Former Taliban prisoner, Yvonne Ridley, recently offered to exchange places with Scotsman David Haines who is being held captive by ISIS. Her offer comes on the heels of the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Since her offer was made public, many questions have been raised. Bilal Abdul Kareem puts those questions to her.
BAK: By now most people have heard about the offer you’ve made to Abu Bakr Baghdadi, in that you are offering yourself in exchange for David Haines. Why did you make this offer?
YR: The initial response was an emotional one. When I saw the picture of him with his younger child, this is why I waited for two days. However, I remembered there were those who offered to swap places with me when I was held in Afghanistan and I wasn’t a Muslim. That resonated with me deeply, and moved me that there were people not of my faith (I was a Christian then) who were prepared to make this sacrifice for a complete stranger. I hate being helpless and doing nothing has never been an option in my life. The Holy Qur’an is a book of action, and so in the spirit of Islam and using its verses I came up with this idea.
BAK: Are you not concerned for your own safety? Are you aware of the dangerous position you may be potentially putting yourself under?
YR: I have concerns but no fears. For 10 days I thought I was going to die at the hands of the Taliban because of the fear manufactured in my own mind. In the end, the prospect of death became normal and I lost that fear for good, which was incredibly empowering. I also developed an inner strength and ability to deal with each crisis as it comes without fear, and that has stayed with me ever since. I am not reckless, I love life and I enjoy the life I have but I am willing to sacrifice what I have for the freedom of someone who I think has great, unfulfilled potential.
BAK: Some have questioned why you’re not ransoming yourself for another Muslim. Why are you doing this for a non-Muslim? Why not ransom yourself for Afia Siddiqui?
YR: If I could have swapped places with Dr Aafia Siddiqui I would have done so years ago, but she is being held by the US and not by an “Islamic State”. Let’s be brutally frank – offering a Shariah compliant deal to the Obama Administration is going to be received with either derision or contempt, or both. Having said that, like thousands of others around the world, I am campaigning to get Aafia released and she will never be forgotten until that goal is achieved.
BAK: Have you had any response from ISIS yet? Either from their leadership or from their members?
YR: I’m still waiting to hear from the leadership – may be they will not respond but if they ignore me then I think they will appear weak. I have heard from some of their supporters and they’ve been predictably hostile.
BAK: US President Barak Obama is currently preparing a 40 nation coalition to confront ISIS. What are your thoughts on this?
YR: Sadly the only response they can come up with is weapons. To confront violence with violence leads to more deaths of innocents. Reaching for a gun should not be the first response; it should only be used when every other avenue has been exhausted. Someone needs to reach out and talk to these people as an initial step.
BAK: If you could send a message to Abu Bakr Baghdadi right now, what would you say?
YR: Let’s talk.
You can read Yvonne Ridley’s offer to ISIS here.
Bilal Abdul Kareem is an American journalist and filmmaker who spent two years in Syria documenting the rebels
You can follow Yvonne and Bilal on Twitter @yvonneridley @BilalKareem