Zainab Salbi

Iraqi American author, women's rights activist

Zainab Salbi (Arabic: زينب سلبي) (born 1969) is a humanitarian, media host, author, and founder and former CEO (1993-2011) of Washington-based Women for Women International.


Speech at TEDGlobal 2010Edit

Transcript at TED's official page
  • I woke up in the middle of the night with the sound of heavy explosion. It was deep at night. I do not remember what time it was. I just remember the sound was so heavy and so very shocking. Everything in my room was shaking -- my heart, my windows, my bed, everything. I looked out the windows and I saw a full half-circle of explosion. I thought it was just like the movies, but the movies had not conveyed them in the powerful image that I was seeing full of bright red and orange and gray, and a full circle of explosion. And I kept on staring at it until it disappeared. I went back to my bed, and I prayed, and I secretly thanked God that that missile did not land on my family's home, that it did not kill my family that night. Thirty years have passed, and I still feel guilty about that prayer, for the next day, I learned that that missile landed on my brother's friend's home and killed him and his father, but did not kill his mother or his sister. His mother showed up the next week at my brother's classroom and begged seven-year-old kids to share with her any picture they may have of her son, for she had lost everything.
  • I grew up in war-torn Iraq, and I believe that there are two sides of wars and we've only seen one side of it. We only talk about one side of it. But there's another side that I have witnessed as someone who lived in it and someone who ended up working in it.
  • I grew up with the colors of war -- the red colors of fire and blood, the brown tones of earth as it explodes in our faces and the piercing silver of an exploded missile, so bright that nothing can protect your eyes from it. I grew up with the sounds of war -- the staccato sounds of gunfire, the wrenching booms of explosions, ominous drones of jets flying overhead and the wailing warning sounds of sirens. These are the sounds you would expect, but they are also the sounds of dissonant concerts of a flock of birds screeching in the night, the high-pitched honest cries of children and the thunderous, unbearable silence. "War," a friend of mine said, "is not about sound at all. It is actually about silence, the silence of humanity."
  • I have learned not only that the colors and the sounds of war are the same, but the fears of war are the same. You know, there is a fear of dying.
  • We have been so consumed with seemingly objective discussions of politics, tactics, weapons, dollars and casualties. This is the language of sterility.
  • We are missing stories of women who are literally keeping life going in the midst of wars. Do you know -- do you know that people fall in love in war and go to school and go to factories and hospitals and get divorced and go dancing and go playing and live life going? And the ones who are keeping that life are women.
  • There are two sides of war. There is a side that fights, and there is a side that keeps the schools and the factories and the hospitals open. There is a side that is focused on winning battles, and there is a side that is focused on winning life. There is a side that leads the front-line discussion, and there is a side that leads the back-line discussion. There is a side that thinks that peace is the end of fighting, and there is a side that thinks that peace is the arrival of schools and jobs. There is a side that is led by men, and there is a side that is led by women. And in order for us to understand how do we build lasting peace, we must understand war and peace from both sides. We must have a full picture of what that means.
  • They are women who are standing on their feet in spite of their circumstances, not because of it. Think of how the world can be a much better place if, for a change, we have a better equality, we have equality, we have a representation and we understand war, both from the front-line and the back-line discussion.
  • Rumi, a 13th-century Sufi poet, says, "Out beyond the worlds of right-doings and wrong-doings, there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' no longer makes any sense." I humbly add that out beyond the worlds of war and peace, there is a field, and there are many women and men [who] are meeting there. Let us make this field a much bigger place. Let us all meet in that field.

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