At age 15, when many American teens are busy playing team sports and taking driver’s education classes, Iraqi teenager Munir Captain joined the U.S. military as a translator. Later, he would become a special operations soldier in the U.S. Marines for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But after surviving 33 assassination attempts, Munir sought and received political asylum in the U.S. in 2009 and eventually settled in Dallas, along with his parents and other relatives.
“I learned (in Iraq) that you cannot kill an idea with a bullet,’’ Munir told an audience of about 50 people at a special lecture at the Museum on July 11. “Non-violent, peaceful means are how you change hearts and minds.”
Although Munir and his family now enjoy relative safety and comfort, they cannot escape the continuing violence and tragedy in Iraq, which has claimed the lives as many as 123,000 civilians.
In July of 2011, Munir’s 19-year-old brother and his 15-year-old cousin were kidnapped and murdered by insurgents seeking revenge because of Munir’s alliance with the U.S. An uncle and other family members have also been killed in reprisal attacks.
From an early age, Munir acknowledges that he questioned the ideology of Saddam Hussein’s regime. His questioning of totalitarian authority landed him in prison for eight months when he was a teen boy of 13 and 14, a place where he was sexually assaulted.
At age 15, Munir said he gladly agreed to serve as a translator for the U.S. military and eventually as a soldier alongside Marines who taught him discipline, confidence and public speaking skills.
And, he said, he learned that forgiveness—not revenge—is the most effective means to stop violence, a lesson he learned from his exposure to and conversations with Christians, Muslims and Jews who had each suffered the loss of loved ones and went on to aid those who had suffered similar loss during the Iraqi conflict—regardless of the sufferers’ religious or other background.
Today, Munir works for a local lighting manufacturer while attending community college. He plans to attend Columbia University to complete his undergraduate degree. He speaks to civic and religious groups about his experiences in Iraq and about his beliefs that forgiveness and non-violence are the paths to sustainable peace.
One day soon, Munir said he hopes to establish a foundation in the U.S. that would fund educational and recreational programs for the youth of Iraq who are open and eager to hear his message of hope.
“I want to plant seeds that will bring forgiveness and peace in Iraq,” Munir said.
–By Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum; Photo by Paula Nourse