Friday, March 24, 2006


I have probably received more angry and irate letters about this than any other public issue since my association with Ekklesia. Amidst the joy about their release, there is genuine outrage and bewilderment at CPT's initial response to the freeing of Norman, Harmeet and Jim - based on the way it has been represented in the media. While the much of the press is going into SAS-mode, Christian Peacemaker Teams have continued to call for the withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq and to stress that, while delighted that their friends are alive, they at no point asked for military intervention. It is not difficult to see how this can be presented as graceless and ungrateful - perhaps even a denial of the realities on the ground. But that misunderstands the meaning and motive behind what's being said - and not said. An addendum (see below) was rapidly added to the CPT site to make public the gratitude that the captives had expressed personally. On the other hand, there are many commentators who are itching for a "confession" that "nonviolence doesn't work" and that "our boys" have the answer after all. And they show no concern for the immense pressure the hostages have just been under.

There is a seductive and reductive politics behind the personal animosity towards a group of people who (in Doug Pritchard's words) decided to work for justice, peace and human rights without asking for armed guards or security privileges. The US and UK authorities clearly hope to use this story to shore up support for their much-criticised Iraq policy. Of course there are necessary questions about the propriety of this. Just as there are necessary things to be said about the good done by soldiers in what, thankfully, turned out to be an intervention without killing. But such things cannot be usefully said in a climate of accusation and bitterness. Meanwhile, we should not lose sight of the thousands of Iraqis held hostage or detained. What are we doing to help them?

I have tried to respond to the criticisms of CPT in an open and honest way in my article, Contending the logic of violence (Ekklesia, UK). You can read the whole piece and decide whether what I have said is fair and true. Here is an excerpt:

Nonviolence is not an easy or soft option. On the contrary, it requires redirecting, retraining and refocusing some our most primitive and natural energies – rather than simplifying problems by imposing our will or eliminating (quite literally) the human obstacle.

Peace is not primarily a policy, it is a culture, a community and a set of countervailing practices which require both courage and calculation. It is the wisdom of the dove contending with, but not easily displacing, the wisdom of the serpent.

In other words, not-killing does not come naturally. It needs to be learned.

Peacemaking, as distinct from peace-wishing or peace-talking, will often be dismissed as ‘do-gooding’. That was a phrase I heard on the radio to describe Norman Kember... Yet, to use a phrase beloved of military advocates, what is the alternative to doing good? Doing bad, perhaps, or doing nothing? That we can mock serious attempts to inject non-violence into situations of intractable conflict, even at some risk, shows how hopelessly anaesthetised we are by the hatreds that form us.

Christian Peacemaker Teams operate with care and consideration. They train, prepare and support people with a dedication that far exceeds the easy condemnations of their critics. Such dedication is little-known and often much-misunderstood in civilian circles – that is, by people who have known neither the true horror of war nor the true price of shalom/salaam.

There is indeed an irony to peacemakers being rescued by soldiers. And it would be both churlish and wrong to deny the good offices of those who bear arms, even as we seek to outlaw their instruments of death.

But in a world where toxic religion is fuelling both heartless jihad and gung-ho militarism it would surely be a far greater irony to deny the witness of those whose chief role is to demonstrate that human beings do not have to live in the enmity of might-is-right.

For what lies at the heart of Christian peacemaking is neither suffocating piety, nor the invocation of the divine as a magic potion, nor a sense of moral superiority over those caught up in life’s death-dealing. It is, rather, the conviction that a bond of a love which is willing to embrace suffering in hope is finally stronger than all the weapons of destruction ever assembled.

This unlikely possibility is embodied in a ‘script’, the Gospel of Jesus, which is not about quick victory or the triumph of empire. Rather, it is about a small, vulnerable community forged from the wounds of a Galilean peasant – a man crucified between the certainties of politics-as-usual and religion-as-usual.

It is in this event that, extraordinary though it may seem, the boundless love of God is to be seen: a love which delivers us from evil not by twisting events to its own ends, but by reshaping the very people who have to negotiate those events.

More on the future of Christian peacemaking at SojoNet. There is also a heartfelt and beautifully expressed response on the "ingratitude" issue here on FreeTheCaptivesNow.

CPT released this statement last night - "We have been so overwhelmed and overjoyed to have Jim, Harmeet and Norman freed, that we have not adequately thanked the people involved with freeing them, nor remembered those still in captivity. So we offer these paragraphs as the first of several addenda: We are grateful to the soldiers who risked their lives to free Jim, Norman and Harmeet. As peacemakers who hold firm to our commitment to nonviolence, we are also deeply grateful that they fired no shots to free our colleagues. We are thankful to all the people who gave of themselves sacrificially to free Jim, Norman, Harmeet and Tom over the last four months, and those supporters who prayed and wept for our brothers in captivity, for their loved ones and for us, their co-workers. We will continue to lift Jill Carroll up in our prayers for her safe return. In addition, we will continue to advocate for the human rights of Iraqi detainees and assert their right to due process in a just legal system."

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