Mike Haines (Scotland)

“Initially I thought there were only a few voices in a desert calling for unity, tolerance and understanding but then I realised there was a whole forest out there”

Mike Haines’ brother David Haines was a British aid worker who was beheaded by ISIS. David had been working for the international relief agency, Acted, when in March 2013 he was ambushed and kidnapped on the Turkish border and held captive in Syria for 18 months. In September 2014 a video of his murder was released.  Since his brother’s death, Mike Haines has travelled the world, spreading a message of unity, tolerance and understanding.

As children, David and I were friends as well as brothers – a friendship that carried on into adulthood. So when David got involved with humanitarian work in 2000 we sat down and discussed what could happen if he got kidnapped. We knew it was dangerous but this was his calling and we agreed (as did our parents) with the British Government’s position that ransoms just put money back into terrorists’ hands.

From the moment ISIS kidnapped David, our Government’s support was superb and together we came to a decision to keep quiet about it.  This went on for 18 long months – a time filled with prayer, hope, despair and endless worry. It was very, very difficult on my parents as well as on David’s eldest daughter and his second wife but in many ways it brought the family closer together.

The family motto was, ‘prepare for the worst, hope for the best’.  However we had very little hope left after the American journalist, James Foley, was murdered.  And then when David appeared in the background to the execution video of another American hostage, Steven Sotloff, we knew it was a matter of time. The look on David’s face was one of complete horror, not horror for himself but horror at witnessing what was happening to Steven. It was at this point that David’s kidnap became a massive media story.

Knowing that David would not want a single person injured or killed in his name I immediately went on national TV to call for no reprisals, saying that if anyone took the matter into their own hands they would be doing so against our family’s wishes and beliefs.

Then came the news we were dreading.  Ten days after Steven Sotloff’s murder, late on the night of the 12th September 2014, we received a phone call from the Foreign Office to say a video had been released of David’s beheading.  We had expected it but still nothing prepares you for that, nothing prepares you for having to tell your own parents that their son is dead. Then I got on the phone to tell his wife, and his daughter. That was hell too. If I felt any sense of relief it was only that at least now David couldn’t be hurt anymore.

Near where I live in Dundee we have ten different ethnicities living and an old Muslim man I chatted to shortly after David was killed said to me: ‘Why are you speaking to me?’ He assumed that I must hate him. I told him that people were using his religion as an excuse and that I was appalled to see what the terrorists were doing to encourage hate crime from all sides.

Initially I thought there were only a few voices in a desert calling for unity, tolerance and understanding but then I realised there was a whole forest out there – all of us working for exactly the same thing but not getting any publicity for it.  Good news doesn’t sell.  I now spend my time going to schools, mosques and churches talking about fighting the forces of hate, whether from Islamic fundamentalists or right-wing extremists.  I’m not talking about fighting with weapons. This has got to be an ethical and moral fight.

I’m angry at how the terrorists seek to isolate and polarize our communities and I’m also angry at the way the media perpetuate the characterisation of every Muslim as a terrorist. But my anger is positive – it gives me the drive to continue what I’m doing.  I have chosen not to hate because for me hate is a guttural knee-jerk reaction out of which nothing positive ever came.  It just screws you up inside. On the other hand, I do absolutely detest the actions of those people doing the grooming for ISIS and would like to see them locked away.

People who plan and do barbaric acts have lost all sense of compassion, so how can there be compassion for them?  I could only find compassion for them if at some stage these same people were to renounce violence and recognise that what they’d done was wrong. As for forgiveness, that’s a very difficult question for me because it’s not so much the death of my brother that I should be asked to forgive but rather what these terrorists are doing wholesale, the way they are treating humanity. And for that, at this point, I can’t forgive.  However the young people who have been persuaded to go out to Syria, I forgive them without reservation because I see they have been targeted, and are victims who have been handed a twisted a reality.