A Montreal businessman has spearheaded the release of what he says are 128 Yazidi and Christian girls and young women from sexual slavery at the hands of Islamic State militants, with a project in motion to save many more.
Steve Maman, already being dubbed the “Jewish Schindler” of Iraqi minorities by news outlets, is reported to have raised more than $200, 000 — $50, 000 over one recent weekend alone — to pay for the release of the captives during the past year. Ten more are expected to be liberated in the coming days.
As the world watched in horror while the Islamic State extremist group swept through northern Iraq last summer, capturing and executing thousands of members of the country’s minorities, Maman said he felt compelled to act.
“It’s a level of barbarism which was on another level of persecution, ” the 42-year-old father of six said.
“The Talmud teaches us, whoever saves one life saves the world entire” — an aphorism quoted famously by Liam Neeson in the 1993 Oscar winner Schindler’s List.
Last August, up to 5, 000 Yazidis were executed, sometimes en masse, in Iraq’s Sinjar district and beyond, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Thousands more women and girls were sold into sexual servitude or taken as brides by Islamic State fighters, UN researchers found.
Canon Andrew White, until recently the pastor of one of the largest churches in Baghdad, connected Maman with negotiators and helped him navigate Iraq’s web of tribal networks.
“He is somebody who is really like a brother. He’s the first person who’s come to our aid, ” White told the Star by phone from Israel.
Montreal’s Rabbi Saadiah Elhadad called for deeper military commitments from western leaders.
“I would like to see more organizations and people around the world emulate this kind of action, ” he said.
A friend of Maman, Elhadad noted the rescue project’s so far unsuccessful appeals for cash to more than 60 church organizations across the country.
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The Star, by Christopher Reynolds