Jacqueline Isaac sat in front of TV cameras, under hot studio lights, getting drilled by British news anchor Jon Snow, and she hardly remembers any of it.
“I can tell you that those few minutes were led by the Holy Spirit; it wasn’t me speaking at all,” she says.
In her short five minutes on camera, Jacqueline asked for two things from the United Kingdom: that they declare what is happening to Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria as genocide, and to let rescued girls into the UK via asylum.
“[Jon Snow] challenged me,” Jacqueline says. “He said that’s not going to happen, because [the terrorist attack in] Brussels had just happened. But I said, we’re not asking for a lot—let’s start a campaign, let’s start with 100 girls. If you can transform the lives of 100 girls and every country does the same, we’ll get this problem solved.”
Within minutes, Jacqueline started receiving thousands of tweets from everyone from lawyers to social media managers asking, “How can we help? We love this idea, let’s start a hashtag: #100girls.”
But that was just the beginning: the next morning, Jacqueline got a call from Luke DePulford at the office of UK Parliament member Lord David Alton. Luke had watched her segment the previous night; he shared that a vote on the genocide issue was recently put forth to the House and it failed miserably. “We realized after watching you last night that [it failed] because we didn’t have a campaign to stir the hearts of the nation,” Luke said. “After watching you, we’re asking, if by a miracle—and it will take a miracle for the House of Commons to vote on this again—would you come and testify?”
Jacqueline agreed and headed back to Los Angeles.
The following Saturday Jacqueline received another call from Luke. “You’ll never believe it,” he began. “The miracle has happened—the hearing is set for Tuesday, the vote is set for Wednesday.”
“I needed two witnesses to come and testify,” Jacqueline says. Her mother, Yvette Isaac—founder and president of the nonprofit Roads of Success—happened to be in Syria and had made it out with footage of testimonies. In a flurry of divine logistical surprises that brought them together in a matter of hours, Jacqueline, Yvette, and a 16-year-old rescued Yazidi girl named Ekhlas stood in front of the House of Commons and implored the UK to declare the acts of ISIS against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq as genocide.
The series of events that followed is best summed up in the closing argument given by Member of Parliament Fiona Bruce preceding the final vote:
“We heard the truly harrowing personal testimony of a brave 16-year-old girl named Ekhlas. She was seized—along with others from her community—by [ISIS] in her home in Sinjar, Northern Iraq. At age 15, she saw her father and brother killed in front of her. She told of how every girl in her community over age eight, including herself, was imprisoned and raped. She spoke of witnessing her friends being raped and hearing their screams, of seeing a girl at age nine being raped by so many men that she died. Many young girls had their fragile bodies rendered incapable of pregnancy, and others far too young to be so were made pregnant. Horrifically, she spoke of seeing a two-year-old boy being killed, his body parts ground down and then fed to his own mother. She told of children being brain-washed and forced to kill their own parents. Fortunately she managed to escape her imprisonment during the bombardment of the area around it. Others are not so fortunate.
We also heard from another woman, Yvette, who had come directly from Syria for last night’s meeting and spoke of Christians being killed and tortured. Of children being beheaded in front of their parents. She showed recent film footage of her talking with mothers who had seen their own children crucified. Of another woman who saw 250 children burnt in an oven, the oldest being 4 years old…
Ekhlas implored us, “Listen to me—help the girls in captivity. I am pleading with you—let us come together and call this what it is: a genocide. This is about human dignity; you have a responsibility. ISIS is committing a genocide because they are trying to wipe us out.”
Members, I put to you, that not just one, but every single one of these criteria were satisfied by those two testimonies yesterday. Yazidis and Christians have been targeted explicitly because of their religion and ethnicity. [ISIS] is targeting specific groups precisely because of the characteristics of those groups, and it has declared that its acts have genocidal intent…
We have a responsibility for Ekhlas and for everybody else that we heed that creed. What are we going to do for Ekhlas? We must stand up and support the call…”
“We testified our hearts out,” recalls Jacqueline. “I didn’t realize what God was about to do. Those next 24 hours shifted everything.”
The verdict? 278 in favor of the resolution—100% of the votes. History was being made.
This story is not out of character for Jacqueline Isaac, estate attorney on one day, human rights advocate on another. She currently works alongside her mother Yvette as the vice president of Roads of Success. Together they are a voice for human rights issues facing minorities in the Middle East.
Jacqueline was raised by Egyptian parents in the United States until the age of thirteen, when her parents moved back to Egypt to provide support in their home country. Her father served as a worship pastor and her mother began a grassroots movement to empower local woman. Jacqueline stayed with her parents for two years before returning to the U.S. and beginning college as the youngest student at Vanguard University. It was there that she began to follow a call to free the oppressed and bridge the gap between the Middle East and the West.
Tell us about your background. How did you end up in this line of work?
Right before I left Egypt [for college] a woman pastor said, “I don’t know much about you but I really feel like I need to let you know this. You’re here for a great purpose. God is going to use you to bridge a gap between two worlds. You’re going to be a voice for the voiceless. I see you traveling, going all across the globe, but you keep coming back to the Middle East. It’s because God’s going to use you to bring people out of oppression—your people out of oppression. God is going to use you and bring you before kings and queens and princes and princesses, ambassadors, religious leaders of the Muslim and Christian worlds. You’re going to see things—you will be blown away—and when you speak, they will listen. And that’s when you know that it’s God and not you. It has nothing to do with you.”
I started college and I had a professor ask everyone to write a paper about their cultural background. So I wrote about Egypt. The first thing that broke my heart about Egypt was learning about Female Genital Mutilation. So I wrote about it. She read the paper and said, “You need to speak at a caucus of professors; it’s very powerful what you have to say; just share with them.” So I shared. A Christian political science professor saw me speak and he comes to me and says, “What are you doing in pre-med? I see you as a lawyer, an ambassador. You can bridge the gap between two worlds.” The same words that were used in Egypt. He guided me; he was my angel; God brought him to mentor me. Because of him I spent a year between college and law school to do an independent project on FGM. I had this theory God gave me, that the only way to make a change is to go through religious leaders. I would go from village to village and speak to religious leaders, try to convince them to speak to their own congregations—mosques and churches. The first few months was a failure; it was very hard to break the taboo until one amazing priest who used to be a lawyer came and met with me. He said, “I want to speak about this to my church, will you come with me?” FGM was so prevalent in that village. After that man started the movement and I spoke at the church, he continued after I left…that entire village started a movement from church to church, even in the mosques, they started speaking about it. We hear that it’s not happening anymore in this village. At all. That was my first humanitarian mission. It was a God-sent mission. I spoke from the Father’s heart, and they listened.
In 2007, we started a charity called Roads to Success. I was in law school, but my mom was all over the world. We went to Egypt and focused on disability rights, went to Jordan and focused on women’s rights…movements were starting. Our heart was specifically for minorities and women. Little by little, we started with women’s rights and disability rights to starting a disability movement in Jordan. We met a prince in 2012 when the Syrian refugee crisis had just started. And that prince had such a good relationship with our team, and he said, “You’re bringing wheelchairs to the disabled, what about bringing containers for the refugees? Your country needs to know what’s happening in this part of the world, let’s start a campaign together and let’s create the global connection.”
What role did you play in US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent declaration of ISIS-committed genocide in Iraq and Syria?
In the US congressional hearing, I spoke to several congressmen. I had just gotten back from Iraq when I connected with the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who just happened to be in the area where our organization was. I showed him pictures of Iraq and he said, “What can I do to help?” I said that I could testify, and he put a last-minute hearing together. [It was a] full open-committee hearing, first one on this issue. It was on C-Span. When I spoke, I didn’t just speak as a lawyer; I wasn’t just speaking to politicians. It’s not a legal argument; this is an issue of humanity, of the heart. If we remember that we’re humans and we have a heart, that’s something we can change. That was the US Congress. It was humbling to testify in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee and find out that later it was that same committee that proposed the genocide resolution to the House of Representatives for a vote. It could have been any other committee but it was the one [that heard] testimonies from the heart. They submitted it and it passed unanimously.
After that, a 200-page report was submitted to John Kerry by a Catholic organization named the Knights of Columbus. The combination between the US House vote, the hearings, plus the report put Kerry in a place where he had to declare what happened as genocide and he did. And the UK Parliament… that happened a few weeks later. Then I went in front of the United Nations at an event that the Holy See sponsored. I was so humbled to speak with the panel I spoke with.
You have opened the door for so many to help in Iraq, but what can we do?
I just had a friend who had a birthday, and in the invitation she said, instead of gifts, please put donations for the refugees. She’s doing something.
An English teacher in New York spends her weekends teaching English to girls through [a Roads of Success program called] Tech Over Trauma. She’s doing something.
You don’t have to physically be there to make a difference. History is going to tell the story. This story will be written in history books. Our children’s children will be reading about this. And when they ask what you did during this time, what you did to stop this, you want to look them in the eye and say, “I made a difference, and here’s how…” And you can do it right here.
Also, connecting with the State Department in the United States, trying to get the United States to propose a resolution that says that they want an investigation… the actual language of the resolution, what it comes down to, is that the UN Security Council should refer the matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Security Council would start an investigation and bring forth evidence to the ICC to begin a formal investigation and prosecute ISIS. Without the UN Security Council doing it, there’s no other way. The UN Security Council can do this in two ways—there can be a resolution that’s voted on, that says that an investigation and prosecution needs to happen by the ICC, or by an independent tribunal.
Why is that declaration so important?
Because that declaration would start an investigation into the crimes that ISIS committed and we can eventually see them prosecuted, jailed and justice served. Right now ISIS is using the fear tactic and they’re winning the war, just ideologically. What this would do ideologically is switch the tables around—where we could see their faces, see them jailed, see justice served by the international community. That’s one.
Number two, you’re bringing justice, honor, and dignity to the victims. So many victims don’t know where their perpetrators are today, and that kind of declaration—to see ISIS prosecuted and judgment rendered for the victims—is a part of their healing process. It’s the beginning. Practically, the convention on the crime and punishment of genocide says that any country, any entity or body that is a party to the convention that has said genocide has happened, has a duty to prevent and punish. How do you prevent? You can protect and support the safe havens, you can help the victims by many ways—such as education or compensation—to help restore them, so it’s not just a matter of healing, it’s a matter of what the future holds for them. That’s the kind of power that this can have. To bring it before the world.
What is it that breaks your heart? What haunts you late at night?
To know the potential of the people in this region, to know that they’re in bondage and can’t get out. They can’t be who they want to be because of cultural and religious wars. It can be an ideological war, a physical war, but it’s limiting them from reaching their calling. I know what they can be if they’re taken out of that environment. I know that because I’ve seen it in Ekhlas. I see their potential, I see their light, but they’re imprisoned.
Where do you see hope?
In the next generation. I see hope in a generation that has seen so much trauma that they no longer are limited by traditions. They can break the barriers of tradition because they’ve been taken away from their worlds. They’re no longer a part of the world they’re accustomed to, so they have a chance to break through the bondage I was talking about earlier.
What allows you to see redemption when so many don’t?
Because I’ve had my own redemption and hope in my own story. I was taken away from everything I knew, and though I didn’t understand, I was able to see how God can transform a situation. In fact, those circumstances are necessary to see who you’re supposed to be. That’s what I see when I see these people: their potential. I see how their stories can be used to change them into transformers who will affect generations. It won’t just be a regional thing—it’s going to be a global movement. These people are out of their comfort zones. They’re young, they face the unthinkable, yet they still have a smile on their face and they’re willing to continue on. They’re willing to take anything they receive and do what they can. Again, Ekhlas—all she needed was a platform to share her story, and she spoke. Many people won’t speak up.
The other thing is unity. My heart is broken by the division. But when I see people working together—like the Kurds working with IDPs for example—realizing what they have in common…that is the key. That’s going to be another way to bring redemption—to unify as one.
What is preventing peace in the Middle East?
It comes down to not being able to relate with your neighbor, the neighbor that may be different from you because of religion or ethnicity. What’s happened in the Middle East is because there has been division. A long time ago people got along. There was a time in Egypt where Jews and Christians and Muslims co-existed peacefully. But somewhere along the line, religious extremism—in all forms, in all religions in this region—has divided people. Neighbors are really strangers. The solution to that is being able to relate to your neighbor again. To realize that overall there is something we do have in common; we’re not that different.
To learn more or get involved with the work Roads of Success is doing in the Middle East, visit roadsofsuccess.com.
Introduction by Brianna Lantz
Interview by Joel Parker
Photos by Gregory Woodman