Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy, a female lawyer working to advance women’s rights in Iraq, was tortured and publicly executed by the Islamic State (ISIS), according to a statement last Thursday by the United Nations human rights commissioner.
This vicious display of violence by the Islamic State – a fundamentalist Islamic group operating from Syria’s Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad that originally started as a splinter group of Al Qaeda – is just one among many attacks against educated women who are operating in ISIS-controlled areas of the region.
According to an article in the New York Times:
The killing follows the execution of a number of Iraqi women in areas under Islamic State control documented by United Nations monitors, including two candidates contesting Iraq’s general election in Nineveh Province, who were killed in July. A third female candidate was abducted by gunmen in eastern Mosul and has not been heard from since.
United Nations monitors in Iraq have received numerous reports of executions of women by Islamic State gunmen, some after perfunctory trials, the organization said. “Educated, professional women seem to be particularly at risk,” it added.
It is imperative that these attacks against educated women begin to consume a greater portion of media attention and U.S. political sentiment regarding the current situation in the Middle East. Strong, innovative, educated women are being punished for attempting to assume positions of power and affect change in a region that we have been at war with for over 12 years, and the emphasis on the empowerment of women in this area has been minuscule when viewed within the context of the massive change the Western world expects to see in areas where fundamentalist Islamic rule still affects the political climate.
When attacks first began against Iraq in 2003, protecting and empowering women should have been a top priority of the U.S. government, and should have been directly integrated into the government’s reconstruction and redevelopment plan. As military action against ISIS begins to heighten and strikes become more severe, it is crucial that international organizations and governments involved with the conflict develop a plan to protect women who are directly supporting progress and working against the radical Islamic State.
President Obama has stated regarding the ISIS conflict, “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” While there should be no safe haven for radical extremists in any part of the world – regardless of how those extremists affect U.S. economic and political interests – there absolutely should be a safe haven for women who are attempting to create real change. If we are going to assume the massive responsibility of engaging in international acts of war and interference, it is also our responsibility to protect the marginalized groups of people who are working to advance social and cultural progress in those areas.