“We get so lost in our world, we forget about the atrocities in it.”
ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and its wave of terror made headlines this summer as the now-condemned terrorist organization besieged the northern cities of Iraq. The Yazidi people of this area became one of ISIS’s main targets. As part of its forced conversion campaign against the Yazidi, ISIS has killed those who refused to convert to Islam, sold women and children into sexual slavery for their soldiers and forced thousands to live in refugee camps.
Lincoln, Nebraska, is home to the highest concentration of Yazidi living in the United States. Many have relatives and friends in Iraq who are experiencing the horrors of ISIS firsthand.
On September 28, Union College opened its doors to provide the Yazidi a place to tell their story. Advertised as the Interfaith Iraq Peacemaking and Memorial Service, the event drew more than 300 people from the Yazidi community, Union College and the Lincoln area. Even with their different faith backgrounds, these people stood in solidarity to remember those still facing the threat and reality of violence in Iraq.
The event was organized by Doug Hardt, Union’s director for the Center of Interfaith Studies and Culture, and Chris Blake, chair of the Interfaith Peacemaking Coalition. Hardt travelled to Iraq this past summer to see for himself the events unfolding there. The trip placed upon him a burden to do something for Lincoln’s Yazidi population.
In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, Hardt said, “When I see people on the news that are getting shot, I see them as people I know, people I see on a daily basis. They cease to just be numbers to me.”
Blake said, “The event was given so these people could have a voice. So people could understand who they are, and that they are here.” And that’s what happened on the evening of the event. Speakers spoke. Tears were shed. Songs were sung together by Yazidi, Christians, students and professors. People appeared dressed in their Sunday best, wearing yamakas, or donning T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Stop ISIS.”
Nizar Zhaiya, an Iraqi native and Lincoln resident, expressed concern that people might associate the crimes of ISIS with the larger Muslim community, saying, “What ISIS represents does not go with what I believe as a Muslim.”
As the last speaker of the evening, Blake made one final call for those in the audience to be peacemakers rather than simply peacekeepers. He said, “The difference between being a peace lover and a peacemaker is the difference between loving money and making money. Peacemaking is hard work, and it never ends.”
The event signaled a push not only for Lincoln residents to engage as peacemakers, but also for Union College as a campus to move forward as peacemakers.
Those in attendance felt the need for peace as they listened to Laila Khoudeida tell the story of a 23-year-old fellow Yazidi woman who was captured by ISIS. This woman was forced to watch as her family was killed by the ISIS militants. Visceral and unapologetic, the story demanded the audience stay in silent reflection as the sun descended behind Laila. At that moment, and from then on, these were people. Not numbers.
As Laila ended her story, she paused before saying, “We get so lost in our world, we forget about the atrocities in it.”
To learn how you can become involved in peacemaking on campus, read part two in the next issue of The Clocktower.
Slade is a senior studying language arts education.