The strength and bravery of aid workers around the world is shown by individuals’ willingness to help in other parts of the world. Peter Kassig, who adopted the name Abdul-Rahman Kassig in 2013 when he converted to Islam, was taken in October 2013 in Syria by ISIS. And confirmed a US official upon his passing, after a year as a hostage a tape was released last week in which it was shown that he had had his life ended by his captors along with 18 hostage Syrian soldiers and airmen.
Abdul-Rahman Kassig was a former US army ranger. He served in the Iraq war in 2007 before travelling to Lebanon in 2012, where he worked in hospitals and helped treat Syrian refugees. Furthermore, he founded the aid organisation, Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA), which aims to offer aid to Syrian refugees. Following verification of his passing, his parents released a statement saying “We would prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work and the love he shared with friends and family.”
The nature of aid work brings unique encounters from working in some of the most challenging parts of the world. In 2013 there were 474 incidences towards aid workers, according to the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD), showing the challenges that aid workers often face. These are people for whom personal challenge is a part of their job allowing them to support and provide aid to people who require it the most.
Abdul-Rahman Kassig is the fifth known Western hostage to have his life ended by ISIS, along with American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, as well as British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.
ISIS adopted hostage taking as a key aspect of its mode of operations by demanding ransom money in return for the hostage’s safety. In a letter from Kassig released by his family he wrote about his potential passing saying, “I figure that at least you and I can seek refuge and comfort in knowing that I went out as a result of trying to help those in need”. This exemplifies the strength that many aid workers possess when faced with the vast challenges in other areas of the world, where aid work is beneficial to millions of people.
A key challenge that aid organisations face is how to improve the safety of aid workers in challenged parts of the world. Aid worker protection is especially challenging in ISIS territory as many feel that aid workers and journalists are the only outlet that ISIS have due to there being ground forces that belong to predominantly non-Western countries. These recent events might be a result of its campaign being slowed into gridlock, with air strikes from countries which the organisation might only strike back at through hostage taking of innocent people from that nation.
For example, until the International coalitions air strikes, ISIS had managed a rapid advance through much of Syria and northern Iraq. Since the formation of the coalition, ISIS has been met with fierce resistance from Syrian Kurds, emboldened by international support reinforcements from Turkey, and air strikes from distant forces.
Abdul-Rahman Kassig might have a legacy which speaks out through his actions that far transcends race, religion or politics. His care for others may be a provision of strong insight into aid workers who regularly face adversity in the pursuit of their noble goal in an attempt to help and support those who need assistance at times of adversity. Essentially, Abdul-Rahman Kassig’s legacy may remain beheld through his own deeds rather than through the actions of his captors.
How might the bravery of Peter Kassig motivate people to become aid workers in the face of the challenges ISIS present in the region?