War on Terror Update 1: Kayla Mueller

Once again, time has gotten away from me a bit on the blogging front. You would think that being snowed in half the time would make me productive on this front, but somehow that was not the case.

But anyway, a lot has been happening in the realm of the Global War on Terror, and I have been thinking a lot about how this war is framed and fought. So this is the first of several posts reflecting on recent developments.

One of the big things in the news, of course, has been the now-confirmed death of Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker who had been captured and held hostage by ISIL. She was first captured in August of 2013. ISIL said that she was killed in Jordanian airstrikes, a claim that some Westerner reporters and analysts initially questioned since it came so soon after the escalation of tensions between Jordan and ISIL; people thought the idea that Jordanian airstrikes killed an American hostage might basically be a ploy by ISIL to try to drive a wedge between coalition forces or otherwise undermine support for the war in Jordan. As far as I can tell, it has still not been confirmed exactly how she died. It remains entirely possible that ISIL had already killed her and then blamed Jordanian airstrikes as a strategic ploy.

This past summer, ISIL tried to trade Mueller for $6.6 million, and the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a former courier for al Qaeda who was convicted in 2010 of trying to kill two U.S. officials, and is currently serving her sentence in a Texas prison.

ISIL has tried before to trade hostages for two female militants, Siddiqui and Sajida al Rishawi, an attempted suicide bomber whose explosives failed to detonate on a mission in Jordan, leading to her capture. The Jordanians executed al Rishawi in retaliation after ISIL killed one of their captured pilots.

I don’t think it is a controversial statement to say that ISIL is a deeply sexist, misogynistic organization perpetuating an equally misogynistic ideology. Which is why I find it puzzling that they value Siddiqui and valued al Rishawi enough to repeatedly attempt to negotiate for their release. Likewise, it is weird that, according to the letter she managed to send to her family during her captivity, Mueller was fairly well treated during her captivity. So while the misogyny of ISIL is obvious and undeniable, there may be some nuance there for certain individual women. What factors determine when that nuance exists is unclear (but is something I may be researching further.)

Regardless of how exactly she was killed, Mueller was still in essence what governments like to call “collateral damage” in a war over which she had no control. Her death should not be viewed in a vacuum, but as emblematic of the suffering she spent her life working to alleviate. To only mourn Mueller, without empathy or concern for the people she aimed to serve, dishonors her memory.

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