July 16, 2019
"It never gets easier to tell your story. Each time you speak it, you relive it. When I tell someone about the checkpoint where the men raped me, or the feeling of Hajji Salman's whip across the blanket as I lay under it, or the darkening Mosul sky while I searched the neighborhood for some sign of help, I am transported back to those moments and all their terror." --Nadia Murad, Survivor
The slave market, she explained, opened at night. "We could hear the commotion downstairs where militants were registering and organizing, and when the first man entered the room, all the girls started screaming. It was like the scene of an explosion. We moaned as though wounded, doubling over and vomiting on the floor, but none of it stopped [them]." Men strutted through the room, while the young women sobbed.
"They gravitated toward the most beautiful girls first, asking, 'How old are you?' and examining their hair and mouths. 'They are virgins, right?' they asked a guard, who nodded and said, 'Of course!' like a shopkeeper taking pride in his product. Now the militants touched us anywhere they wanted, running their hands [everywhere], as if we were animals." Nadia thought about whether she could fight. She watched other girls slap away hands, curl their bodies into balls on the floor, and throw themselves on younger sisters or friends. In the end, she was taken -- her dreams of becoming a teacher gone, along with her mother and six brothers, all massacred by ISIS right in front of her.
After three days as a sex slave, she was given to an ISIS fighter as a present. When she tried to escape, she was gang raped into unconsciousness. Somehow, on a summer night in June of 2014, she slipped out of her master's house, wandered around Mosul for hours, finally stopping at a gate to knock. Inside, Omar Jabar and his family froze at the sound. After deciding it wasn't militants, Jabar and his father walked out to find a small woman, draped head-to-toe in a black. 'Please help me,' she pleaded. 'They are raping me.'" Jabar pulled her inside, to safety. Despite the big reward they could have gotten for turning her in, he remembers, "We never considered it."
In the years since, Nadia has often wondered why she was so lucky -- and thousands of other Yazidis weren't. But she vowed to tell her story. "I tell [it]," she says, "because it's the best weapon I have." Nadia, now a Nobel Peace Prize winner and ambassador for the U.N., has used that weapon all over the world, reliving her nightmare for civil leaders, government officials, diplomats, reporters -- anyone who will listen. "I [tell] them I wasn't raised to give speeches," she says. "I [tell] them that every Yazidi wants ISIS prosecuted for genocide, and that [it's] in their power to help protect vulnerable people all over the world." Most of all, Nadia insists, "I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine."
The awards don't matter to her. The applause for her bravery or the celebrities who ask to meet her often fade to the background. She is here, as she was this afternoon at the Ministieral to Advance Religious Freedom, for one purpose: to be their voice. This afternoon, the State Department auditorium was one of the few places where Nadia could look around the room and see the familiar mark of suffering.
She, like everyone else, heard the horrors of religious hatred. A little girl, just six years old, who lost both of her eyes in the Sri Lanka Easter bombing. She'll never see her parents again -- but not because of her injuries. There was the mother, whose son's last words were "I'll just have a glass of water, and I'll be back." Then a bomb went off. In the chaos, other women thought they'd seen her boy in his red shirt. She felt calm -- even as other children screamed from their burns. Her son, she would find out later, was not okay. He had already died, with dozens of other Sunday school children, in the fire.
There was the New Zealand widower, who'd traveled 28 hours to honor the memory of his wife. "When I received the invitation to come here, you can see me," Dr. Farid Ahmed said, gesturing to his wheelchair, "My body said, 'Don't dare…' But my heart could not resist…" His message, he decided was too important. When his wife was gunned down in the Christchurch mosque, he chose love. "I have forgiven." He hopes the international community will, too.
These testimonies -- and others -- are proof that the world desperately needs the vision of the Trump administration. "We're trying to get religions to stand for each other," Ambassador Sam Brownback implored. "We need your activism. We need your passion. We need you to boldly fight for religious freedom," he urged. "As united we do stand, divided we fall -- and often we fall in catastrophic, and sometimes even genocidal, ways."
As for Nadia, she'll keep speaking -- telling a survivor's story that, because of her, fewer women will share.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.