Dear Gayle Williams

Kabul, Afghanistan
Gayle Williams, 34, who had dual British and South African nationality, was shot dead on Monday by gunmen on a motorbike in Kabul.

Dear Gayle Williams —
I know you cannot read this letter now, but I am writing to you as though you can, as though you are still here somehow, and because for some reason you are still here with me. I have written two articles about you now. Articles about how you were killed and why. Especially the why. The why is what this is all about, isn’t it? The why is why you died, why they killed you. The why is what’s important, yet so impossible to comprehend.

I have tried in these two articles to express some of the anger, the outrage and the disbelief that so many of us feel, but it’s impossible. There aren’t the right words. I couldn’t write this if I thought too hard about your grieving parents right now. I’d feel foolish and intrusive, because I’ve never even met you. But for some reason I realize now that those two articles just weren’t enough. I don’t know what would ever be enough, but that wasn’t it. You deserve more. Your death deserves more. And I’ll try very hard to say what’s in my heart at this moment.

“She was a person who always loved the Afghans and was dedicated to serving those who are disabled…Needless to say, we are all in shock.”

“…one of the inspiring people of the world who truly put others before herself.”

“She was killed violently while caring for the most forgotten people in the world; the poor and the disabled,” the statement said. “She herself would not regret taking the risk of working in Afghanistan. She was where she wanted to be — holding out a helping hand to those in need.”

This is what they’re saying about you now, Gayle Williams. Now that you’re gone. How ironic that you who lived your life so unobtrusively, so quietly and humbly are now famous in your death. Thousands, perhaps millions, of people all over the world now know your name and have looked at your face in that picture.

We are in a great war of shadows. Our enemies are illusive and indistinct. Only occasionally — such as at times like this — do we see them clearly. They have deftly hidden themselves beneath innumerable veils of half-truths, clever rationalizations and devious obfuscations. Our enemies have sought and gained sanctuary in the sacred temples of religion. Thus, to many, they remain inviolate and unassailable. Our enemy is great but amorphous, a master of disguise. Their greatest disguise is complete invisibility. This is the nature of our war of shadows.

Only half of us can actually see them. They have successfully convinced the others that they don’t exist, that they are merely fictional villains, hypothetical constructs of our overwrought imaginations. This is who we are fighting — or almost fighting. We’re not sure yet. We’re besieged with doubts and mired in confusion. Is our enemy Islam? Or just some small fanatical core of pitiless brutes who have perverted the great message?

We’ve been taught to be tolerant of others, to be especially tolerant of other people’s religious beliefs. To attack someone because of their religious beliefs goes against everything that we hold sacred. And our ruthless adversaries have used this innate civility to their infinite advantage, haven’t they? Coming from the very highest authorities in our own government we have been admonished to not hold the entire religion of Islam accountable for the brutal actions of a few. We have been advised by our experts that Islam is a religion of peace, a great religion which has been hijacked by a few crazy fanatics.

But then there is you, Gayle Williams. And you are immense now. You are a scathing indictment that cannot be answered. You are the truth. Inarguable, unassailable truth. The men who took your life were not fanatics, they were the personification of the purest and most uncorrupted form of Islam. They were most closely following the Prophet’s commandments. They are Islam with all the veils removed. Your killers were not perverting the message, they were delivering it.

One of the reasons why we have been so shamefully ineffective in this great war of shadows is our inability to comprehend the enormity of this truth. That one of the world’s major religions could be the source of the world’s most menacing evils. It is too much to grasp. We seek solace in our delusions. We use metaphors and euphemisms to almost but not quite describe our enemies. We comfort ourselves with the unsustainable hypothesis that most Muslims are good. That Islam itself is not the problem.

But then there is you, Gayle Williams. And you are immense now. How can our homegrown Islamist apologists and multiculturalists answer your scathing indictment. Did you, by ministering to the poor and disabled in Afghanistan bring it on yourself, as we purportedly brought the events of 9/11 on ourselves? How will they argue for your culpability in this crime as they did ours? The very thought of this is sickening to me.

If the purest of all forms of Islam could call for your death, you who have done nothing but give of yourself in your kind quiet way, then who among us is safe? Who among us can argue for tolerance and understanding of the bestial religion that murdered you? Who among us can still not see beneath those veils, even after you have pulled them away.

These are the best words I can come up with, Gayle Williams. This is the best I can do. I wish I could do more. I wish we all could do more. – rg