August 20, 2019

My Person of the Year: Nadia Murad

Nadia Murad was 21 in the summer of 2014 when ISIS militants attacked her Yazidi village in northern Iraq, close to the border with Syria. The militants killed those who refused to convert to Islam, including six of her brothers and her mother.

According to media reports, after being captured, Murad was taken to Mosul, where she was forced to convert to Islam and endured three months as a sex slave at the hands of the militants. She was bought and sold several times and subjected to sexual and physical abuse during her captivity.

She tried to escape, but was immediately caught by one of the guards, she told the BBC. Under their rules, she said, a captured woman became a spoil of war if she was caught trying to escape. She would be put in a cell and raped by all the men in the compound. The militants called this practice “sexual jihad.”

“Referring to the thousands of women still in ISIS’ grip, Nadia Murad added: ‘It is inconceivable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilized to liberate these girls.'”

A Muslim family that had no connection with ISIS helped Murad escape. She managed to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan and found refuge in camps with other Yazidis. She later reached Europe and now lives in Germany.

Since winning her freedom, Murad has campaigned for the thousands of women who are still believed to be held captive by ISIS.

She was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe in 2016, and called for an international court to judge crimes committed by ISIS in her acceptance speech in Strasbourg, France.

That same year, Murad also was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. She was named the United Nations’ first goodwill ambassador for survivors of human trafficking later that year.

In October of this year, Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“A woman being raped on a battlefield in Mosul should get as much attention as a woman being raped in a hotel room in New York City.”

Despite all that, Murad still hasn’t become a household name in the United States. As The World Tribune reported after her victory, “News that Yazidi sex slave survivor Nadia Murad has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war barely registered on the American media radar screen.”

Because she’s gone largely unnoticed in America in the era of #MeToo, if I were editor of Time magazine, Murad would have been my choice for Person of the Year.

Murad offers a unique opportunity for the #MeToo movement to become more global. Among the things I love about the movement is that it wasn’t a flash in the pan. Since it exploded on the scene over a year ago, more and more victims of sexual abuse have felt free to speak out. A crucial conversation has begun. Justice, however halting, is being served. The cause is now ingrained in our national consciousness.

Murad’s story takes the issue of sexual abuse from the home and workplace to regions of armed conflict. It expands the #MeToo movement internationally to where it is sorely needed.

In her address after receiving the Nobel Prize, as reported in The New York Times, Murad condemned “the international community’s indifference to wartime sexual violence and pleaded for new efforts to arrest or punish those responsible.”

“Thank you very much for this honor,” she said, “but the fact remains that the only prize in the world that can restore our dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals.”

Referring to the thousands of women still in ISIS’ grip, Murad added: “It is inconceivable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilized to liberate these girls. What if they were a commercial deal, an oil field or a shipment of weapons? Most certainly, no efforts would be spared to liberate them.”

We like to think of globalism in terms of economic interdependence and the protection of the environment, which are hugely important. But justice for victims of sexual abuse ought to be another pillar of globalism. A woman being raped on a battlefield in Mosul should get as much attention as a woman being raped in a hotel room in New York City.

As Murad told the Jewish Journal in an interview last year, “When ISIS is held accountable, when my people are protected, when the women are freed and my people live with dignity, I will be happy then.”

Accountability. Protection. Freedom. Dignity. Happiness. Not a bad list for 2019.

Happy New Year.