Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad win Nobel Peace Prize for combating wartime sexual violence

The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to two people, one a doctor and one a survivor of ISIS captivity, for their work in raising international awareness about wartime sexual violence.

  • Dr. Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist who has helped to treat thousands of survivors of sexual violence.
  • Murad is a 25-year-old Yazidi woman who was taken captive by ISIS militants in 2014.
  • Both have sacrificed their own personal safety to speak out against wartime sexual violence, the Nobel committee said.

The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman and former captive of ISIS, for helping to combat wartime sexual assault.

"Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes," said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Nobel Committee, on Friday at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo.

Who is Dr. Mukwege?

Dr. Mukwege is the founder of the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a nation the U.N. has called the "rape capital of the world" and where more than 1,000 women are raped every day. The initial goal behind the hospital was to curb maternal mortality rates.

"But our first patient did not come to deliver a baby," Dr. Mukwege said in a 2016 speech. "She had been raped with extreme violence."

Since 1999, the Panzi Hospital has treated more than 50,000 survivors of sexual violence through a five-pillar holistic healing model that includes "physical care, psychosocial support, community reintegration services, legal assistance, and education and advocacy to address the root causes of violence."

"You just can't imagine how a smile, a simple handshake, to just tell them 'be encouraged' is important to them. To feel they are loved, to feel they can finally find love and affection," Dr. Mukwege told CNN in 2009.

Dr. Mukwege once described how seeing the recovery of young sexual violence survivors motivates him to keep working

"The kids' strength to go on living gives me strength to go on taking care of them," Dr. Mukwege said in an interview. "It just tells you, 'It's all good.' You have got to keep fighting for life, you have got to keep on giving life, you have got to give hope to others."

The Nobel committee said that Dr. Mukwege's philosophy is "justice is everyone's business."

"Denis Mukwege is the foremost, most unifying symbol, both nationally and internationally, of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflicts," said Reiss-Andersen.

Who is Nadia Murad?

(Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Nadia Murad accepts the 2016 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which she shares with Lamiya Aji Bashar, for their work in advocacy for the Yazidi community in Iraq and survivors of sexual enslavement by the Islamic State jihadists.

In August 2014, ISIS militants invaded Murad's Yazidi community in the village of Kocho in Northern Iraq, a region that's long been home to the monotheistic religious minority. The militants told all the residents to walk to a school on the outskirts of town, and, upon arriving, separated the men from the women.

Murad, who was 19 years old at the time, watched as the militants murdered more than 300 men, including six of her brothers and step brothers. The militants took her, along with other young women, as a sex slave. The elderly women, presumably too undesirable or burdensome to the militants, were executed and buried in a mass grave that would later be discovered by Kurdish forces.

In an interview with Time, Murad describes how some of the captured women committed or attempted suicide.

"I did not want to kill myself, she said. "But I wanted them to kill me."

For three months, Murad was held as a slave in Mosul by ISIS militants who beat her, burned her with cigarettes, and raped her after a failed escape attempt. One night in November 2014 her captor left a door unlocked and she managed to escape, eventually ending up in Germany through a program that helps relocate refugees.

Since her escape, Murad has been speaking out about the atrocities she and her fellow Yazidis suffered at the hands of ISIS, who consider the Yazidi to be "kafir" or nonbelievers. In 2015, she told part of her story to the U.N. Security Council.

"I cannot imagine how painful it must be every time you are asked to recount your experience," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said to Murad after her testimony. "And your being here and speaking so bravely to all of us is a testament to your resilience and your dignity—and it's of course the most powerful rejection of what ISIL stands for."

It's estimated that, around the time of Murad's capture, ISIS militants killed more than 5,000 Yazidi men, captured about 6,500 women and children, and forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands more.

"For eight months, they separated us from our mothers and our sisters and our brothers, and some of them were killed and others disappeared," Murad told CNN in 2017.

Murad is the 17th woman to win, and the second-youngest recipient of, the Nobel Peace Prize.

Reiss-Andersen said both winners have put their own personal security at risk by combating war crimes and seeking justice for victims.

"Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims," Reiss-Andersen said. "Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others."

As of Friday morning, it wasn't clear whether Murad was aware she had won the award; the committee couldn't reach her by phone. Dr. Mukwege was reportedly in the middle of surgery when he found out he had won.

"For almost 20 years I have witnessed war crimes committed against women, girls and even baby girls not only in my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also in many other countries," he said.

"To the survivors from all over the world, I would like to tell you that through this prize, the world is listening to you and refusing to remain indifferent. The world refuses to sit idly in the face of your suffering."

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.