by WorldTribune Staff, December 20, 2017
Iraq’s Miss Universe contestant received death threats and her family was forced to flee the country after a selfie she took with Miss Israel went viral.
Miss Iraq Sarah Idan said she “didn’t think for a second there would be blowback” when she posted the photo with Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman to Instagram.
Both Gandelsman and Idan said they published the joint selfie on their Instagram pages to promote peace while participating in the Miss Universe International Beauty Pageant in Las Vegas last month.
When the 27-year-old Idan, the first Iraqi Miss Universe contestant in 45 years, became friends with her Israeli counterpart, Idan recounted, “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.’ ”
The response in Iraq was swift and vicious.
“I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane,” Idan said. “The death threats I got online were so scary.”
Idan refused to take down the photo, but she did update her Instagram post by saying the photo was not a show of support for the government of Israel.
“I want to stress that the purpose of the picture was only to express hope and desire for peace between the two countries,” she wrote, going on to apologize “to all those who consider [the picture] harmful to the Palestinian cause.”
Idan’s clarification did not assuage her detractors in Iraq.
“People in Iraq recognized my family, they immediately knew who they were. And they were getting death threats,” Idan said. “My mom was freaking out. I told her ‘Mom, just get out. Get out.’ I told her I’m sorry and asked if she wants me to leave the competition. I was ready to drop out right then.”
Idan’s Iraqi sponsors demanded that she remove the photo. “The director of the Miss Iraq Organization called me and said they’re getting heat from the ministry. He said I have to take the picture down or they will strip me of my title.”
The Miss Iraq Organization has denied threatening to strip Idan of her title, but acknowledged getting a strong response from Iraqis and asking her to “to clarify what happened.”
Idan said this was not true. “I have proof showing they threatened to take my title away if I didn’t remove the picture… They threatened to take my title many times.
“I’m here trying to paint a good picture about our country and our people, but instead I get a negative response,” Idan said. “I have no support whatsoever from the Miss Iraq Organization and our government.”
Idan, who has dual citizenship, remains in the U.S., saying she fears going back to 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.’ ”
She added that “The government has been scary quiet. And when they’re this quiet, you don’t know what waits for you at home.”
Idan has said she has no regrets about posting the photo. She also remains optimistic about her people.
“A lot of people have the wrong idea about Iraq, and while we do have extremists, we also have good people,” she said. “Most of the good people go unnoticed.”