Four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams were abducted in Baghdad Sunday by a previously unknown group called the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. They were shown on Al Jazeera television today and were called “spies” by their kidnappers. The peacemakers were an American, Tom Fox (bottom photo, with children); a Briton, Norman Kember (middle right photo); and two Canadians, James Loney and Harmeet Singh Scoden (top photo). In addition, female German archaeologist and aid worker, Susanne Osthoff, was kidnapped and shown on TV. More then 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and more than 50 have been executed.
I have great admiration for the CPT workers, who must all be braver than I am. Almost all non-governmental relief workers have left the country or withdrawn into the Green Zone, but these five people continued to move around openly and without any armed protection. They had all agreed that if they were captured, no violent methods should be used to gain their release. The teams are a program of Brethren, Quaker and Mennonite Churches and other Christians who support nonviolence. In addition to Iraq, teams of CPT workers are now working in Colombia; Hebron and At-Tuwani, Palestine; Kenora, Ontario, and on the Mexico-United States border. CPT has been working in Iraq since October 2002, primarily documenting detainee abuses and connecting the Iraqi citizens to local and international human rights organizations.
Every CPT worker knows she is putting her life at risk to demonstrate the power of nonviolent Christian love in the middle of a war zone. In a “statement of conviction,” the members stated that they “are aware of the many risks both Iraqis and internationals currently face,” but insisted that the risks did not outweigh their purpose. They expressed hope that “in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.”
This method does not always work. Today is one of the saddest of the failures, for it shows how a history of violence has deluded some Iraqis, who cannot believe that any actions can possibly be genuinely altruistic — especially the actions of foreigners.
Spies, indeed! I have had dealings with CPT members and know their purity of soul. James Loney used to attend the Anglican Church to which I belong, the Church of the Holy Trinity, and this past spring, Peace Magazine, which I edit, published an article by Tom Fox. In it he wrote:
“When the US-led invasion tore away the façade of the state of Iraq, a torrent of religious, ethnic, tribal, and cultural tensions that had existed for generations was unleashed. I have not heard one person say that Saddamwas a wise or revered leader. But I have heard many people say that while they lived under the threat of violence with Saddam, they prefer that life to the bloodshed, chaos, and anarchy that surrounds them now.
“No one seems to offer a solution that does not entail more guns, more restrictions on basic human rights, more soldiers, more barbed wire and concrete barricades, more ‘security’ and less freedom. Sooner or later the insurgency will run out of suicide bombers and weapons. Sooner or later the ringleaders will be captured or killed. But what will remain will be one of the most restrictive, oppressive political states in the world.”
In such a setting, no one can win — least of all captors of Tom, James, Norman, and Harmeet. May peace come to that troubled land and to the lives of the Westerner aid workers and their captors alike.