Iraqi Yazidi demonstrate outside the UN offices in the city of Arbil. Photo: Getty
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Iraq’s Yazidis are on the brink of genocide – who will save them?

Iraq is rapidly spiralling into an unprecedented situation - and the international community is standing by.

President Barack Obama has confirmed that the US military has made targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in Iraq, marking the deepest US engagement in the country since US troops withdrew in 2011.

The humanitarian aid drops targeted areas populated by the persecuted Yazidi minority, as well as cities and villages northwest of Mosul. These included Qaraqosh, the biggest Christian city in Iraq, which fell under control of Islamic State (IS) militants two days ago. At this stage, the US operation will be very limited. There will be no troop presence on the ground.

This means that the IS threat won’t be removed from Iraq – at least in the short term. The IS fighters will continue their massacres after the limited US operation has finished.

Iraq is rapidly spiralling into an unprecedented situation that is already much worse than it has been in recent decades. However, the international community is standing idly by, apparently indifferent to Iraqis' suffering.

Who are the Yazidis?

The Yazidi community, whose numbers have been estimated at upwards of half a million worldwide, are the residue of one of the world’s most ancient ethno-religious groups.

The Yazidi faith is unique, as it is a monotheistic adaption of ancient dualism. The name Yazidi is derived from the ancient Persian term yazata, which means “who deserves to be worshipped”, originating from a Zoroastrian concept. Yazidis believe in one creator with two different main actors in the universe: God and Satan. They believe Satan is a creation of God and his role is a sacred duty. Consequently, they respect Satan and oppose any insult of him.

The Yazidis' unique religion has resulted in many stereotypes about them, which has had serious adverse consequences for their community. The most damaging of these is the commonly held belief that they are Satan worshippers.

Due to these stereotypes, a common misconception has arisen that Yazidis are a dangerous people who lack ethical principles. The resulting hostile attitudes towards Yazidis are not unique to fundamentalist Islamic theologians. It was also shared by classical orientalists and early Western explorers such as John Ussher and Wallis Budge, who reinforced this falsehood.

Yazidis have long been subjected to discrimination and racism in Iraq. They have been at the centre of identity crises in Iraq; both pan-Arab and pan-Kurd ideologies have attempted to impose their identity on them. This is while they demand to identify them as a separated identity in a multicultural society.

As result of those stereotypes and identity conflicts, Yazidis have faced 72 massacres in their history.

What’s happening to the Yazidis?

Over the last week, IS militants have seized control of the Iraqi cities of Sinjar, Shikhan and the frontier regions north of Mosul province along the Syrian and Turkish borders. These regions are the historic homelands of the Yazidi ethno-religious community, which traces its origins back thousands of years to ancient Mesopotamia.

A majority of the Yazidi community fled before the arrival of IS forces and took refuge in the mountains of Sinjar. Remaining Yazidis have been presented with two options by their new rulers: convert to Islam or be killed.

IS militants did not offer the Yazidis either of the two other options that were extended to remaining Christians: leaving the area or paying the jizya, a form of tribute that “religions of the book” (Ahl Al-Kitab) must pay in return for “protection”, according to Islamic fundamentalist belief.

As IS do not consider the Yazidis’ faith one of the aforementioned religions, large numbers of Yazidi men have been massacred and women have become slaves. Some have converted to Islam to save themselves and their families.

Yazidi refugees sheltering in the mountains are surviving in precarious circumstances without adequate food or water. Children are dying of thirst and starvation. As the Yazidis lack weapons, when IS forces turn their attention to these displaced people the prospects of genocide seem high.

Earlier this week, the Iraqi parliament’s sole Yazidi MP, Vian Dakhil, outlined the tragic history of her people while begging authorities to save them from genocide. During her speech she collapsed on the floor of parliament. Dakhil said:

We are being butchered under the banner of there is no god but Allah.

Some MPs tried to stop Dakhil at this point as they found her expression offensive to Muslims. The parliamentary speaker warned her to control herself and not go further. Other MPs supported her and requested she be allowed to finish her speech. She continued:

Five hundred Yazidi youths and men have been butchered until now. Our women have been captured and sold in the slavery market. There is a genocide taking place against Yazidi people … My family is being beheaded, just like other Iraqis that have been killed; Shiite, Sunnis, Christians, Shabak, Turkmen and now is the Yazidi’s turn.

Thirty thousand families are stuck in the mountains of Sinjar without water and food. They are dying one by one. Seventy children have died until now from thirst and asphyxia. Seventy elderly have died from being under miserable condition. We demand all to stop this genocide. A whole religion is being wiped out from the earth.

Vian Dakhil’s speech to Iraqi parliament

Iraq needs immediate, comprehensive and unlimited military and political assistance to eradicate IS fighters from the country. IS is not just a normal terrorist group and it is not a political opposition. Rather, it has become a professional irregular army with more than 20,000 well-trained soldiers and a very strong ideology, operating in a region from Iraq to Lebanon with many sleeper cells worldwide.

The ConversationAli Mamouri does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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What’s the secret of the world’s best-paid sports manager? Ask the Chicago Cubs

Theo Epstein is a star because he values the person as much as the player.

As I write, the Chicago Cubs, perennial underachievers, are three wins away from reaching baseball’s World Series for the first time since 1945. By the time you read this they may have crashed out. Besides, baseball – like cricket – is a language that asks a lot of its translators. So, in writing about the Cubs, I’ll skip the baseball bits. Fortunately, the lessons of the Cubs’ success (they were the outstanding team of 2016, even if they don’t win the World Series) transcend baseball.

To understand the future of sport – and perhaps employment – I recommend a pair of profiles of Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, one published in the New York Times and the other written by David Axelrod (Barack Obama’s strategist) for the New Yorker.

Epstein, 42, has just agreed a contract extension worth $50m over five years, making him the highest-paid non-player in professional sport. There is plenty in the profiles on his whizzy use of data analytics; his algorithmic tests that measure players’ co-ordination (essentially using neuroscience to measure talent); as well as the Cubs’ coaching programme dedicated to mental health and managing stress. Most timely and important of all is Epstein’s emphasis on character. He talks about “scouting the person more than the player”. He wants the right kind of people on the field.

“In the draft room [where the team decides which players to sign], we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player,” he has said. “We ask our scouts to provide three detailed examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field.”

Epstein is well known for empowering a “geek department” inside his baseball teams. Yet instead of perceiving a conflict between science and the human realm, he sees the two as part of the same big picture. He craves players with character who can benefit from the insights of science.

“Character” is a vexed subject inside sport. It sets off uncomfortable associations. Talking too much about character – building it, or even just valuing it – sounds dangerously close to endorsing an amateur ethos. Victorian public schools often celebrated sport explicitly in opposition to intelligence, even achievement. H H Almond, the headmaster of Loretto from 1862, got an A for candour (if nothing else) when he ranked his school’s priorities: “First – Character. Second – Physique. Third – Intelligence.”

The Victorian notion of games cast a long shadow over sport and society in the 20th century. The first phase of ultra-professionalism, in the office as well as on the sports field, was a reaction to Almond’s set of values. The concept of character was recast as a consolation prize, doled out to the class dunce or the twelfth man. Crucially, reformers and nostalgics alike bought in to the historical perception of a separation or conflict between character, intellectual life and sporting achievement.

The Cubs, however, know better. To adapt Almond’s clumsy saying: intelligence and physical skills derive, significantly though not entirely, from character. Character is now being understood not as the destination, but the foundation, even the process.

This is an overdue reassessment. In the loosest terms, I would identify three phases in the development of professional sport. Phase one optimised the body. Sadly, though we are still inching forward, the human body is now reaching the outer wall of virtuosity. All sports will tail off in speed of progress, in terms of pure physicality.

Phase two of modern sport turned to psychology. Realising how hard it is to gain an edge through physical conditioning, everyone suddenly started talking about the mind: the inner game of this, the mental game of that. However, reconfiguring the mental approach of elite athletes – already in their twenties and thirties, with deeply ingrained habits and highly evolved psychological software – is also exceptionally difficult. That is why many top athletes recoil from conventional “sports psychology”; the discipline is oversold and under-sceptical.

We are now entering phase three: the whole person. Sustained high achievement relies on something much deeper than a few sessions with a sports psychologist. So you need the right people in the room.

Coaches in future will be numerate and intellectually unthreatened by the scientific advances that illuminate sport. But the best coaches will never lose sight of a parallel truth: that although science can help us to understand what happens on the sports field, and sometimes how to do it better, it cannot conveniently convert athletes into inert particles, as though it were a ­physical science. Coaching can benefit from ­science but remains an art – one that revolves around understanding and helping people.

In most sports, players and coaches are really in the business of decision-making. The winning team, as Pep Guardiola says, makes more good decisions. Sport, in other words, advances when it trains people to make better decisions. There are now highly evolved analytical techniques for understanding how those decisions influence results. However, the athletes themselves are still people, imperfect and imperfectible. If you want machines, you get dummies.

This month, I was asked to found a new institute of advanced sports studies at the University of Buckingham. The mission is to create undergraduate and postgraduate courses that attend to the entire mindset – critical thinking, ethics and leadership, as well as data analytics and sports science: a kind of “PPE of sport”. After a misleading triple fissure – character, body, mind – sport is starting to put the pieces back together again. That’s why, this month, I’m rooting for Epstein’s Cubs.

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood