Editor’s Note: July/August 2011
July 1, 2011
The execution of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May was a highly publicized, if long delayed, consequence of 9/11. The death of Beverley Giesbrecht in Pakistan a few years earlier was also a consequence of 9/11, albeit a virtually unremarked one. A businesswoman from West Vancouver, Giesbrecht was deeply affected by the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. As Claude Adams explains in “The Hostage", she became obsessed with bin Laden, and with Islam. Spending countless hours on the Internet, she came to believe that he was the victim of an elaborate conspiracy and that the American media were misguided in their coverage of the attack and its aftermath.
To the dismay of friends and family members, Giesbrecht converted to Islam (taking the name Khadija Abdul Qahaar), imagining that she could play a useful role in explaining the Muslim faith to the West. To that end she abandoned her publishing career, set herself up as a foreign correspondent, and travelled to a remote corner of Pakistan. There, as Adams recounts, the folly of her venture soon became clear. Kidnapped and held for ransom in appalling conditions, she quickly deteriorated.
Unlike Robert Fowler, the former Canadian diplomat kidnapped in Niger, shopped to al-Qaeda, and held hostage in the Sahara Desert—whose case sparked much coverage and intense negotiations until he was released 130 days later—Giesbrecht barely roused the interest of the media or the government. Whether because she’d allied herself with “the enemy,” or because her story simply wasn’t sexy enough, her pleas for assistance, still posted on YouTube, went unanswered.
A cable recently released through Wikileaks suggests she might have been helped by a policy the federal government was considering in early 2009. Because four other Canadians were also kidnapped in the last half of 2008, the government was considering a formal policy for hostage cases. When Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament, however, that initiative died. A few months later, so did Beverley Giesbrecht—a victim of her own naiveté and idealism, and of her country’s seeming indifference.