Paula and Ed Kassig, the parents of Abdul-Rahman Kassig who is held hostage by the Islamic State group, attended Friday prayers at the Alhuda Foundation in Fishers.
Ed Kassig and two of Abdul-Rahman’s friends, Emma Beals, a journalist covering the Middle East; and Eliot Stempf, a friend and colleague offered remarks as part of the program. Their remarks are included below.
Remarks from Ed Kassig, Father of Abdul-Rahman
My name is Ed Kassig and I am the father of Abdul-Rahman.
The Heart of a Humanitarian.
Young Peter walked at 9 months of age. He ran at 9 months and 2 days. A strong heart.
From an early age, he could read people and sense how they felt. It distressed him to see suffering in any life form. A good heart.
The gift his mother and father gave him was a broad education with much travel to see how others lived. Buoyed up by two loving hearts.
Fast forward now to a college spring break. A phone call: “Hey Dad, I’m in Lebanon.” I knew he didn’t mean Boone County. When others headed for the beach, he went to Beirut. A courageous heart.
The transition from Pete the Hoosier to Abdul-Rahman had begun. A servant’s heart.
I read now from his letters home:
“Yesterday I went to the camps outside of Beirut…. 18,000 refugees crammed into 1 square kilometer… the most deplorable conditions… people die every day.”
“I do not know very much. Every day that I am here, I have more questions and less answers.”
“What I do know is that I have a chance to do something here. To take a stand. To make a difference.”
The transition complete. A calling found.
A truly humane heart.
Please pray for Abdul-Rahman and for all those he strived to serve.
Remarks from Eliot Stempf, friend and colleague of Abdul-Rahman Kassig
First, I’d like to thank everyone here at Masjid Al-Huda for giving me the opportunity to say a few words about my friend and colleague, Abdul-Rahman Kassig.
In 2012 Abdul-Rahman founded the NGO SERA to reach those civilians caught in conflict zones that were commonly deemed unreachable. That’s what drew Abdul-Rahman to Deir Ezzor; a several-day journey from Jordan or Turkey, few aid organizations endeavored to work there. Abdul-Rahman spent over a month in Deir Ezzor – a city and people he came to love – providing trauma medical first responder training to civilian men and women, and served as a medic when needed. During the battle of Hweika in August 2013 he spent days on an ambulance, transporting casualties from Deir Ezzor to the better medical facilities of Meyedeen.
Abdul-Rahman understood the brute and simple reality that humanitarian relief was often most needed where it was most difficult to be. He understood too that the phenomenon of “fly-by aid” was antithetical to effective aid. Abdul-Rahman didn’t drop in with a box of bandages; he lived in the homes and the hospitals of the communities in which he worked.
By the fall of 2013, morale amongst aid workers in Syria was slipping. All relief efforts increasingly paled in comparison to the terrible human toll this war was taking – and continues to take – each day.
Yet Abdul-Rahman retained his fierce optimism. He imbues the room with a sense of what was possible – not the frustration with what wasn’t. Abdul-Rahman drives each and every single person he meets to try harder, envision a better future, and to suffer no excuses.
It is this quality that makes Abdul-Rahman a truly exceptional humanitarian, and an inspiration to be with. It’s this quality that I believe is most missed now by those who have had the honor – and good fortune – to work alongside him.
Remarks from Emma Beals, Friend of Abdul-Rahman and Journalist covering the Middle East
I became friends with Abdul-Rahman Kassig because of our mutual interest, Syria. Abdul-Rahman was bravely working to aid those displaced and injured in the conflict.
You've heard from his father and his business partner about the path he took to Syria and the work he was doing there. I was hoping to talk to you a little about why he was there, why we both work there and the humanitarian situation within the country and the region.
I have been going into Syria and reporting for nearly two years now. I still remember clearly crossing the border for the first time. I walked four meters, then back two, took some deep breaths and so on, it took a long time to cross.
The first thing I saw was the Bab al-Salam transit camp, at the time it was home to around 6,000 people who were sheltering from the the battles which were raging across the north of the country at the time.
Then it had no sanitation, no running water and limited food, provided only by one Islamic charity. I have visited the camp numerous times over the last two years and it has grown to many thousands of people sheltering from the violence being perpetuated by all sides in the conflict.
The Syrian conflict has resulted in the deaths of nearly 200,000 people to date. It has displaced around half the population.
Despite there being three main sides to the violent conflict, the majority of those affected are civilians. They are regular people who want to go to work and educate their children, see their friends and family at the weekend and have a peaceful and safe life. The continued war in Syria continues to claim lives. Airstrikes, by anyone, take civilian casualties. More violence is not the answer.
Abdul-Rahman was often pained by the enormity of the humanitarian problem in Syria and the fact he was only able to assist a small number of people. We would write each other, often while both in country, in different places about the frustrations we felt. Once, he wrote me a long note from Deir Ezzor about the frustrations he felt about not being able to do more, his Facebook has been suspended so I can't read it to you. But I replied:
"I am inside Syria now too and I feel many of these things. Today I stood in the rubble of someone's house and I took a picture P, then she found me. Eight months shed had no home, no food, no nothing. and she tells me all this, with passion and conviction and raw pain and I feel the only thing I can do is to maintain eye contact while she pours her pain into me and my eyes well as hers do and maybe, just maybe, she understands that for a few minutes she was heard. There is nothing else to be done but maybe that's something. Maybe it's not. I don't know."
As a journalist, that was all I could do, but Abdul-Rahman did more. He was working to enable the people of Syria to perform first aid on each other. Each of them went on to save others. He devoted his life to trying to alleviate the suffering of the people of Syria, in the camps in Lebanon and in Deir Ezzor, a town he loved and that, in turn, loved him. He became an adopted son to the city. Syrians are pained, as we are, by his current situation.