Passover’s Fifth Question: How is ISIS slavery different from ours in Egypt?

There are many parallels between ISIS enslaving Yazidis and the slavery that the Jewish people experienced during the time of the Exodus story. At the same time, there are also differences.
Photo Credit: Renanah Gemeiner

Renanah Gemeiner, the co-founder of Canadian Jews and Friends of Yazidis, claims that there are many parallels between ISIS enslaving Yazidis and the slavery that the Jewish people experienced in Egypt during the time of the Exodus story. Calling it Passover’s fifth question, she asked rhetorically, “How is ISIS slavery different from ours?” Indeed, there are many similarities between the Passover story and how ISIS treats the Yazidi nation but there are also some differences.

It is true that in both instances, the slavery is designed to eliminate an entire nation. Pharaoh possessed genocidal intentions and so does ISIS today. Both Pharaoh and ISIS sought to murder the males but didn’t feel the need to slaughter the females due to the belief that they can be absorbed into their nations via marriage.

In the case of ISIS, they believe that once a Yazidi woman is raped and impregnated by a Muslim, she will be essentially a Muslim for her children born via rape will be Muslim. Therefore, ISIS thinks that there is no need to murder her unless she resists being raped or is too old to be sexually useful.  In the case of Pharaoh, he believed that the Jewish women would marry the Egyptians voluntarily for there simply would not be Jewish males to marry in the future because all of the male Jewish babies were drowned in the Nile River and therefore, their children would be Egyptians. Thus, Pharaoh saw no reason to murder the females.

However, the reasons behind both genocidal slaveries is quite different. The purpose of enslaving the Jews in Egypt was to significantly reduce the Jewish population via back-breaking labor merely because the Jews in Egypt had become numerous and powerful due to the prominent position Joseph had held. A new pharaoh came to power who wanted to destroy everything that Joseph accomplished for his brethren slowly and gradually for he perceived the high number of Jews existing within his country in a good standard to be a threat to his rule. In the beginning, there were heavy taxes that led to the enslavement of the Jews. After the Jews were enslaved, the conditions got worse over time. Eventually, all non-Levite Jews including pregnant women were forced to engage in back-breaking labor and whenever the Jews did not meet their quota, pharaoh filled up the gaps with Jewish babies.

Pharaoh felt that if the Jews were busy building stuff for him, they would not have the opportunity to reproduce. When he saw that did not work, he asked the midwives to kill the Jewish baby boys at birth! When they refused to do what he asked, only then did he revert to throwing the Jewish baby boys in the Nile. However, after 3 years, when the astrologers told him that the savior of Israel was tossed into the Nile, he stopped drowning the Jewish baby boys for in his worldview, there was no reason to continue killing the baby boys if his power was no longer under threat. He was content to let the Jews live as his slaves from that point onwards and the genocide thus ended although the bitter enslavement continued.

For ISIS, having complete power over a certain geographical area without opposition and not having their rule threatened is not enough. They want everyone living under their rule to be Muslim and to conform to their radical interpretation of Islam. For this reason, they cannot tolerate the existence of any religious minority but they especially won’t tolerate the Yazidis, whom their religious imams consider to be devil worshippers. ISIS seeks more than absolute power. They seek to also control the hearts and the minds of the people by force.  Thus, any Yazidi man who refuses to convert will be killed and any Yazidi woman or girl who refuses to convert will be condemned to sexual slavery, which many can argue is even more degrading than hard back-breaking labor.

Another major difference is the communal response. In Egypt, the Jews were enslaved together and suffered as a community. They also were liberated as a united people. For this reason, they were able to support and encourage each other, thus helping them to survive the experience. Jewish sources relate how the Jewish women used to bring the men food and drinks in the fields so they would have the strength to continue onwards. But the Yazidi women and girls enslaved by ISIS have a more isolating experience.

According to Gemeiner, one Yazidi girl in Mosul who grabbed her captor’s phone for a few moments without his knowledge managed to call a relative who related the following information to Yazidi leader Mirza Ismail: “Till recently, all of the Yazidi girls were kept together in large groups. There were an estimated 1,000. But lately, with the Coalition Forces closing in on Mosul, the slaves have been spread out so that one slave girl is sent to live with one ISIS family. The girl on the phone said that they are now not together. Therefore, they don’t know who has survived and what each girl has had to suffer each day.” Gemeiner is afraid that these girls will be used as human shields by the ISIS families in order to prevent the Coalition Forces from shooting at them. Thus, for the Yazidis, ISIS enslavement is significantly more depressing for they suffer alone without a community to support them. In this way, Gemeiner implies that ISIS is worse than Pharaoh.     

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