19. A Letter to James Foley’s Family

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First let me start by saying that I am sorry for your loss. Sincerely. The agony of losing a son, let alone losing one so publicly and in such savage circumstances, is the worst thing a parent can ever do and I wish it on no man. I watched the coverage and, like the rest of the world, I was rightly disgusted.

The slaughter of your son was gruesome, but a big part of why the world has seen it is because he is an American and I do not resent that, I’ve long since realised that a man’s passport puts a diplomatic price on his value. When I was 12 in 2005, we were trapped on the border between Iraq and Jordan and bombs, bullets and fear fell like rain on the cars around the crossing. We would have died if the American troops hadn’t saved us. They gave us food, water and medical care in their compound. All because we were British. The circumstances surrounding the death of your son were extraordinary. However, the nauseating reality of his death has, unfortunately, become ordinary. Deaths are not new to the region.

Last week, as your son’s face lit up the corner of the living room on mute, an Iraqi woman visited us. We spoke of banal things as the red of the BBC tinged our faces, then we spoke about your son and this group: ISIS/ ISIL/ IS or whatever other acronym they’ve adopted to soil my religion and destroy my land. We spoke of how they are destroying not just our country but our psyche… our psychology. Eleven years have passed since Iraq was invaded, and the names of the dead are carved like tattoos onto the inside our eyelids. We had never met this woman before yet she told us how her brother was shot 13 times for working with the Americans in 2006 and how she still dreams of him and the family he left behind. My mother, in turn, told her of the loss of her brother. He was kidnapped picking up his wages on Christmas Eve. They tortured and shot him. His body – eyes and mouth open – lay on the pavement for three days as an example before snipers allowed his teenage sons and daughter to move him. My mother has never dreamt of him and has worn black every day since. These women – strangers in person but sisters in War – sat and shared narratives.

The impact of decades of war haunts us like spectres. I have not seen my family for years. I have not visited the graves of the dead and I cannot go home, neither to Iraq, Palestine or Syria. For me, this conflict has no beginning, middle or end, it is a bloodbath that has orbited my periphery for as long as I can remember.

You said your son was a ‘martyr for freedom’ and I believe he has not died in vain because though your nation is weary of (and complicit in) war, the atrocities taking place to communities that have co-existed for millennia is not one that should be overlooked nor neglected. Your son tried to bring truth to the outside world, a task he has done in death as well as in life. For that, I thank him, my only hope now is that those who hear of the inevitable deaths in Iraq, Syria, Palestine or anywhere else will think of the lives and families behind every individual. Let the memory of your son live on knowing that he might have humanised those unfortunate enough to be next.

Originally published on Infita7, on the 29th August 2014 here. 

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