And the latest it would appear is Margaret Hassan, the longtime director of CARE in Iraq. Kidnapped by terrorists October 19, made to beg in videos issued by her captors, and now, according to Al-Jazeera, shown being shot in the head by these same — well, what should we call them?
The media is gradually weaning itself away from describing these wanton acts of cowardice as “executions,” discovering belatedly the connotation of legitimacy attached to the word, and now more apt to call them murders. But even “murder” fails to describe the act of slaying a civilian captive, a hostage. The overwhelming inequality of the act of slaying, by gun or knife, a noncombatant taken by stealth and after an extended period of terrorizing bespeaks that which cannot be spoken.
Americans are even now puzzling over an isolated incident: the video of a U.S. Marine in Fallujah reportedly shooting a wounded Iraqi insurgent left behind by a preceding contingent of Marines in a mosque. The military says the man in question has been removed from his unit and an inquiry is under way. Even the fact that the shooter in question had been wounded previously and only recently returned to his outfit does not sufficiently excuse the act.
There have been more than 170 kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq this year. More than 30 have been murdered, usually after a series of publicized pleadings to their governments to perform politically impossible feats in order to save them.
Margaret Hassan, 59, was born in Ireland, held British and Iraqi citizenship, and in her capacity as CARE director supervised the distribution of food and medicine to Iraqis during more than a decade of U.N. sanctions. Her Iraqi husband tearfully pleads with her killers to let him know finally what has happened. “If she is dead, please let me know…to bury her in peace.”
Hassan’s family in Britain says, “To commit such a crime against anyone is unforgivable.” We have thus arrived at the gravamen. It is unforgivable. And it is miscible, touching as it must an entire people, staining a culture which has given rise to it, a culture which, by its very silence in the face of such cowardice, must also be called into question.
Oh, I know. We must forgive and forget… and pay. Pay for the reconstruction of cities, the fructification of an economy, and the restoration of those folk who awaited us with flowers, whose cousins also awaited the innocents with orange jumpsuits and blindfolds and commands to beg before the knife descended or the pistol hammer fell.
For many of this generation the ground of conciliation has been poisoned permanently by these fruits, and we know them.