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  • Italian Hostages Are Released and Set Off Wave of Controversy
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    OCTOBER 3, 2004 – This week the world celebrated the release of the “two Simonas,” Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, 29-year-old Italian women who were kidnapped by terrorists while volunteering to help children in Iraq on September 7. Nowhere was the joy louder than in the Simonas' home country of Italy. But hours later the satisfaction of having the women, who were working for the humanitarian group Bridge to Baghdad, out of harm's way turned to doubt as many questioned whether the Italian government or some other group had paid ransom for the release. Paying off kidnappers is a practice that CNN reports is becoming more widespread as the insurgency in the Middle East continues and more civilians are taken captive.

    The debate about whether ransom was paid arose after Gustavo Selva, a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition, suggested that at least $1 million was paid in exchange for the safe return of the young women. "The lives of the girls were the most important thing," Selva has said. "In principle, we shouldn't give in to blackmail but this time we had to, although it's a dangerous path to take because, obviously, it could encourage others to take hostages, either for political or criminal reasons." Foreign Affairs Minister Franco Frattini publicly denied the accusation that the Italian government had paid for the Simonas' freedom. Other rumors circulated that church workers who had been mediating with the kidnappers might have paid the lump sum. But no one knows for sure what really happened.

    Even Pari and Torretta, unlike the male Italian hostages who were released after a U.S. blitz earlier this year, kept a tight lip about their time in captivity and their release. At a press conference Torretta did most of the talking and said that the kidnappers were kind to them, taught them about Islam and had them read the Koran. She referred to her captors as moderates and also noted that she was against the U.S.-led efforts in Iraq.

    As a trained journalist with some understanding of history and politics, I know that paying ransom to terrorists is wrong – and will only lead to further terrorism and kidnappings. However, as an Italian American woman, who hopes to be a mother someday, I keep thinking that the $1 million supposedly paid for the release of the two Simonas is a small price to pay for human life, for their safety, for their ability to return to Italy to their families and loved ones.

    Sometimes I think that I want the clergy or the political leaders or the families of the others who are still being held hostage to pay for their loved ones, too. Get them home – and get the soldiers while you're at it. Bring them all back and start over. Let the good people of Iraq step in to rebuild their own precious land. Let them take the guns out of their children's hands and teach them love and peace and the true words of Allah.

    Remember that the whole world doesn't have to be, nor does it want to be, American. As they watch Western soldiers and corporations drive into their neighborhoods, I'm sure Torretta is right when she says that some Iraqis feel like hostages themselves. Just imagine if another country's military drove their tanks up to your front door in Georgia or Oklahoma or London. Sure, you're grateful when the awful dictator is removed but how do you feel afterward?

    This week also marked the first presidential debate between U.S. President George W. Bush and his opposing candidate Senator John Kerry. The U.S. presence in Iraq was obviously the focal point of conversation. America's, Italy's, Britain's, Iraq's future – and in many ways the future of all the other present and future hostages in the Middle East – hangs in the balance. As a journalist, I know this is just the beginning of one of the biggest news cycles the world has ever witnessed. Although Torretta's comments seem radical, I can relate to her on one or two levels. As a woman, I am just hoping that we all reach some understanding about those who are different. As a potential mother, I am hoping that we can all become one big, happy family once and for all. Like Torretta, I'm searching for peace. Aren't we all?

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