Grief unites us all worldwide, writes Bethany Haines

  • Words by Bethany Haines

  • Video Report by ITV Security Editor Rohit Kachroo

After my father was murdered in 2014 by the so-called Islamic State, my world fell apart.

I didn’t know how I was ever going to find closure and move on from seeing my father beheaded by Mohammed Emwazi.

The one thing that did keep me going was the urge to find out the truth about what happened to him and to ensure justice was served to his killer and captors.

For the next five years, I pored over hundreds of websites and spoke to as many people as I could to try to find out exactly what happened to him and to try to get answers to the million questions I had.

Fast forward to 2019 (five years after my father’s murder), I still wasn’t fully satisfied with the information I had found out.

There seemed to be something missing and that’s when I decided that the only way to make sense of all the information I had gathered was to actually travel over to Syria and see for myself the country and people my Dad was so eager to help.

Bethany Haines was keen to see the country her father was so eager to try to help. Credit: ITV News

My goal was simple and that was to try to find my father’s remains, as well as hear from people from both sides of the story.

I wanted to hear from the Syrian victims of ISIS who had to deal with such atrocities on a daily basis.

In addition, I wanted to hear directly from those who had supported the Islamic State to try to understand what could be the appeal of joining such a barbaric terrorist organisation.

My mind was set and it was time to put my plan in action, all I had to do was somehow convince my mother to let me go …

Bethany with her father. Credit: Handout

Sitting in Dundee Airport, I had a set black and white idea of what things were going to be like in Syria.

The good guys and bad guys are clearly marked by the flag of ISIS and who supports it, versus those who fought against them. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Arriving in Syria was both an exciting and nerve-wracking thing to do. I was excited as I was one step closer to getting the answers I needed and to bringing my father home.

However, I was also nervous as I knew I would come face-to-face with supporters of ISIS and in supporting ISIS they supported the barbaric acts they committed.

The biggest challenge for me was admitting my pre-conceived ideas about the ‘ISIS brides’ were wrong.

Camp Ain Issa showed me the range in views of these women and challenged my views.

I came face to face with a British woman who was only a few years older than I am, but she was caring for three children and had also had three marriages.

Upon meeting her I was sceptical of her story and how she had become radicalised online and her support for ISIS was purely based on fear.

However, as a mother, I could relate to her as she had explained that ISIS had threatened to kill her children if she fled.

It helped me realise that things aren’t as black and white as they have been presented to the public.

Although some of these women aren’t genuine, like I also experienced, some were under duress and coalition governments have the responsibility to deal with these women whether they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

I fell in love with the country and the people. I was introduced to Mustafa Bali (the SDF spokesperson), I was nervous and worried about how I could relate to a soldier as well as having to consider the language barrier. What did a Kurdish soldier and a Scottish Uni student have in common?

Bethany met Kurdish Commander Mustafa Bali. Credit: ITV News

The answer was grief, we both shared the same pain. He said something that instantly connected with me and helped me to understand that it’s not just my father that needs justice.

We share a common habit which no one should have to share with someone.

He explained that he had lost friends to ISIS and upon entering a room he looks for the friends he lost.

I related to this as I still look for my father in a crowded room even though I know he’s no longer there.

A lot of people feel this grief and share this habit. It should be a reminder that grief can unite us all.

Bethany still looks for her father in a crowded room. Credit: Handout

Another example of shared grief that I experienced was in the town of Kobani.

I had met an inspirational brother and sister who had lost eleven members of their family to ISIS.

In addition, they were now having to bring up a number of young nieces and nephews who had lost their parents.

Instead of succumbing to grief and despair they had turned the family home into a classroom and community library.

It gave me hope and hopefully their story provides hope to many more people.

Even in times of deep tragedy and despair, it can be transformed into something more positive.

I may not have been able to bring my father's remains home but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying.

I returned home with feelings of comfort and closure. I was comforted by the fact that the YPG assured me that the search for my father and the other western hostages would never stop.

In addition, I felt feelings of closure as I had seen the country my father had sacrificed his life for and met the people who were in such desperate need.

It’s a trip that may have lasted ten days but for me will last a lifetime.