Posts misrepresent controversy over Nobel Prize winner's book event

Social media posts claim a speech from Islamic State kidnapping survivor Nadia Murad was canceled in Canada over concerns that her story could promote Islamophobia. This is misleading; the author's advocacy group told AFP that none of her speaking engagements were scrapped in the country -- and while a 2022 event did face controversy, organizers say it ultimately took place.

"Nadia's book event was cancelled in Canada because 'her story could promote Islamophobia,'" says Visegrád 24, an X account that has previously spread misinformation, in a May 11, 2024 post.

Similar claims spread elsewhere on platforms such as X and Facebook, with a video on TikTok accumulating tens of thousands of likes.

<span>Screenshot of an X post taken May 17, 2024</span>
Screenshot of an X post taken May 17, 2024
<span>Screenshot of a TikTok taken May 17, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a TikTok taken May 17, 2024

Murad -- a member of the Yazidi minority from Iraq -- was kidnapped and tortured by the Islamic State in 2014.

After she escaped, she wrote a book about her experience titled "The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State." Murad continues to advocate for survivors of sexual violence and in 2018 received the Nobel Peace Prize.

"Somebody who wrote a book about the horrific things that happened to her and she can't do a book signing in Canada because they're worried it would offend Muslims?" says the speaker in the TikTok video.

But Murad's nonprofit, Nadia's Initiative, told AFP in a May 15, 2024 email that she has no upcoming engagements in Canada -- nor any that were scheduled and then canceled.

Previous event controversy

Keyword searches indicate the claims appear to stem from a past controversy over an event with Toronto students featuring the "Last Girl" author.

Murad was scheduled to discuss the book in February 2022 with A Room of Your Own, a literary group for underserved teenage girls that sometimes collaborates with different Canadian school districts to reach students and offer them free books.

News outlets reported in 2021 that a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) superintendent told club founder Tanya Marie Lee that students would not participate in the event because Murad's book could promote Islamophobia -- a move that sparked worldwide outcry.

Lee told AFP on May 14, 2024 that she had notified the TDSB about two events, one with Murad and another with Canadian criminal defense attorney Marie Henein (archived here and here), that were set to take place over Zoom. She said she was told both speakers might create controversy.

"I tried to explain to them that the title meant ISIS -- a terrorist group," Lee said of Murad's book.

TDSB clarified its position in a November 12, 2021 press release (archived here).

"An opinion that did not reflect the position of the Toronto District School Board was shared with the organizer of the book club prior to staff having an opportunity to read the books -- something that is routinely done before giving them to students. Staff are currently reading both books and anticipate being able to add them to the list of titles used in the corresponding course(s)," said Toronto Education Director Colleen Russell-Rawlins in the statement (archived here).

"We sincerely apologize to both Ms. Henein and Ms. Murad – both of whom have powerful stories to tell and from whom we believe students would learn a great deal."

TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said in a May 15, 2024 email that staff reviewed the material and that students attended the planned talk with Murad.

Both Lee and Nadia's Initiative confirmed that to AFP.

However, Lee noted the review prevented TDSB participants from attending Henein's November 2021 presentation -- but Toronto students were present at a national event with the lawyer in January 2022 (archived here).

Read more of AFP's reporting on misinformation in Canada here.