsor family left on their plates. They are treated like dogs.”
In Qatar, an estimated 600 workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh are dying every year in appalling conditions and extreme temperatures in the construction industry, including the building of the 2022 World Cup Stadium.
All of this has a long history of course. Slaves almost certainly built the Pyramids in Egypt and most other ancient buildings that survive throughout the world.
Slavery was abolished in the British Empire, which had been instrumental in shipping Africans to its sugar producing colonies in the West Indies for years, in 1833. The USA made slavery unconstitutional in 1865. The French abolished slavery in its colonies in 1848.
In my travels I have stood several times below a monument in Mozambique in southern Africa where “unruly” African slaves captured by British and Arab traders were hurled off the cliffs onto the rocks below, not unreminiscent of the behaviour of the Islamic State.
The sea there, where whales can be often seen migrating offshore, is wild and the noise, the blasting spray and the jagged rocks make you think; wondering what it must have been like for those young men and women to be ripped away from their families and tribes and set down in a completely alien environment after a very long and appalling sea journey shackled in the most terrible conditions.
Slavery is now illegal in all countries of the world, but in practice it continues in many places in many forms.
The fact is that there are now more slaves in the world today than ever there were at the height of the transatlantic slave trade to the West indies and the southern United States.
President Obama declared January 2016 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
That’s a start, but let’s bring some more consciousness into our own lives.
First, let’s be more aware of how we treat others, particularly those who are weaker or less powerful than ourselves – and especially when we are angry or upset.
Secondly, let’s be more aware of others who may be the victims of exploitation. If you suspect something is going on, there are help or tip-off telephone lines in most developed countries.
And thirdly, if you want to discourage slave-worker exploitation you can find a list of slave-labour free companies by putting in your email address, (scroll down) HERE: and/or follow @EndSlaveryNow on Twitter.
PETER CLIFFORD 20th January 2016
Writing in recent days about the siege of Madaya in Syria, where 28 people were deliberately allowed to starve to death, made me ponder on the dark shadow of human cruelty that always hangs over our daily lives.
What is it that makes a presumably intelligent, well educated couple like President Assad and London-born wife Asma, who have 2 healthy children of their own, stand back and let other people’s children 30 miles away die from malnutrition and lack of food?
The Assads had the power to change that in an instant.
They could have supplied medical assistance that would have kept the starving alive, but chose not to do that either, because of politics and religion – the victims all belonged to wrong (Sunni) sect.
By contrast Alawite/Shia, supporters of the regime, trapped by an opposition siege in Kefraya and Al Fuah have received fairly regular airdrops of food and other supplies.
Similarly, what makes members of the Islamic State in sickening acts of cruelty, behead people, burn them alive or suicide bomb innocent tourists to death?
The acts of cruelty in war are endless. It’s as though the state of war “gives permission” for common humanity to be completely and illegally suspended – though the boundary between war combatants and non-combatants is becoming increasingly blurred.
And it is not just in war that cruelty manifests, we see it around us almost every day.
Take the cases of acid attack victims. More than 200 in the UK over the last 2 years and an estimated 1,000 a year in India, many of them there never officially reported or treated.
They also occur in the USA and South America and across Europa and Asia. In Bangladesh there have been 3,512 people attacked with acid between 1999 and 2013 alone, though annual numbers are at last reducing.
Acid attacks melt distinctive facial features like noses and ears that most of us take for granted, disfigures bodies, take away sight, cause deafness and ruin lives. The emotional and psychological damage is immeasurable.
Iqbal in Pakistan, a very handsome young man, was just 15 years old when he was attacked with acid.
He was a passionate dancer and danced professionally with his parents in wedding processions.
One night, Iqbal was approached by another man who sexually propositioned him but Iqbal said he wasn’t interested.
While sleeping at home along with his family, Iqbal had acid poured over his head.
He was left blind in both eyes by the attack and his lips and neck burned so badly that eating and drinking are extremely painful.
Iqbal is from a family of poor wood cutters, who dance to earn extra income.
Now aged 20 he is at last receiving treatment for the first time in 5 years. (You can read more and/or donate at Acid Survivors Trust International)
It is not just our fellow humans that human beings are cruel to. It is also animals.
The reports of animals starved and beaten to death are endless on the Internet, including many animals that were supposedly “pets” or destined for our dinner plates.
And then you have the bizarre phenomena of people who lovingly care for their pets but starve or are cruel to their children.
All of which goes contrary to our natural instincts.
From a biological point of view, newly born and young children and animals are “cute”, innocent and appealing precisely to trigger an affectionate and protective bonding response from those around them, particularly their parents.
We have all probably done cruel things to people, animals or insects at some time in our lives, however “good” we try to be.
I have to confess that I once worked in a zoo where we had to feed the owls and other birds of prey with day-old-chicks.
If we had put live chicks into the cages for the birds to kill there would have rightly been a public outcry, so every week a box of freshly hatched little miracles would arrive at the zoo – and one by one we killed them by breaking their necks and storing them in the fridge.
After a short while, a friend and I could no longer do it – every death felt like an emotional knife wound and eventually such cruel actions became impossible.
Human cruelty and lack of care, which in regard to the young or the elderly can also be cruel, is a result of a disconnect with our feelings to one degree or another. The less we truly feel, the more we can separate ourselves from and ignore what goes on around us.
And we stop feeling of course when we are so full of pain and distress ourselves that feeling it threatens our functioning. Depression, is precisely that, pressing down our painful feelings, but those suffering depression are more likely to harm themselves than be cruel to others.
The dangerous ones are those that are so disconnected from their feelings that they act them out without taking responsibility for those actions. Rage, jealousy, rejection, fear, feelings of inadequacy or other strong emotions can trigger acts of cruelty, often on the weaker and most vulnerable.
Facing up to cruelty of many kinds in our world is not an easy thing to do. It is noticeable with my blog that when I write about people “starving to death” for example, the views of the site immediately go down and when I write about “battles and victories”, the number of views goes up! (It will be interesting to see how this article fares)
Extraordinarily, at the other side of the human coin, sometimes out of cruelty, pain and suffering some good things come.
Laxmi Saa, one of the acid victims mentioned above, was attacked when she was 15 years old merely because she rejected an offer of marriage. Her attacker got just 3 years for disfiguring her for life.
Despite her injuries, Laxmi is well known in India for her campaign to get the sale of acid regulated, because it is far too easy to buy and misuse it.
Now a designer clothes company in India, Viva N Diva, is employing and empowering her as a model for its latest range. Kudos and respect to the company and to Laxmi for her bravery and determination. (You can read more at the BBC)
Finally, what can we do in our own lives to lift the dark shadow of human cruelty hanging over the world?
We can certainly challenge, report and remove cruelty from our own life in whichever form it appears.
As I always say, if you can’t be right, be kind. No-one, animal or human, deserves cruelty.
Congratulations to Saudi Arabia as Saudi women take one small step into the 21st century by both voting and standing for council posts in last weekend’s municipal elections.
Right across Saudi Arabia from small villages to the largest cities, 20 women were elected to municipal council seats.
Of the 7,000 candidates who stood for election, 979 were women and 2,100 seats were up for the taking in 249 local councils, so 20 female winners represent only 1% of those appointed – but it’s a start when before you have had no representation at all.
The Saudi King also has a quota of 1,050 seats to fill with his appointees, so hopefully he will he will take the opportunity to let in a few more of the women candidates.
4 women were elected in Riyadh, the conservative capital and 2 in the predominately Shia Islam Eastern Province.
Another woman was elected in Jeddah in western Saudi Arabia, perhaps the country’s most cosmopolitan city, while one more gained a seat in the holy city of Medina, the site of Prophet Mohammed’s first mosque.
Another woman was elected in the village of Madrakah, 150 kilometres north of Mecca which over bad roads has the nearest hospital, pointing out that many women in her village ended up giving birth in cars.
Other issues raised by the women candidates were more nurseries to look after children while mothers worked, more community centres for sports and cultural activities, the aforementioned better roads, improved garbage collection and greener cities.
I suspect there might be some more directly feminist issues waiting to surface in the background, but with this tentative level of suppression release it is probably wise to save those for another day. Saudi Arabia’s extreme clerics will be enraged at the changes as it is.
Credit for the policies all go to the new Saudi leader, King Salman, the Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef and the Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, plus a coterie of relatively young, well-educated Cabinet members who frequently travel to the West and other countries worldwide.
While I am no great believer in the inalienable rights or abilities of hereditary royals, when it’s all you’ve got and they hold all the power and the purse strings, that’s what you have to work with.
In an attempt to make the elections a more level playing field for women forced to wear the full face-veil the General Election Committee, presumably on orders from the Government, banned all candidates, male and female from showing their faces in promotional posters, advertising boards or online. They were also not allowed to appear on television.
In Jeddah, 3 generations of women from the same family voted for the very first time, the oldest being 94.
Her daughter reflected on how important it was to vote, saying, “I walked in and said I’ve have never seen this before. Only in the movies. It was a thrilling experience.”
That response, while understood, would probably be seen as “sad” in the West.
Especially as Saudi women are still not allowed to drive a car, go out on their own unless accompanied by a male chaperone (usually a close family member), go to a mixed swimming pool, compete in sports, or wear clothes or make-up that “may show up their beauty”.
Interestingly, in a show of support, Uber drivers in some of the major cities drove women to the polling stations in last weekend’s elections, for free (though I can’t help wondering how many men refused to accompany their wives or even let them out of the house?)
There is still a long way to go.
Saudi women who competed in the last Olympic Games were described as “prostitutes” by hardline clerics back home and the Saudi consultant to the Olympic Committee has even proposed this year, 2015, that Saudi Arabia be allowed to host the Games – but with no women at all taking part!
At a recent book fair in Jeddah, where books by female Saudi writers were displayed and women took part in Q and A panels (and even Donald Trumps’ books were on display), 2 men got up and protested when a female poet started quoting poetry from her new book.
One of the men, addressing the audience, asked, “Do you accept that a woman recites poetry?” Fortunately, the audience responded with an unequivocal ‘yes’ and the two men were escorted out.
In Saudi Arabia the roots of all this, on the surface at least, lie in Wahaabism the official religion of the State founded on the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, an 18th century cleric from the remote eastern interior of Arabia.
The main tenets of this religious philosophy is that there is only one God, Allah, and any that do not believe in him are unbelievers or apostates. The sectarian philosophy also does not believe in the worship and revering of clerics or saints and that there should be no shrines or places of worship other than those purely devoted to the “one God” (as defined by them).
This therefore excludes the Shiite Moslems who have numerous shrines and places of pilgrimage. In fact, in the original Wahaabi doctrines, jihad, or holy war against all “unbelievers”, including all other Moslems, was fully permissible.
In its extreme form Wahaabism forbids the “performing or listening to music, dancing, fortune telling, amulets, television programs (unless religious), smoking, playing backgammon, chess, or cards, drawing human or animal figures, acting in a play or writing fiction” and even the keeping or petting of dogs.
As far as women are concerned, they are forbidden to travel or work outside the home without their husband’s permission on the grounds that their “different physiological and biological structure” means they have a different family role to play, and if the husband does give permission to his wife to work outside the home, it can be withdrawn at any time.
As mentioned before, Wahhabism also forbids the driving of motor vehicles by women and sexual intercourse out of wedlock may be punished with beheading – although sex outside marriage is permissible with a “slave woman” (though probably not a woman with a “slave man” of course?).
(Just as well as Prince Bandar bin Sultan [former ambassador to the US and director of Saudi Intelligence] was the result of a “brief union” between his father, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and a 16 year old “black serving women” – though slavery has since been “formerly banned” in the kingdom.)
In all of this it is easy to see the where the Islamic State gets its basic tenets and “vindication” from, offering a “pure” form of Islam which is “justified” in taking over the world (See last week’s post on The Anatomy of an Islamic State Jihadist).
Wahaabism has been so successful because it formed an alliance with the militarily aggressive House of Saud back in the 18th century, eventually taking over the whole of the Arabian peninsular, and more recently because of the billions of dollars of oil revenue monies used to promote it.
The result however is a bloody and deadly sectarian schism in Islam between the Sunni (of which Wahaabism is a part) and Shia branch descendants of Prophet Mohammad. Until this is sorted the Middle East and many other parts of the Islamic world will remain a mess.
However, the apparent misogynist aspects of Islam, Wahaabi or otherwise, are not restricted to males of the Moslem religion, they are still too common in the rest of the world.
Here in the UK, British boxer, Tyson Fury, who became WBA World Heavyweight Champion in November 2015, recently caused controversy by declaring that “a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back – that’s my personal belief.”
Undoubtedly, he should keep his “personal beliefs” to himself, but I suspect that covertly a lot of men, wherever they are in the world, think the same way.
Such beliefs, in my view, are based on fear, pure and simple.
Again, as I have often written, our values are formed in childhood and if we grow up with bullying mothers, for whatever reason, and/or are encouraged by other males in the absurd notion that somehow men are “superior”, then we are more likely to gravitate to a male ethos that tries to suppress women in adulthood.
In fact it may be that suppression of women in the Islamic world and elsewhere which contributes to the disdain and disrespect that males show as adults towards women, is sometimes started by frustrated women taking out there anger at exclusion from full participation in the world, on their male (and female) children. And so the circle of deprivation and loss continues into the future.
The key to accelerating change is female education, as Malala Yousafzai, the 18 year old Pakistani, Noble Peace Prize winner has championed and to which, unsurprisingly, the Taliban and the Islamic State remain fiercely opposed.
At the Jeddah book fair mentioned earlier, the Saudi Minister of Education and Information, Adel al-Toraifi, said that an Arab reads six minutes a day, compared to the world average of 36 minutes.
He also said that the Arab world prints 27,809 books a year, which translates into 12,000 Arabs getting one book.
Compare that with China which publishes 440,000 books a year and the United States and the UK which publish just under 500,000 books a year between them.
Hopefully, the spread of and access to the Internet (when its male viewers are not accessing pornography) can help to change all that.
Peter Clifford – 16th December 2015