If you had a loved one stolen away by a terrorist group, what would you do? Well, Shirley Sotloff has publicly begged ISIS to release her son, who's being held hostage by the militant group under mortal threat. Shirley decided to make her case directly, in a video addressed to the terrorist group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Quraishi al-Hussaini. It's a tense, emotional glimpse into her effort, against all odds, to appeal to the human decency of her son's captors.
Shirley's son Steven Sotloff is currently being held captive by ISIS, and he's not the only one — slain American jourunalist James Foley was held hostage for over a year prior to his killing, and there are now reports that a 26-year-old American aid worker is being held, as well.
Steven, a freelance journalist, has been missing for over a year. He disappeared in Aleppo, Syria in 2013, and for a while nobody heard about it — as ABC News Foreign Editor Jon Williams reported, his family had been following advice not to publicize what happened, even though they'd known about it.
He was specifically pictured and threatened at the end of the James Foley execution video, raising fears that he could be killed as Foley was. Speaking forward to the camera, with Arabic subtitles underneath, his mother made an emotional plea to have her son returned, "safe and sound."
Here's what she wanted to say:
I'm sending this message to you, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Quraishi al-Hussaini, the caliph of the Islamic State. I am Shirley Sotloff, my son Steven is in your hands. Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hand of tyrants. Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother and grandson.
He is an honorable man, and has always tried to help the weak. We have not seen Steven for over a year, and we miss him very much. We want to see him home safe and sound, and to hug him. Since Steven's capture, I have learned a lot about Islam. I have learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others. Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He's an innocent journalist.
I've always learned that you, the caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child. As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful, and not punish my son for matters he has no control over. I ask you to use your authority to spare his life, and to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected people of the book. I want what every mother wants, to live to see her children's children. I plead with you to grant me this.
In short, it's an upsetting video to watch. Shirley's tone and manner seems visibly restrained, as though she's aware of just what she wants to convey to try to make her appeal. And what a tough appeal it is — trying to convince the head of a militant Islamic group, which has openly threatened to murder her child, to do the right thing and send him home.
It'll be instructive to see what kind of response from ISIS the video draws, if any. As far as terrorist organizations go, ISIS and their supporters are actually rather active on social media, so there can be little doubt that word of the video will reach their ranks.
It's likely that this video is more deferential to ISIS' claimed authority than they're used to getting, especially from an American non-Muslim — she refers to their leader as the "caliph," which essentially cedes the Islamic authority to them that they've been asserting all along. Basically, she's doing and saying all she can, in the hopes that somebody will think, "hey, maybe we should let him go." And in this moment, we're all hoping along with her.
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