Nadia Murad was held captive by ISIL. Her family murdered. Her home taken. She was enslaved. After a failed attempt to escape, which led to her being raped by militants until she passed out, she was finally successful.
Murad recently visited Lund University in an event hosted by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, where she spoke to a packed audience in the university’s prestigious Universitetsaulan. The 21-year old was here to raise awareness about the situation Yazidi women are dealing with in Syria and Iraq.
The hardest moment of the hour came when she was asked about her plans for the future. She broke down, saying that everything had been taken away from her and that she had no future. Before what she said had been translated, even those with no competence in Arabic had their emotions written across their faces. The pain was in her voice. In her eyes. Not just her words. Leaving a tear-filled hall to a standing ovation, we met afterwards.
I tried to make eye contact, but for the first few minutes her eyes were fixed on the floor. I attempted a joke, apologising for my Scottish accent and why her interpreter may be taking slightly longer than usual. Finally, a look and a smile. I was filled with pride as she informed me of her connection with my country and how a number of Scottish people have helped her on her mission. Her eyes then returned to the floor.
What exactly is that mission? “To free the women and girls in captivity,” she said. “For people who have been taken from their homes to go back and have normal lives. My goal is to end the terrorism.”
Murad puts a heavy emphasis on today’s youth potentially becoming tomorrow’s terrorists, and believes the youth are the key to stopping ISIL. Regardless of a person’s current situation, she maintained that “no-one should join ISIL… They have no humanity… If you are poor, it doesn’t mean you should behead people and commit crimes. This shouldn’t be happening. We were poor. We didn’t commit crimes.”
I had more pressing questions, but after seeing her break down half an hour earlier, I felt her day had been long enough and that it wouldn’t have been appropriate. Who would ever want to relive that over and over again?
So, after hearing her speak about her love for education, I ended with an off-the-cuff comment about how any university would be lucky to have a student like her. Once again, she gave a reply that highlighted her selflessness. “But there are thousands of people who have been forced to leave their schools… I would like all of these people to have access to education… it’s not about me, personally.”
It’s clear why she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Nadia Murad is not just a victim, but a hero. I get the sense that she is naturally a shy and quiet girl, but that she feels a moral obligation to take a stand. Her bravery and courage cannot be questioned. For someone looking at the floor so much, I’ve never met a person who deserves to hold their head higher than Ms Murad.
Kenneth Cameron is a law student from Edinburgh, Scotland. He is currently studying a LLM in International Human Rights Law at Lund University and is also an intern at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.