[ by Charles Cameron — in which a sunni sheikh protects a yazidi family ]
I seldom make comparisons that strike me as demonstrating moral equivalence as such — mostly I intend the juxtapositions I present to illustrate some parallelism or opposition that’s worthy of note as one aspect of a bigger picture, but by no means the whole. Often such an aspect will add nuance to the broader picture, sometime by contrasting with the overall impression. I relish those opportunities to see more that the first glance would tell me, to begin probing, digging deeper into a particular situation or issue.
Here though, I think I may have stumbled onto a juxtaposition that does reveal a moral equivalence — in this case, a Sunni tribal leader standing in the same relation to the Yezidis he saved as one or another of the Righteous Among the Nations does to a Jewish person, family, or group they saved.
The details of tribal anthropology in the Sunni-Yazidi case — which would be of interest no doubt to our friend David Ronfeldt — are fascinating in themselves:
Fadel was a wealthy Sunni, and a tribal leader from the Shammar tribe, one of the world’s largest and most influential Arab tribes. He was also a close friend of the family.
When Fadel found out where the family was, he rushed to the IS headquarters in Kocho, where he negotiated with the local militant leaders. “Please, let me take them with me,” he told them. “They belong with me.”
While thousands of other Yazidi women and children were transferred to other places in Iraq and Syria – and most of the Yazidi men were killed on the spot – Nadine and her children, along with dozens of their relatives, were taken to the tribal leader’s house in Ba’aj, a small town in Nineveh governorate.
Immediately, the family buried their mobile phones and Yazidi clothing. It was the beginning of a long period in hiding.
But why would the local sheikh go to such lengths to protect this Yazidi family? The families go way back and have a long history together, explained Nadine. He was their ‘krive‘ – a kind of godfather or patron. “And he had promised to protect us,” Nadine said.
Just like Muslims, Yazidis circumcise their young boys. During the ceremony, the man who holds the boy on their lap is considered his godfather, or “blood brother” – or krive.
Before 2003, the krive was often historically selected from among religious families or even influential Muslim families. Yazidis believe that this creates a special bond between two clans; they have to respect and protect each other whenever needed.
But the ritual shared between the two religious groups declined amid Iraq’s sectarian violence, and after the Yazidi genocide in 2014, it completely disappeared.
Note here the role of circumcision, adding nuance to the parallel with Judaism. Ritual here is not some form of “dry as dust” repetition, but the instrument of deep, indeed life-saving human bonding.
As so often, I wish I knew more — and in the meantime, I am grateful to those such as Oscar Schindler, Fadel of the Shammar, and so many others — the righteous protectors.
Nadine Naif and family, your story brings me hope. Fadel, I salute you.