Taylor: Hard choice to forgive abusers

Four years after Amanda Lindhout was freed, she could write, “I choose to forgive the people who took my freedom from me and abused me…”

TaylorIn early May, I wrote about the wail of sheer agony, utter despair, uttered by Amanda Lindhout during her captivity in Somalia.

To refresh your memory, Lindhout was the freelance journalist kidnapped in August 2008, held for ransom, finally released 15 months later in November 2009.

In early June, Amanda Lindhout spoke at a fundraising event for Syrian refugees sponsored by a collection of Kelowna-area churches.

She described some of her experiences while in captivity. I was appalled.

I was even more appalled when I read her book, A House in the Sky. It would be better titled Hell on Earth.

Perhaps she held back when speaking face to face, fearing that the details would be too much for us. Or for her.

But from the impersonal flatness of black type on white paper, Lindhout described the way her Somali captors treated her.

Two examples will suffice. After she and fellow captive Nigel Brennan managed a brief escape, she was gang raped by all eight of her captors. “I understood later how this mattered, how it kept any one of them from judging the others in the months to come,” she wrote.

It was not the first rape. One man had raped her regularly, sometimes several times a day. But this was the first gang rape. “I bled not for hours or days but for weeks afterward,” she wrote.

Then things got worse. In an attempt to break her, to apply more pressure for getting their ransom, they tortured her. They made her lie on the floor on her stomach. They lashed her arms to her chained ankles, so that, as she wrote: “My body had been drawn into a taut bow.” They stood on her back to tug her lashings tighter.

When she screamed, they stuffed an unwashed sock in her mouth. They looped a scarf around her neck, and tied its ends to the lashings that kept her arched, so that if she let her head fall forward, she choked.

For 48 hours they kept her trussed. They kicked her, beat her, screamed insults at her. For being a woman. For being evil. For having caused all this.

“They’ve studied this,” she thought. It was planned. Deliberate. Merciless. “They’ve consulted some kind of manual on how to make a person suffer.”

Once, early in my journalistic career, I wrote an article about systematic torture in regimes around the world—long before America discovered water-boarding. In Russia, under Stalin. In Brazil and in Chile, under their military tyranny. In Iran, under the American-backed Shah.

My nausea over intentional cruelty affected me for months. But I got over it. Because none of it had actually happened to me. If I had experienced the Kremlin’s drug-induced insanity, if I had watched Brazil’s torturers sawing living bodies in half, I doubt if I could ever recover.

Let alone forgive.

Four years after Amanda Lindhout was freed, she could write, “I choose to forgive the people who took my freedom from me and abused me…”

I suspect that if I had suffered a fraction of what she did, the fire of hatred inside me would have burned me up for the rest of my life.

I have more admiration for her than ever.