As of this writing, Montreal businessman Steve Maman has been instrumental in rescuing 128 women and young girls from sex slavery under the Islamic State.
Maman, who has six children of his own, told the Times of Israel that the “defining moment” came for him when ISIS broadcast pictures of caged children in orange prisoner jumpsuits being menaced by a man holding a flamethrower. “I said to myself, ‘Steve, you’re going to act.’”
Numbering nearly 3,000, most of them Christians and Yazidis, the women were captured after ISIS took the Iraqi city of Mosul. Since then, they’ve been confined to cages and severely underfed, reports the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights. According to The Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children in Iraq, Maman’s non-profit organization, which goes by the initials CYCI, these sex slaves are raped up to 40 times every day by ISIS fighters.
The youngest slaves are eight years old.
In order to preserve their market value, the UN says, ISIS has subjected some of these slaves to virginity-restoration surgery up to 20 times. A CYCI video purports to show stills of ISIS officials discussing sex slaves and their prices.
“Today is the day of (female) slaves and we should have our share,” a man in a black keffiyeh says in one still, according to a translation at the bottom of the screen. In a second still, another man – bearded, in a white taqiyah – says, “The price depends. If she has blue eyes, it will be different.”
Maman’s approach to liberating these captives goes with this grain rather than against it: he’s buying their freedom with donors’ money. CYCI has set up a GoFundMe page. So far, it has raised $450,000.
Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest who formerly served as pastor of St. George’s, Iraq’s largest church, says that ISIS charges between $1,000 and $3,000 for the release of each one. “You have to buy them out. There’s no other way,” he told the Times of Israel in a telephone interview.
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Maman said his organization works through local “teams” who negotiate with captors, including local civilians as well as ISIS fighters. Along with the price of the captives themselves, CYCI covers the logistical expenses of its intermediaries.
Maman said, “We raise the funds…we have the team on the ground which is a trusted team…these people receive the funds that we send to them…they actually have made great connections throughout the last 15 years in the areas of Iraq.”
He added, “I’m focused on saving lives…I’m not focused on the actual logistics of the payments and all the rest.”
Buying sex slaves out of captivity raises certain moral issues – for example, the question of whether ISIS will perceive an incentive to enslave more women and girls in the hope of raising more money. Maman denies that the sums raised through CYCI could contribute to ISIS’s net worth in any appreciable way.
“ISIS is worth today — 4 billion dollars,” he told the CBC. “Do you think that my little meager two or 3,000 dollars per child is going to in any way or form help the power and might that ISIS may attain?”
Once the captives gain their freedom, they are moved to refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they receive food, medical care, and – whenever possible – help in reuniting with surviving family members.
A Sephardic Jew born in Morocco, Maman relates the atrocities committed by ISIS to those committed by the Nazis. In an interview with As It Happens host Matt Galloway, he said, “What motivated me is very simple…being Jewish, being part of a people that actually survived the Holocaust…we for six years waited for people to actually answer the call and come and help us.”
Admirers have called him the “Jewish Schindler” – a comparison to Oskar Schindler, the Sudeten German factory owner who saved the lives of more than 1,200 European Jews during the Holocaust. Maman rejects the nickname, insisting, “Schindler is on another planet from me.”
Although CYCI’s drew its initial support from Montreal’s other Sephardic Jews, Maman stresses that it is an interfaith venture, relying on “Jews, Muslims and Christians…fighting tooth and nails to get the word out.”
“Without them,” he told the Times of Israel, “CYCI is worthless.”
Maman isn’t the only Jew stirred by memories of the Nazi terror to intervene on behalf of ISIS’s victims. George Weidenfeld, Baron Weidenfeld, a 95-year-old British publishing tycoon, established the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund with the aim of resettling 2,000 displaced Arab Christian families and supporting them for 12 to 18 months. So far, it has moved 150 families to Poland.
“ISIS,” he has said, “is unprecedented in its savagery compared to the more sophisticated Nazis. When it comes to pure lust for horror and sadism, there never was such scum as these people.”
Kelly Amran, a Montreal optician who volunteers her time in producing CYCI’s videos and other promotional materials, told the Times of Israel, “This is the biggest genocide of women and children since the end of World War II…When we say never again, we mean never again; no matter what your religion, what your belief is.”