A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Fighting Back

By Mariam Aburdeineh, BA ’13 on December 10, 2020

When Haider Semaisim, LLM ’17, works on the federally mandated database of global incidents of terrorism with Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government, he does so with pride. It is not only an educational and professional endeavor, he says, “It’s personal.”

“Iraq is one of the countries that suffered a lot from terrorism,” says Semaisim, an Iraqi-American. “[My friend Zaid] was killed in 2011 by ISIS.”

Haider Semaisim. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services

Zaid, who was in the Iraqi Army, was responding to an order to liberate hostages in a home. Tragically, the house was booby-trapped and exploded.

“It was very devastating,” says Semaisim. “This project is giving me retribution in a way. I am fighting terrorism through the keyboard.”

As Semaisim analyzes terrorist incidents for the database from open-source media, he helps trace terrorist trends and strategies. That’s one reason the database provides critical insight for policy makers. See the story.

Semaisim primarily analyzes incidents from Iraq, and his fluency in Arabic and understanding of Iraqi culture and politics allow him to bring a unique expertise to the project. He describes the work as “the good fight,” but he is also passionate about making a difference in other areas.

Before coming to the United States in 2014, Semaisim was a lawyer in Iraq doing criminal and divorce law. “I was not very optimistic about the future of Iraq, and the United States is a beacon of freedom,” he says.

Some of Semaisim’s friends were not as fortunate. Learning about their challenges in gaining legal status inspired him to switch his interests to immigration law.

Thanks to his Mason education, Semaisim, who became a U.S. citizen in 2018, believes he will be on his way to helping others after he passes the bar exam.

“Mason is an amazing university,” Semaisim says, adding that Scalia Law professors are respected lawyers who not only teach from textbooks, but from real-life experience.

Even when Semaisim would disagree with peers or professors, he says his Mason education instilled in him “respect of the argument and how to accept differences.”


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