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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 sphere.

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 United Nations.

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.