Before she even stepped foot on stage for the Miss Universe pageant last month, Miss Iraq got death threats for taking a selfie with 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,'" Sarah Idan, the first Miss Iraq to compete in the pageant in 45 years, told CNN on Sunday. While the selfie was not received well back home, Idan said she's determined to continue advocating for peace in the region.
Idan and Adar Gandelsman, who represented Israel, took the selfie during a pre-pageant photo days before the Nov. 26 pageant in Las Vegas. They appear together in the photo smiling and donning sashes showing off their respective titles. The Instagram caption read, "Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel." Idan later added on Twitter: "Really hope we can make a a difference."
The photo prompted some who see the two nations as enemies and who didn't want to see representatives of Iraq and Israel mingling to threaten Idan's life and those of her family members. Idan also claimed the Miss Iraq Organization threatened to strip her of her title if she didn't take down the controversial selfie.
"When I posted the picture I didn't think for a second there would be blowback," Idan told CNN. "I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary."
Idan is an Iraqi-American dual citizen and currently lives in Los Angeles. She refused to take down the selfie, but warned her family members remaining in Iraq that they should get out of the country. She said those family members also received death threats when people realized their connection to Miss Iraq.
"I was crying to my mom and felt like it's my fault they left, and she said, 'no, it's not your fault, we live in a f****d up society,'" Idan told CNN. She added that, on top of the death threats, the government's silence on the issue worried her. "The government has been scary quiet," she said. "And when they're this quiet, you don't know what waits for you at home."
Although Idan currently lives in the United States, she needed to renew her national ID back in Iraq in order to renew her passport. She claims that when her mother left the country, the Baghdad passport office told her that her daughter would have to reapply for the document. Idan would need to visit Iraq to do so, and said she's afraid to go back since her life has been threatened.
As for the Miss Iraq Organization, it claims it didn't threaten Idan. "In terms of the picture with Miss Israel, we (sic) got a strong attack from the Iraqi street but (sic) we did not say we would strip her title. We told her to clarify what happened," the group said in a statement to CNN. Idan maintains that the Miss Iraq Organization was "trying to scare" her and her family, however. Bustle has reached out to the Miss Iraq Organization for further comment.
"When I posted the picture I didn't think for a second there would be blowback."
Idan clarified why she took the selfie in a second Instagram post, writing in Arabic that she doesn't support Israel's government and apologizing to "anyone who thinks it's an attack for the Palestinian cause," according to CNN's translation.
Currently, the selfie remains online and Idan still has her Miss Iraq title. She didn't place in the Miss Universe pageant, but she's doubled down on using the selfie with Miss Israel to promote peace. Idan responded to a tweet from Gandelsman: "Miss you too girlie. Let me know if you ever in CA." And in a statement to her supporters, Idan added, "Thank you all people who believe in the same message of peace and want to make a difference.