On Thursday, April 21, St. Olaf hosted humanitarian, author and media commen- tator Zainab Salbi. The event attracted a large number of students and was streamed and archived on the St. Olaf web site.
A survivor of the Iran-Iraq War, Salbi is the founder and CEO of Women for Wom- en International – a humanitarian organization that supports women in war-torn areas. She is also a nationally bestselling author whose works include “Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing up
in the Shadow of Saddam,” “The Other Side of War: Women’s Stories of Survival and Hope” and “If You Knew Me You Would Care.” The talk, similarly titled “The Other Side of War: Women, Wartime, and the Dream of Peace,” was sponsored by the Political Awareness Committee.
Salbi began her lecture with the story of a young Syrian whose brothers were killed in the Arab Spring and was later convinced to join a group of terrorists. The boy’s best friend became an activist against ISIS. According to Salbi, the concept of activism is different between the Western world and
non-Western world. Many non-Western activists risk their lives when they speak out against violence.
Her point, however, is not to distinguish the two worlds but rather to encourage activism everywhere.
“To fight for your cause, it comes with a price. And it does require a sacrifice,” Salbi said. “And a question for all of us to have: ‘Do I have that belief in me to go all the way for my cause?’”
Salbi openly shared her experience as a prominent activist. She recounted words of discouragement from others when she began pursuing activism, lessons she learned from unexpected people and her journey to discover her own dark side. Her ideal superhero is Batman, who is courageous enough to fight with the darkness within himself before helping others.
Salbi talked about different ways to stay positive in the face of atrocity and said that it is hope that keeps her grounded. She told stories from war-torn areas where injustice prevails. In one story, a man witnessed all of his family being massacred in a church. In another, soldiers mutilated a woman’s body and forced her children to eat it. One woman was hit publicly by the Taliban for wearing sandals. Another woman in a rape camp had to serve a man when her number was called. After recounting these horrors, Salbi revealed that the people in the stories are now finding meaning through arts, study and activism. The strength these people exhibit gives Salbi hope.
She advocated for an active and authentic way of living. The act of showing up, speaking out or acting one’s truth can start on a small scale, such as in a group of friends, a committee or a club on campus. According to Salbi, it takes as much courage to say small truth as to say big truths.
Salbi finished with some advice for youth activists. She encouraged them to serve humbly and to treat the high- est and lowest people with the same respect. She recommended students always acknowledge that they are in service to the earth so that humility may keep their minds and hearts open.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated an anecdote of “a mother cutting off her leg and feeding it to her starving children.” The anecdote has been corrected to “soldiers mutilated a woman’s body and forced her children to eat it.”