The Kassig family has released excerpts of Abdul-Rahman Kassig's writings sent to family, friends and teachers while he was working in the Middle East as an aid worker. The collection also includes a letter Kassig wrote to his parents while being held hostage by the so-called Islamic State. A hostage that was released was able to get the letter to the Kassigs in Indianapolis.
The following is an email written by Peter Kassig (now Abdul-Rahman Kassig) on March 18, 2012. Some portions of the email have been deleted to protect his safety.
Dear Friends, Family, and Teachers,
Yesterday I had the best conversation that I have ever had with my mom. From 4,000 miles away in a shelled out parking lot in Beirut I told her about what I had been involved in over the last week.
I wrote this email once before today already but the internet is finicky here and so I lost all of what I had typed up before I could send it.
Yesterday I went to the camps outside of Beirut. In In Burj el-Burajneh 18,000 refugees are crammed into 1 sq. km of housing in the most deplorable of conditions. There, people die everyday. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies, food, furniture...there is a shortage of everything except suffering.
I don't want to waste your time by trying to explain what is in my heart and in my mind. Many of you have known me for many years, others have only known me a short while. Either way, I have tried to live my life in a way that displays what it is that I believe, but the truth is, much of my life I have only been searching for my calling, I had not yet found it.
Here, in this land, I have found my calling. I have lived a selfish life, I have run until I could not run anymore.
I do not know much, every day that I am here I have more questions and less answers, but what I do know is that I have a chance to do something here, to take a stand. To make a difference.
Yesterday my life was laid out on a table in front of me. With only hours left before my scheduled flight back to the United States, I watched people dying right in front of me. I had seen it before and I had walked away before.
I don't expect everyone to understand this and I think I did a much better job in my first draft but you'll just have to take my word for it I guess.
I am staying in the region indefinitely. I am formally requesting that I be withdrawn from my courses for the remainder of the semester.
I have had the conversation with my parents and it was the easiest one we ever had. They knew simply from the sound of my voice. I have never been freer, more alive, happier, or better received than in this place.
There is too much work to be done here. Too many people in need of immediate help.
I know what it is that I lose by staying, but those who can understand what is to be gained by staying require no further explanation, and those that don't...no amount of explanation would ever be enough.
This decision isn't one that everyone would make, most people wouldn't I guess, but those of you that really know me understand that this is what I was made to do. My whole life has led me to this point in time.
I am enrolling in Arabic courses taught where I am staying, and launching immediately into what can be done to support life, hope, peace, and freedom.
It’s strange, for the first time in a long there isn't that old familiar fear in my chest that I have come to know so well. For most, this world is madness, but for me, the madness resides in the world I'm leaving behind.
Well, I guess that's it then. This isn't goodbye but its definitely a change. You can always reach me via email or cell. I promise to stay as safe as I am capable of staying. Anytime I'm in beirut you can know I'm fine its super tame here....
I'm just not going to turn my back this time, it's as simple as that.
With Love and Respect,
Excerpts are from an email he sent to a group of professors and other mentors at Hanover College and Butler University in March 2012.
Subject: an attempt at thank You.
Here is what I have learned [..] through those willing to take the time to teach me.
I learned that I love school, but not only for the reasons I thought I would. Somewhere along the line I actually started to like learning new things. I don’t know when it happened, it just did. I’m still lazy, but I read things just to read them now. I never did that before, not since I was little anyway.
I have learned that democracy is not perfect but that there is virtue in attempting to create a society in which we can live freely and in peace. I know now that governments lie but that each of us does too. Moreover, we are lying to ourselves if we say there is nothing we can do to impact the world around us if we really want to.
Peace is better than war, violence is as much a vice as any other, wrath can consume you and the people you care about.
There are times when it is important to sit down and appreciate where you are in the moment. It is okay to hurt but self-pity is a morass from which return is not guaranteed.
[…] I may never be a hero, but there is beauty in survival and grace in finding a way to live amongst hardship even if there is no silver lining.
To attain a pureness of spirit I must never stop working to improve myself. It is okay to be happy and content but satisfaction and complacency should be guarded against at all costs.
I am impulsive and I allow my anger to rule over me far too often. I have a tendency to cause the most pain to those who are closest to me. Anger makes me hollow inside.
I make many assumptions.
I am happiest when I am running, I can feel the ground shaking beneath my feet, and I feel the closest I ever do to a higher power because in running I was given a gift; however modest.
My mother’s voice is my conscience. Her voice speaks to me in times of strife. It has saved lives.
Philosophy taught me to never be afraid to ask questions. If we stop asking questions we sacrifice our freedom.
Better to own up to a mistake than try to hide it. People usually aren’t even that mad if you just admit you messed up. Sometimes they even admire you for it.
One vote doesn’t make a difference. One vote makes all the difference in the world.
A Catcher in the Rye is my favorite book.
[Reading] changed the way I think about conflict and our responsibility to act with compassion and forgiveness.
I have a passion for advocacy but I am intolerant of politics.
I believe that things happen for a reason and we choose whether to rise and meet our fate or to run from it.
The more I learn the less I know.
History has taught me the significance of the individual and the intricacy of the fabric of mankind. It is from the lessons of the past that I develop my dreams for the future.
My parents are almost always right about pretty much everything.
There is both good and evil, the world will let you be either, often times it’s harder to be good.
There is more good than bad but you have to look harder to find it.
Part of being a good leader is understanding how to follow
Good things can come painful experiences
The heart can be broken but it can also be fixed again
The capacity to give and receive love makes life worth living.
Protect the weak and the innocent, no matter the cost to self
The Greeks taught me what was worth living and dying for.
If it’s worth dying for, it’s definitely worth living for.
You’ve failed only when you refuse to try again.
All of these things I learned in school, from each of you.
My teachers never gave up on me and taught me not to give up on myself. Through you all I learned that knowledge is power because knowledge can change the way we think and act. It can change the world. It is to be feared and respected.
I felt very strongly that it was important for me to let you who have given so much time and effort towards shaping my future know that it was not lost on me and though I falter and stumble I won’t ever stop pushing forward no matter what. Not ever. […] I cannot promise that I will always succeed but I can promise you I will never give up.
Abdul-Rahman Kassig — Excerpts of Email to a Friend, May 2012
I am running out of time.
Supplies have made it into the right hands but people are being killed everyday, I am frustrated, I feel helpless.
Everyday swings between an adventure and a let down, this land is like my mind...we seem to have the same heartbeat here.
How will I tell you of Francis, who came all the way from Liberia with his oldest son to send money back home to his family only to have to spend it all to come back and bury his daughter who was standing tall on February 24th and was dead the 27th from a disease we can can't even get in America?
How will I tell you of the walls riddled with bullets and the flowers that grow over them?
It is my hope that someday we will all see that there is more between us all that is the same than is different. All of these people have family in the states..people like you and me. Our friends, our family, our blood. And those that don't... they love us if only we had the time to stop and see it. We could love them too and we could change the world.
War never ends, it just moves around. But we will be there too and when they come so will we.
Loss and destruction in this land brings about only survival; the determination to press on and rebuild...because there is nothing else. To rubble and dust and back again. there's just nothing else. I can't be sure but I think I'm starting believe that as beautiful as it is to finish building a house, its a better feeling laying the first brick again after its been torn down...
What keeps me up at night isn't the things I've done when I shouldn't have so as much as the things I haven't done when I could have. I'd be ok if I never slept again lest I forget those moments.
Excerpts from Abdul-Rahman Kassig Letter from Captivity — Received in early 2014 and Released by Kassig Family, Oct. 13, 2014
It is still really hard to believe all of this is really happening… as I am sure you know by now, things have been getting pretty intense. We have been held together, us foreigners … and now about half the people have gone home. … I hope that this all has a happy ending but it may very well be coming down to the wire here, and if in fact that is the case then I figured it was time to say a few things that need saying before I have to go.
The first thing I want to say is thank you. Both to you and mom for everything you have both done for me as parents; for everything you have taught me, shown me, and experienced with me. I cannot imagine the strength and commitment it has taken to raise a son like me but your love and patience are things I am so deeply grateful for.
Secondly, I want you to know about things here and what I’ve been through straight from me so you don’t have to wonder, guess, or imagine (often this is worse than the reality). All in all I am alright. Physically I am pretty underweight but I’m not starved, & I have no physical injuries, I’m a tough kid and still young so that helps.
Mentally I am pretty sure this is the hardest thing a man can go through, the stress and fear are incredible but I am coping as best I can. I am not alone. I have friends, we laugh, we play chess, we play trivia to stay sharp, and we share stories and dreams of home and loved ones. I can be hard to deal with, you know me. My mind is quick and my patience thinner than most. But all in all I am holding my own. I cried a lot in the first few months but a little less now. I worry a lot about you and mom and my friends.
They tell us you have abandoned us and/or don’t care but of course we know you are doing everything you can and more. Don’t worry Dad, if I do go down, I won’t go thinking anything but what I know to be true. That you and mom love me more than the moon & the stars.
I am obviously pretty scared to die but the hardest part is not knowing, wondering, hoping, and wondering if I should even hope at all. I am very sad that all this has happened and for what all of you back home are going through. If I do die, 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 alleviate suffering and helping those in need.
In terms of my faith, I pray everyday and I am not angry about my situation in that sense. I am in a dogmatically complicated situation here, but I am at peace with my belief.
I wish this paper would go on forever and never run out and I could just keep talking to you. Just know I’m with you. Every stream, every lake, every field and river. In the woods and in the hills, in all the places you showed me. I love you.