A Canadian school board recently caused an uproar after it withdrew support for an event featuring Yazidi activist, former Islamic State (ISIS) sex slave, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad out of concern it could foster “Islamophobia” and “offend” Muslim students.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) decided to pull a book club event scheduled for February after it planned to feature a discussion around 28-year-old Yazidi activist and Nobel-prize winner Nadia Murad’s memoir, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, which describes her frightening capture and enslavement by ISIS terrorists in 2014 as well as her daring escape.
The autobiographical work also details her family’s execution as well the repeated rape and torture she endured as she was exchanged among ISIS militants.
The reason for the cancellation, according to the board, was that Murad’s book could “promote Islamophobia” and “offend” Muslim students.
The book club at which Murad was to be featured was founded by entrepreneur Tanya Lee in 2017 and invites teenage girls from various secondary schools to discuss books with their female authors.
After being informed of Murad’s cancellation, Lee, who herself suffered sexual and physical abuse as a child, sent the board’s superintendent Helen Fisher information about ISIS gathered from CNN and the BBC.
“This is what Islamic State means,” Lee wrote to Fisher. “It is a terrorist organization. It has nothing to do with ordinary Muslims. The TDSB should be aware of the difference.”
According to Lee, Fisher would not budge and instead responded by sending a copy of the board’s policies on selecting equitable, culturally relevant and responsive reading materials.
Thousands of Yazidis were killed or enslaved when ISIS overtook northern Iraq in 2014.
Murad, who was forced into sexual slavery at the age of 21 by ISIS fighters in 2014, went on to become a Yazidi human rights activist and the winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.
She is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador and a leading advocate for survivors of genocide and sexual violence.
In response to the boards decision, many expressed shock over the censorship.
In one Toronto Sun editorial, the board was accused of being on the path to “burning books” it differs with.
“While Canada’s biggest school board hasn’t yet started burning books that it disagrees with, it appears to be well on its way to doing so,” it read.
“Apparently, the Toronto school board either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that Islamic State is considered a terrorist organization by Canada, one that terrorizes Muslims, especially Muslim girls,” the editorial continued.
Rex Murphy, a Canadian conservative commentator and author, accused the TDSB of being “intent on keeping students in its jurisdiction from exposure to such a true heroine.”
“The equity department was concerned she would stoke Islamophobia!” he added.
Naomi Buck, a Toronto-based journalist, blasted the board for refusing to recognize Murad’s “extraordinary accomplishments,” while claiming the event’s cancellation “reflects an attitude that is anti-learning and anti-curious – an attitude that has no place in education.”
Political commentator Tarek Fatah, a Pakistani-born Canadian liberal journalist, referred to the “outrageous censorship” of Murad as a “shock.”
“It reeked of ignorance and subservience to an Islamist attitude that has infiltrated too many institutions of Canada,” he added, “especially urban schools where cafeterias have been turned into prayer halls, with gender apartheid on full display.”
Warning that the board’s decision is “not merely about censorship,” Fatah wrote that the “drumbeat of ‘Islamophobia’” has made “every concerned citizen worry that he or she does not end up with the tag of ‘racist’ throughout their lives.”
“When the largest education board in Canada surrenders itself to the whims of Islamist sensitivities, and Nadia Murad is designated as a possible contributor to Islamophobia, then rest assured the dikes have been breached,” he added.
This is not the first time educational staff have capitulated to the extreme sensibilities of students.
In May, following protests from the radical anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group, the chancellor and provost of Rutgers University issued an apology for a previous condemnation of antisemitism, promising to be “more sensitive and balanced” in the future.
“In hindsight, it is clear to us that the message failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members,” the apology said. “We sincerely apologize for the hurt that this message has caused.”
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein