By Mike Haines OBE, Founder of Global Acts of Unity
A long, cold shadow has followed my family around ever since my brother David, a humanitarian worker, was taken hostage and beheaded by ISIS in September 2014. Held captive for 18 months in Syria, his death was filmed and broadcast for the world to see – one of 27 victims at the hands of a now-infamous British gang of terrorists.
Nothing can prepare you for the feelings of helplessness, uncertainty – even guilt – that are anchored to the burden of grief. Hatred too felt like a natural response, but I soon realised that if I hate, they win.
Overcoming hatred has been a life-changing journey for me and the only way out of the darkness was to honour David. That’s why I created Global Acts of Unity. It was in David’s DNA to help anyone regardless of colour, race, religion or politics and I knew to keep his legacy alive, I had to do something to channel my pain and to remedy others’.
Global Acts of Unity is an anti-extremism charity and over the past 7 years I have toured the country speaking to young people about my story, championing dialogue as a tonic for unity. Students are the leaders of tomorrow, our beacons of hope. However, young people are among those most vulnerable to radicalisation so it’s important that the values of tolerance and understanding are instilled at an early age. Our differences are to be celebrated.
To date, I have spoken to over 100,000 students across the UK and the overwhelming positive response I have received has strengthened my will to fight against hatred and ensure no one follows the same path that David’s killers did. They were British and their beliefs were moulded by corrupting, malicious influences in our own backyard. I want to do what I can.
My school visits up until recently have focused on my journey overcoming hatred, but events this year allowed me to close an especially difficult chapter in my life.
Two of the four ISIS members responsible for the death of my brother and many others were found guilty of their crimes. They are now spending the rest of their lives in prison and, I came face to face with them in the courtroom. Looking at them directly, I told them I forgave them.
I will never let such an evil act consume me and in offering my sincere forgiveness, they no longer have any power over me. However hard it might seem; forgiveness is something we are all capable of and a trait I would encourage all teachers to teach their students.
While the verdicts provided no consolation for David’s life, it sends a message to those tempted to follow the same destructive path and shows that humanity prevails over the hateful ideologies of extremism, in all its forms.
I am now more determined and dedicated than ever to talk to students, honouring my brother. Only through tolerance, compassion and understanding can we reject hatred that seeks to divide us.