In 2014, Nibras Khudaida was a 16-year-old young woman living in the tight-knit 500-person village of Sreshka in Northern Iraq. The area had long known peaceful coexistence among its diverse ethnic and religious groups that, for millennia, had called the region home. Life’s routines had basically been the same for centuries. Children received a basic education, and married at an early age. Men worked in the field. Women took care of the family.
Then, one day, that entire world ended for Nibras. She had just finished school, and was celebrating being named “student of the year.”
As she was walking home, she saw crowds of people fleeing and screaming, and children crying. Her friends started running to find their families, fearing that they would be left behind.
As Nibras put it, “We knew ISIS was coming, but now they were only two miles from the doorstep of our village.” Drones were flying overhead. Peshmerga fighters were moving in, pushed back by the ISIS advance.
After the Iraqi army had quickly folded, tens of thousands of people from the southern city of Mosul were now pouring into her village desperately headed for the mountains to the north. Nibras’ family only had time to grab their passports and IDs.
“Twelve people piled into our small car, many climbed on the roof,” Nibras told me. “A lot of other people just ran.”
Ultimately, Nibras and her family ended up in Erbil, where their situation stabilized. Since Nibras’ father had worked for American forces stationed in Iraq, her family remained on the hit list of various terror groups. At the all-girls school Nibras attended, she was often verbally and physically bullied by teachers and students alike because of her Yazidi faith. Due to her father’s service, Nibras and her family were eventually able to come to America.
Today, Nibras and her family are safely woven into the diverse fabric of Lincoln, Nebraska.
Nibras is an intern in my Lincoln office. In May, she will graduate from Lincoln North Star, the first member of her family to graduate high school. This fall, she will be the first to attend college.
Three years ago, Nibras didn’t speak a word of English. This past weekend, she made it to the quarterfinals of the Nebraska State Debate Championship. What an incredible American story! After her triumph, Nibras cried, “God loves me! God loves me!”
What is even more incredible is the question posed at this past weekend’s debate tournament—Resolved: On balance, the current Authorization of Military Force gives too much power to the president. When Nibras was a small child, Congress debated the Authorization of Military Force (or AUMF) in the wake of the horror of 9/11.
The law gave broad authority across successive administrations to pursue terrorist organizations who wished to do America harm and has been applied to the various brands of terroristic activity that tragically keep regenerating themselves. Nibras could never have conceived that just three short years after that horrific day in her Iraqi village she would be empowered to debate one of the cornerstones of American foreign policy in the Middle East.
For Nibras, this is not some debate abstraction. War, the loss of a homeland, fleeing for your life, living in uncertainty, and, finally, another chance, a rebirth.
This past weekend, the western Christian and cultural tradition celebrated Easter, which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In two weeks, the Yazidis will celebrate their version of Easter, honoring the birth of the world. Two worlds, a common humanity, and a common home: America.