After something of a reprieve from the unrelenting horror of cowardly terrorist snuff films, ISIS has released another video purportedly depicting the beheading of a western hostage, this time of 26 year-old American aid worker Peter Edward Kassig. Kassig, who was abducted in Syria on October 1, 2013, was identified as the next hostage to be murdered in the ISIS video depicting the beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning. Prior to his abduction, former Army Ranger Kassig founded Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA), an aid group dedicated to providing medical assistance to Syrian refugees.
The full video runs just over 16 minutes, a large chunk of which is devoted to a self-serving history of ISIS, also features the extremely graphic apparent mass execution of captured Syrian pilots and soldiers, led by “Jihadi John,” the British ISIS executioner who has been featured in all of the group’s beheading videos. Toward the end of the video, what appears to be Kassig’s decapitated head is shown at the feet of the ISIS narrator, who says “This is Peter Edward Kassig, a US citizen of your country. Peter, who fought against Muslims in Iraq, was serving as a soldier in the American army, doesn’t have much to say,” adding ” His previous cellmates have already spoken on his behalf.”
One problematic aspect of the reporting on Kassig’s murder has been the matter of his alleged conversion to Islam while in captivity and apparent name-change to Abdul-Rahman Kassig, as in this ABC News piece from This Week:
“During captivity, Kassig converted to Islam and changed his name from Peter to Abdul-Rahman. From their home in Indiana, his parents, Paula and Ed Kassig, launched a campaign pleading for their son to be set free.”
This way of reporting Kassig’s “conversion” has been fairly consistent among all media reports, and while his parents also referenced and acknowledged the conversion, it was in the context of that campaign to secure mercy for their son. At this point, there is no way to know if Kassig’s conversion was sincere, that’s between him and God, but it is apparent that it occurred under duress. At best, it should be reported as an alleged conversion.
Even if he really believed he had converted, that duress remains a factor, and without the benefit of freedom to choose and reflect, only God, if there is one, knows what was in Kassig’s heart. I can’t imagine that a Jew or a Muslim taken captive by a Christian gang would be recognized as “converts” of their murderers. You can no more “convert” to the faith of your captors than you can “consent” to “sex” at the barrel of a gun. News organizations should show some recognition of that.
Update: The White House released the following statement on Kassig’s murder (via email from The White House):
Statement by the President on the Death of Abdul-Rahman Kassig
Today we offer our prayers and condolences to the parents and family of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known to us as Peter. We cannot begin to imagine their anguish at this painful time.
Abdul-Rahman was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity. Like Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff before him, his life and deeds stand in stark contrast to everything that ISIL represents. While ISIL revels in the slaughter of innocents, including Muslims, and is bent only on sowing death and destruction, Abdul-Rahman was a humanitarian who worked to save the lives of Syrians injured and dispossessed by the Syrian conflict. While ISIL exploits the tragedy in Syria to advance their own selfish aims, Abdul-Rahman was so moved by the anguish and suffering of Syrian civilians that he traveled to Lebanon to work in a hospital treating refugees. Later, he established an aid group, SERA, to provide assistance to Syrian refugees and displaced persons in Lebanon and Syria. These were the selfless acts of an individual who cared deeply about the plight of the Syrian people.
ISIL’s actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own. Today we grieve together, yet we also recall that the indomitable spirit of goodness and perseverance that burned so brightly in Abdul-Rahman Kassig, and which binds humanity together, ultimately is the light that will prevail over the darkness of ISIL.