Jamie Johnson and Ben Farmer, The Telegraph, November 24, 2021
A Canadian school has been forced to apologise after a book club event with Nadia Murad, a Nobel Prize-winner and former Islamic State sex slave, was cancelled over fears it would “foster Islamaphobia.”
Helen Fisher, the superintendent at the Toronto District School Board, voiced her concerns over Ms Murad’s ‘The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State’ and said that her students would not participate in a sit-down event with the author scheduled for February.
The move drew wide criticism, and the board has been forced to clarify that these views are not its official position and that it will be reviewing the books.
Ms Murad’s frightening story details her family being executed and how she was snatched from her home and sold into sexual slavery. She was raped, tortured and exchanged among militants in northern Iraq before escaping.
She is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, UN Goodwill Ambassador, and a leading advocate for survivors of genocide and sexual violence.
After Ms Fisher’s claims, Tanya Lee, a Toronto mother and entrepreneur who runs the book club for teenage girls called A Room Of Your Own said she sent an email back with information about Islamic State from the BBC and CNN, according to the Globe and Mail.
“This is what Islamic State means,” Ms Lee wrote to the superintendent. “It is a terrorist organisation. It has nothing to do with ordinary Muslims. The TDSB should be aware of the difference.”
The next day, Ms Lee said that Ms Fisher sent her a copy of the board’s policy on selecting equitable, culturally relevant and responsive reading materials.
A spokesperson for the TDSB said “there appears to have been a misunderstanding, as the equity department does not review and approve books for book clubs.”
Support was also withdrawn for Marie Henein’s ‘Nothing But the Truth: A Memoir’ – detailing the prominent Canadian criminal defence lawyer because she had acted for broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi, who was acquitted on sexual assault charges.
A statement from the TDSB said: “An opinion that did not reflect the position of the Toronto District School Board was shared with the organiser of the book club prior to staff having an opportunity to read the books – something that is routinely done before giving them to students. Staff are currently reading both books and anticipate being able to add them to the list of titles used in the corresponding course(s).”
“We sincerely apologise to both Ms Henein and Ms Murad – both of whom have powerful stories to tell and from whom we believe students would learn a great deal.”
Ms Lee, who would like to open up the book club to young girls from the UK told the Telegraph: “The book club event for ‘A Room Of Your Own Book Club’ with Nadia Murad will go ahead across Canada in February. The TDSB has not committed to letting their students attend. This is unfortunate for all involved. A great loss to the students, community, and educators at the TDSB.
“The school board withdrawing their support means that they are not putting their students first- only their administration. Nadia Murad is a Nobel Peace Prize winning author and Human Rights Activist. We have so much to learn from her about the Triumph of The Human Spirit and the Will and The Ability to help others overcome tragedy. Nadia and her activism is an example to us all in all societies around the world.”
Thousands of Yazidis were killed or enslaved when the Islamic State group overran northern Iraq in 2014.
The extremists, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or Isil, considered the religious minority to be pagans or even devil worshippers and deemed the men could be killed and the women and girls forced into servitude or sexual slavery.
When the militants swept into Yazidi towns around Mt Sinjar, in north-west Iraq, more than 6,400 women and children from the Yazidi minority were estimated to have been enslaved and often forced to marry fighters.