Any longtime viewer of the Miss Universe competition knows what countries he or she can expect to see. Venezuela, United States, Great Britain, South Africa, China, Japan, Korea, Colombia — these countries are all staples in the Miss Universe pageant, but for the 2017 competition, one more country is joining the ranks — Iraq. The woman who will bring Iraq into the Miss Universe of the modern age — the first woman in 45 years, also — is Sarah Idan. And Miss Iraq Sarah Idan’s story is nothing short of inspiring. She may not have captured the top crown, but she certainly won my vote.
Idan said in an on-camera interview that seeing bombings became normal during her childhood. Inspired to do something more to help people, when the second Iraq War started in the early 2000s, Idan told the U.S. forces stationed in her home country that she wanted to help them keep her country safe. Of course, she said, there was always the point of wanting to go to the U.S. after the war was over — if she helped, Idan admitted, she could probably move to the United States and better her life. And so she started the very dangerous job of working with the United States army. It made her a target on both sides — from Christians and Muslims alike — but still, she persisted. Today, Idan just wants to help people. Even though she is Muslim, she says, “I want to represent Christians, Jews, Kurdish.” Many would be hardened by a life experience like that, but Idan is motivated to keep going to keep the world a better place. "Since I was a kid, I’ve known what I wanted to do in my life," Idan says. "I knew that I wanted to travel the world… I always speak my mind. I am not afraid. I’m happy and honored that I had the opportunity to do this… I would like to leave an impact."
Of course, when speaking your mind is a must, you know you're going to ruffle a few feathers. Right before the Miss Universe competition started, Idan offended some of her countrymen and women when she posted a selfie with Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman on her Instagram.
According to the BBC, there are no diplomatic relations between Iraq and Israel (Iraq does not recognize Israel as a nation), and some Arab followers felt that Idan's selfie made light of Israel's alleged offenses against the Arab world. Idan later clarified the photo's purpose — "[Gandelsman] asked if I would like to take a picture together," Idan commented. "I told her I would be glad to help spread the message. The aim of the photo was an expression of hope for world peace."
Controversy or not, the fact that Idan was willing to risk her life to do what she believed in was incredibly brave. It was also amazingly brave for Idan to share this story on an international stage. Many followers on Twitter thought so, too:
Unfortunately, Idan didn't make it to the end of the competition, but she will still use her position to do good. According to her bio on the Miss Universe website, Idan "volunteers with refugees and immigrants in U.S. Arab communities by translating, explaining the U.S. system, and guiding them through DPSS and the school application process." This is important work, and Idan is certainly an inspiration to strong women (heck, strong people) anywhere who believe in themselves enough to better their circumstances and improve the world they grew up in.