CAIRO: Steve Maman and his work through his organization, the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI,) has drawn comparisons to the work of Oskar Schindler from some, although local Yazidi leaders have contested his claims of having saved more than 130 women.
“I do not care about religion or race,” Maman, 42, a Canadian Jew of Moroccan origin, told Youm7 via phone this week. CYCI states that it works to ransom the freedom of women held by the Islamic State group, which has reportedly set up a sex trade of non-Muslim women.
He said that his organization has saved 133 women, by first raising funds from donors in the U.S., Canada, and France; women who are freed from servitude are cared for in camps in Kurdistan by teams from CYCI.
Not all Iraqis are convinced of Maman’s operation, however.
“Not one Yezidi woman has found freedom because of Steve Maman,” spokesman of the Yezidi leader Baba Sheikh, his brother Hadi Baba Sheikh, told rdaw.net in late August, adding “He has Yezidi people who work with him, just for the money.”
“We have two teams, a team on the ground in Mosul and another in Kurdistan,” Maman told Youm7, adding that his colleagues include Iraqis from different religions and sects.
“I said to myself, I cannot stand idly by……. I learned that the person who saves lives, saves the world,” he said, adding that his mission has received support from a wide base of Iraqis.
The CYCI, based in Quebec, hosts videos reenacting slave auctions in Mosul on its Facebook page, and had recently set up an online platform for donations.
Maman said that his task force will often go behind IS lines to help women escape to Kurdistan. The funds collected allegedly go to pay ransoms of women and girls being held, approximately $2,000 or $3,000 per person, but Maman justified the ransom, saying that those holding the women already possess a lot of money, so the funds would not strengthen the terrorist group.
In a previous interview with Vice magazine, Maman claimed that up to 15 percent of the women they had freed were Christian.
“Any researcher who has followed events since last summer knows that the IS enslavement project was a campaign targeting the Yazidi community, and not the Christian community,” Matthew Barber, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, told Vice.
Last fall, the Islamic State produced an English-language publication called “Dabiq,” which included an article outlining what they consider an Islamic defense of the practice of enslaving members of non-Abrahamic religions.
The article “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour” sets about “proving” that the Yazidi minority is an “originally polytheistic group,” rather than an apostate offshoot of Islam. According to IS, this legitimizes their enslavement. Christians, however, are exempt from slavery under this principle.
Human Rights Watch reported last year testimonies from Yazidi girls as young as 14 and 15 who were sold to Islamic State fighters for approximately $1,000. Other displaced Yazidis gave Human Rights Watch a list of more than 3,000 names of those it said were being held or had been killed by the jihadist group. In a report documenting the situation in Iraq from July 6-Sept. 10, the United Nations estimated 2,500 persons had been abducted by the Islamic State group.