The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) just beheaded a 26-year-old American from Indiana. His name was Peter Kassig.
On Sunday, ISIS released a shocking video featuring one of its fighters standing over Kassig's severed head.
President Obama confirmed Kassig's death on Sunday, and condemned the killing, calling it "an act of pure evil by a terrorist group."
Unfortunately, this has become somewhat of a familiar headline. This is the fifth time the terrorist organization has released a video of a Western hostage being executed. Three out of five of the victims have been Americans.
As the only victim under 30, Kassig was the youngest of the five.
The loss of any human life is tragic, and ISIS' tactics are absolutely disgusting and inhumane. Yet, it's very difficult to wrap your head around someone so young being murdered in such a horrific way.
Kassig was a member of Generation-Y. Most people his age are only just beginning to live, yet he found himself brutally executed at the hands of terrorists.
Millennials are often characterized as lazy, disengaged and entitled. Yet, Peter Kassig disproved all of those notions. At just 26, he was already a veteran and had dedicated his life to serving others.
He was a true humanitarian, and all of us, regardless of age, can learn a great deal from his life.
Don't Give Up: Sometimes We Have To Get Completely Lost Before We Are Found
Peter Kassig was an only child who grew up near Indianapolis, Indiana. In high school, he was much like any other kid. He played guitar and ran track.
After graduation, he joined the US Army Rangers and served four months in Iraq. In 2007, however, Kassig was honorably discharged from the army early for medical reasons.
Over the next five years, he did some deep soul-searching. He got married and divorced, trained as an emergency medical technician and had a brief stint in college, but never finished.
In truth, other than the fact that he'd already been to war, Kassig wasn't very different from other people in his generation. A person's twenties are often a characteristically tumultuous, yet exciting period. Indeed, it's one of the most uncertain times in life -- a winding path toward an unknown destination.
Like other people his age, Kassig was searching for a cause, something bigger than himself. He was seeking fulfillment, and a place in the world. As a generation facing astronomical levels of unemployment, a lot of Kassig's fellow Millennials could likely sympathize with these sentiments.
In the spring of 2012, Kassig traveled to Lebanon and found his calling as a humanitarian. Right before his return flight home, he made the decision to stay out of a deep concern for the impact of the war in Syria.
In January 2013, he volunteered at a Lebanese hospital for Syrian refugees, utilizing his medical training.
Eventually, he founded an organization called Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA), and dedicated it to helping Syrian refugees by providing them with medical supplies, treatment, clothing and food.
He relocated to southern Turkey in the summer of 2013, and began making regular trips into Syria.
It was apparent to all of those around him that Kassig was a tremendously driven and selfless individual. He genuinely believed that he could make a difference. During an interview in 2012, he stated:
We each get one life and that’s it. We get one shot at this and we don’t get any do-overs, and for me, it was time to put up or shut up. The way I saw it, I didn’t have a choice. This is what I was put here to do. I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, and I am an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes.
Unfortunately, Kassig was captured in Syria in October 2013, and was held hostage by ISIS until his gruesome murder.
Following the news, Kassig's family released this statement: "We prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work and the love he shared with friends and family, not in the manner the hostage-takers would use to manipulate Americans and further their cause."
Indeed, hyper-violence and shock are part of ISIS' larger strategy. Concentrating overwhelmingly on the brutality of their tactics only bolsters their cause. Terrorists want to spread fear.
Thus, we should focus more on the selfless example of Peter Kassig, and others like him. It is because of individuals like Kassig that we can still be hopeful, even in the midst of horrific violence and war.
Reject Hate: Don't Make Generalizations
Following his capture, Peter Kassig converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdul Rahman Kassig.
We can never really know whether Kassig willingly converted to Islam or if he was forced. It is not uncommon for the hostages of jihadists to convert.
After his death was confirmed, Secretary of State John F. Kerry stated that Kassig “was a young American who personified the values of altruism and compassion which are the very essence of his adopted religion of Islam.”
Simply put, we cannot blame Islam for Kassig's death. As Kassig's parents stated, if we grant our focus to the terrorists and what they claim to stand for, we end up furthering their cause.
When Westerners say that Islam is to blame for the things that ISIS has done, it allows these terrorists to claim that the West is at war with Muslims. This helps it recruit more people to its cause. We cannot allow ourselves to make such generalizations.
There are 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe, about 23 percent of the world's population. Comparatively, the CIA estimates that ISIS has around 31,500 fighters. If Islam were really at war with the West, we would see a lot more death.
Not to mention, 90 percent of ISIS' victims are Muslims. Concurrently, Muslim leaders and groups around the world are denouncing terrorism.
Likewise, as a recent study from Pew Global Attitudes Project has shown, there is deep concern surrounding Islamic extremism in Muslim countries across the globe.
In essence, ISIS might claim to represent Islam, but it is nothing more than a group of deranged terrorists. Hence, as Kassig's parents requested, don't justify their cause.
Focus on the good, not the bad.
Stay Hopeful: Even In War, We Can Remain Positive
Peter Kassig had no illusions about the enormity of the problem in Syria, but wanted to show the world that we don't have to view foreign conflicts as irrelevant and distant to our own lives.
Correspondingly, he once stated:
How much did I impact the political situation inside Syria? None. How much did I impact the political situation back home? None. But — what I did do is over a period of time, in that hospital, I was able to share a little bit of hope and comfort with some people. They were able to teach me a little bit about themselves that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. And we each were given an opportunity to look at the conflict in a different way.
Kassig is a testament to the fact that borders are ultimately an illusion. If human beings are suffering somewhere in the world, it's not simply a problem for that specific country, it's an issue for all the globe's peoples.
He may have left this world prematurely, but Kassig certainly lived life to the fullest while he was here. With full knowledge of the risks he was taking, he entered a war-zone to help complete strangers.
Kassig taught us that while war is ugly and dark, there are still people in the midst of the chaos searching for the light.