Sunday, April 09, 2006

[22.24 GMT] 'I am willing to risk my life' (Guardian, UK, Friday April 7 2006) By Kirsty Scott. An interview with Scottish teacher Jan Benvie, who will shortly be going out to Iraq as part of a fresh Christian Peacemakers Team. She talks about her motivation and the importance of violence reduction work in the face of worsening strife.

The CPT has had a presence in Iraq since 2002, but its profile was heightened with the kidnap of four of its members last November. With the four hostages holed up in Iraq, the organisation came in for criticism for having placed "violence reduction" teams of civilians in troubled regions. Since the rescue of Norman Kember and the Canadians in a military operation last month, questions have also been raised over whether the CPT has shown sufficient gratitude for the rescue of Kember and the others.

Benvie sighs when asked about the controversy. The issue of gratitude was a miscommunication, she says; the first response simply an expression of relief that the men's ordeal was over, an addendum quickly put out to thank those who had carried out the rescue. What she takes exception to, though, is any suggestion that she and Kember have no place being in Iraq. The work the CPT does there, she says, is practical, vital, and appreciated.

"Speak to the Iraqis we work with and ask them. That's what we use as a measure of whether our work is worthwhile. They do say so. For me, as long as people are saying what we do is worthwhile, then we will keep doing it," she says.

When she was there last summer, she and her fellow peace activists lived and worked with Iraqis - she lived in an apartment with an Iraqi family. She accompanied people to detention centres to find out what had happened to friends or family members; she detailed privations and alleged human-rights abuses, she visited hospitals, accompanied refugees to the country's borders, sought medical and other help for those in need. People such as the amputee in need of a prosthesis whom she was able to hook up with a US soldier, who specialised in such work.

What it is about, she says, is drawing up a picture of what is really happening inside Iraq, as well as being a western ally. So she is there in solidarity and as a witness.
(See also: Scottish Christian Vows to Return to Peace Work in Iraq (Christian Today); Peace activist defends Iraq plan, BBC, UK, and pictures from Jan and CPT on Indymedia).

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