Sarah Idan was the first woman to represent Iraq in the Miss Universe contest in almost half a century. She went to the competition hoping to make friends. She made one in Miss Israel, and then everything changed—but not in the way she expected.
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There’s an old saying: Man plans and God laughs. That couldn’t be more true.
My plan was simple enough. Go to the Miss Universe contest as Miss Iraq and represent Iraqi women on the world stage.
My country hadn’t sent anyone to the competition for 45 years, so my being there was a big deal.
The Miss Universe contest brings women together from all over the world—it’s a true celebration of diversity. The world is made up of all kinds of people. I like that.
So, when I met Miss Israel, I said, “Let’s take a picture so our people can see we don’t have a problem and we’re actually ambassadors for peace.”
We took a photo together and I shared it on Instagram. I captioned it “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel.”
And that was the end of life as I knew it.
Overnight, everything changed. The Miss Iraq organization—under pressure from the Iraqi government—threatened to strip me of my title if I didn’t immediately take down the photo.
But that was nothing compared to the barrage of death threats I received. And not only was I getting them, so was my family.
You see, Iraq doesn’t recognize Israel as a legitimate nation-state. It never has.
There are no diplomatic relations between the countries.
My selfie with Miss Israel was meant to be a gesture of goodwill—the start of something positive.
But many Iraqis and other Arabs took it as a slap in the face. They thought I was betraying the Palestinians, and by extension, all Arabs and Muslims.
As bad as it was for me, it was worse for my family, who were living in Iraq and, suddenly, in very real danger. To protect them, I did what the Miss Iraq mission told me to do. I issued a statement saying I do not support the Israeli government or its policies.
Then, with as much grace as I could muster, I put a smile on my face and competed. I didn’t talk to the media. I didn’t talk to anyone.
But the hatred didn’t stop. There was no way I could safely go back to Iraq and no way my family could stay there. Thank God, they managed to get safely out of the country. To this day no one in my family could return to Iraq. All because I smiled next to an Israeli.
I went to the Miss Universe pageant as a musician and a model.
I left conflicted and confused. What had I done that was so terrible? Why so much hate?
During the pageant, my intentions were never political. I just wanted to meet people and make friends. But my experience showed me that I had to become political. But I would do it in my own way.
I would bring my photo with Miss Israel to life.
So I went to Israel, even though my Arab friends advised me not to go. They told me it would be dangerous and that it would ruin my future because they believed Israelis don’t like Arabs and the Arabs would hate me even more for going.
Well, the second part certainly turned out to be true.
As for the Israelis, they could not have been more welcoming. But here’s what surprised me: the Israelis were not just Jews. They were Muslims, Christians, and others, too.
For the full script, visit: www.prageru.com/video/who-wants-peace-in-the-middle-east