Remembering Margaret Hassan
By Lucy Colvin
I am mourning for Margaret Hassan. The day after her
capture her picture stared out at us from the front page of the morning
newspaper. Her fragile life remained in the news for a few days and then
faded from the pages. However, she did not fade from my mind.
All other women previously taken hostage had been
released and I had been counting on this for her as well, hoping we would
hear news of her freedom any day. But when the United States invaded
Fallujah I had a sinking feeling that this intensification of the war
would be the end for Margaret Hassan. It was.
During her captivity, I felt profoundly disconnected
from the apparent expectation that our lives continue as normal, while
hers was subject to such terror. I did not want her to feel alone. I held
her in my thoughts. I wanted to accompany her imprisonment in my mind. I
tried to feel what it was like for her to be pushed up against death. The
terror was unbearable to imagine. These methods of execution I thought
went out with King Henry the VIII. The possibility she could be a public
execution, on the internet, to instill fear and terror into the people was
mind-numbing to me.
My mind replayed – still replays – the horror again
and again, then pushes the image away, shuts down and dissociates,
distracts to something tangible here and now in my immediate physical
I am incredulous that an actual execution can be
seen, posted, for free, with just the click of a mouse, for anyone to see.
“How morbid, disgusting and terrible,” we say, yet many can’t refrain from
double clicking to sneak a peek. Or we turn away, do not want to see, but
play the imagined image mentally, reliving the horror in our imaginations.
Margaret Hassan was a human ransom note from her
captors. She declared their ransom, “Please help me, these may be my last
hours. Please ask Mr. Blair to take the troops out of Iraq, and not to
bring them here to Baghdad.” We feel the horror of her fate. She is a poor
battalion’s weapon, her murder a desperate response to equalize the terror
of incessant bombing and ripping of civilian flesh. Atoning for the ghosts
of Abu Ghraib, I weep and allow myself to feel the terror of our country’s
reign that we cannot yet stop.
Our country is at war, dismantling tenaciously worked
for progress toward peace and equality in a paranoid configuration of
divided states. Our country needs us to be the voice of Margaret Hassan in
calling for a peaceful resolution to a U.S. war that has unleashed terror
on the Iraqi people and twisted the lives of U.S. soldiers sent to fight
them. American society eventually will have to deal with these traumatized
soldiers, but that will come later. The Bush administration has used 9/11
as the impetus to instigate wars and destruction on other countries. Let
Margaret Hassan’s murder be a call to restore order through humanitarian
organizations like CARE, to which she devoted over 20 years of her life,
and to giving leadership for rebuilding Iraq to the Iraqi people and the
Some people would say I am letting myself fall victim
to the terrorists who captured and murdered Margaret Hassan and the others
before her. That we cannot let her murder sway the United States’ resolve
and course of action to fight for freedom for the Iraqi people. But to
them I say that Margaret Hassan, other hostages, Iraqi civilians, and
soldiers from both sides, have died a tragic senseless death. There has to
be another way in the 21st century than instigating an unjust war founded
on misinformation that led to a rush to war. Margaret Hassan’s life
compels us to try harder and find another way.
Lucy Colvin is a mental health therapist and
community activist living in San Francisco.