Nadia Murad—one of thousands of Yazidi women and children who face kidnapping, human trafficking, rape and torture as forms of religious prosecution—has been making her voice heard since 2014, when she miraculously escaped after being held captive by ISIS for three months. Murad’s outspoken bravery has reached international attention and won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.
Last week, on International Justice Day, along with over 20 victims of religious persecution, Murad visited the White House. As the famed activist asked the President to intervene in some way to help her community—facing violence and disappearances since 2003—he appeared both unfamiliar with her story and uninterested in learning more.
Murad detailed her personal trauma and the current regional conflicts impacting the Yazidis. She explained that, while the threat of ISIS has diminished in the area, the Yazidis are caught in the crossfires between the Iraqi and Kurdish government’s battle over the region. All the while, Trump remained seated and largely avoided eye contact.
The most shocking moment of the visit came as Murad said ISIS killed her entire family. Trump looked up and asked, “Where are they now?”
Murad paused for a beat before reiterating, “[ISIS] killed them. They are in the mass graves in Sinjar.”
The rest of the conversation didn’t fare much better. As if hearing about this conflict for the first time, President Trump expressed shock as Murad responded that she was the first Iraqi woman to escape ISIS captivity and speak out about the abuses. She clarified that her escape does not mean that her struggle is over.
“I escaped,” she explained, “but I don’t have my freedom yet. We know that we have 3,000 Yazidi women and children with ISIS. … I am still fighting just to live safe.”
Trump claimed to know the area she is speaking about “very well” and shifted to the subject of her receiving the Nobel Prize. After congratulating her, he asked, “They gave it to you for what reason, if you can explain?”
Murad’s story and the plight of the Yazidis of Iraq were not the only humanitarian crises President Trump knew nothing about. Survivors of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Uighurs in China also accompanied Murad in her visit to the White House. During a conversation with Rohingya refugee Mohib Ullah, Trump asked about his region: “Where is that exactly?”
President Trump’s lack of preparation and disinterest during the visit has dominated headlines. The visit comes on the heels of the uproar caused by Trump’s xenophobic and racist tweets.
While a world leader knowing nothing about longtime crises deserves chiding, the bravery of survivors like Murad and Jewher IIham, a Uighur woman in attendance, deserves celebrating.