You may not have heard of the bizarre case of a Canadian hostage held by the Taliban, somewhere along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and threatened with beheading by the end of the month. Kidnapped in November of last year, the hostage has released two videos pleading for her life and urging the Canadian or Pakistani governments to meet the Taliban’s demands. It was the Taliban who recently beheaded a Polish engineer when their demands to release fellow Taliban prisoners was not met.
But this new hostage is not your usual Western infiltrator. It’s Khadija Abdul Qahaar, formerly known as Beverly Giesbrecht, a 52-year old convert to Islam and editor of a controversial website that has, for the past seven years, raised eyebrows on both sides of the Muslim world-Western divide. The site, jihadunspun.com, is devoted to criticizing the “war on terror,” though by doing such things has reprising Al Qaeda’s views of events and expressing support for… the Taliban.
All this makes Giesbrecht’s situation so difficult to get one’s head around. Many critics (including a fellow site sympathetic to Al Qaeda) have long suspected that the site is a CIA front designed to entrap curious visitors, something which Giesbrecht denies. Yet now, she is threatened with death by the very people whose story she sought to tell – and not for the release of political prisoners, but for $2 million ransom. The Taliban, reportedly, is suffering from the credit crunch like the rest of us.
So is Giesbrecht’s capture a genuine and unfortunate turn of events, or a money-raising publicity stunt? It’s one thing for the Taliban to behead a foreign (male) worker. It’s quite another to kill a Muslim woman, especially one with a plausible and documented sympathy for the Taliban’s activities. Giesbrecht complained of lack of progress by Canada or Pakistan towards her release in her videos, but for those aware of her sympathies, cooperation between Giesbrecht and the Taliban seems a little too plausible. Giesbrecht is no Margaret Hassan.
In all likelihood, the Taliban can’t afford to bluff, having already crossed the beheading threshold with the Polish engineer (who Giesbrecht also refers to in her videos). Money is money and hostages are hostages. Giesbrecht now seems destined for an unusually ironic and cruel fate, one that establishes both the principles of the Taliban – and those like Giesbrecht who supported them – as woefully and tragically misguided.
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England