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29 October 2014

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Brian Keenan on his captivity


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In April 1986, Brian Keenan was taken hostage by Islamic Jihad in Beirut. He was held for four years before his release in 1990. Here Brian talks about his time in isolation.

Taken hostage

Taken hostage

What happened in those first few hours after capture.

Video transcript

I remember uh being taken down uh several flights of stairs. Uh - I, I was blindfolded at that time. Uh they took the shirt off me and put my shirt. And going down several flight of stairs and then being uh manoeuvred - uh into a space and a metal door closed behind me. Um.

And I didn't take the blindfold off for a while 'cos I didn't know what was going to happen. And then I did and I was in a small room. Which was about uh six foot long by four foot wide. Uh I could stand up at one end of it - the other end I couldn't because the ceiling sloped down. So I had about four square feet of standing space. Uh no one came near me for several hours.

Um. I just sat and uh - listened to the noise of people - whispering. Uh and moving about outside the tiny room I was in. Uh then that stopped and I didn't hear anything for several hours. And then uh the door opened and, and two of my captors came in to uh - with um a drink of water. And asked me ''how are you?''. Uh at that time I was OK in the sense that uh - there was no reason for me to be taken hostage.

I'm, not, uh I'm not British I'm not American. Uh so I thought I was going to be going home in several hours.

Total darkness

Total darkness

How a power cut caused him to question his own existence.

Video transcript

On one occasion when um we had been moved on several occasions but we were in a small cell where the power went out which it did quite frequently in Lebanon. And we were in a complete blackness of uh - for maybe ten days. So there was no light whatsoever, at all. Um.

And I remember on one occasion waking up and having to uh - squeeze my face and my chest and thinking to myself 'am I still alive? How, how do I know I'm alive? This doesn't tell me anything.' Because there was uh, the blackness was palpable. There was nothing there to confirm to me that uh there was human existence outside me or even in me. Uh. And that period uh was to me more terrifying, or harder to deal with than the first period. Of uh - long period of isolation. Because uh - this doesn't tell you anything in those circumstances. It doesn't tell you you are alive. How do I know that I'm alive? There was nothing to tell me that I have uh. Even my breathing, what could that mean? Uh in that place. Uh so I found that very disturbing. Uh. Cos there was no answer, no confirmation.

Hearing things

Hearing things

How his mind played tricks on him.

Video transcript

I heard voices - I, I didn't hear them coming into my ear from outside. Uh they were in the room, they were in me, they were coming from me but they were audible to no one else but me. Um that was scary for a while then it was very interesting. And I suppose the way to deal with that kind of fear is to be interested in it because then the fear gets scared of you because it's, it's, like you're turning the uh Pied Piper story around and uh the madness has to follow after to you because you're dictating. Uh and I suppose - had I have been a psychiatrist I would have signed myself as clinically insane. Um however there wasn't any of those people there to do that so what did it matter. And if I was going insane well to hell with it, let's go insane. 'Cos what else is going to happen to me here?

In April 1986, Brian Keenan was taken hostage by Islamic Jihad in Beirut. He was held for four years before his release in 1990. Here Brian talks about his time in isolation.

Coping strategies

Coping strategies

The promises he made to himself.

Video transcript

I remember saying to myself if I ever get out of here I am going to do three things. Uh - and one of them was to go - I, I like working with my hands um and I was going to find an old cottage in the West of Ireland and rebuild it. So I did, I did that while I was locked up. Uh - and coincidentally I, I - when I did come home I done those three things I promised myself. Just because I'd done them for so long in my head. Uh I was going to do them - in real life. Um so I'd, I'd do that. Uh and I - they, they were all about structures. So I'd rebuild this cottage stone by stone. Um. I'd fashion a boat. Maybe that's 'cos I can't swim so I don't - I paddled the edge of the water um. But though uh building a boat - uh why, why a part, shape it would take and, and. What space you would need and what you would put in it and, and why you would take it and, and, and how it would work. Um so all these strategies were all, they were all construction jobs. And they were all building something. Uh and that's mainly how I - got through the time.

Everyone's fears

Everyone's fears

What we can all learn from being alone.

Video transcript

We all have this thing in common. We're all terrified of being taken away - uh and being left alone and being at the absolute mercy of something dark and evil and malign. And where there is no resource or nobody with us, or nobody to help us out of it - and that's why there's religion in the world and that's why there are psychiatrists in the world. That's why people write books uh. But, but I think that's common to every human being and I don't care what culture they come from, uh or, or what gender they are. I think there's some primal and ancient in us that tell us to be afraid.

Now there's nothing wrong with being afraid. Uh - and there's nothing wrong with being afraid of being alone. But I think as society, as a people we need to distinguish that from aloneness which is - it's different, you know. The best I suppose of, of uh the psychiatric world or psychological world would tell us that uh - man's capacity to be with other people, to love and to engage in a loving experience is a measure of the, the quality of what they are as people.

So it kind of says that we need the, others to evaluate us, of course we do. But we also need to know that there is something in us which is very, very rich. And one can only find that on our own. And aloneness which is different from being lonely uh can, can be enriching and I found that.




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