Friday, April 14, 2006


EXCLUSIVE - Norman Kember, the Christian peacemaker who was freed last month after four months of captivity in Baghdad, will talk at length for the first time tomorrow of his ordeal in Iraq.

He will affirm the importance of non-violent interventions by groups such as Christian Peacemaker Teams, but will honestly acknowledge questions about his own action and that of CPT in these circumstances.

Kember, a retired medical professor aged 74, will appear in a special edition of BBC Radio 4’s Taking A Stand programme on Saturday 15 April, from 9.00-9.45am (UK time). The broadcast will be repeated on Easter Sunday, 16 April from 8-8.30pm.

In a conversation with experienced journalist Fergal Keane, Dr Kember answers his critics and talks about his survival in the most desperate of situations.

The peace activist, who is believed to be deeply traumatised by his experience, also speaks about the emotional cost to his family.

He was kidnapped by a previously unknown militant group, Swords of Truth, on 26 November 2005, along with Canadians Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, and American Tom Fox – who was subsequently killed.

For 117 days Kember was held hostage, for some of the time each day in chains. When he returned home; he found himself accused of being insufficiently grateful to his SAS rescuers. His motives have been questioned and he has been accused of being foolish.

In the BBC interview he speaks about his kidnappers, about his American fellow captive who was murdered, and about the rescue effort which freed him.

In his first statement to the media after his release, Dr Kember said that he would reflect on whether he had been wise or foolhardy going to Iraq to work on human rights issues and violence reduction programmes.

The group he went with, Christian Peacemaker Teams, has been operating in Iraq since 2002 and has built up experience in a number of conflict situations world wide.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the risks involved in the Iraq operation are very high, and in his interview Dr Kember will raise questions about this – echoing questions already countenanced by Christian Peacemaker Teams themselves.

Though he affirms the rightness of CPT’s work, Dr Kember is already known to have doubts about the propriety of his own involvement and the difficulty for CPT of supporting someone in a situation such as this.

Dr Kember was on a short-term CPT delegation, rather than a long-term assignment.

Christian Peacemaker Teams, founded in 1984, have been operational since 1990 and stress that they take as much care as possible in recruiting, deploying and supporting volunteers. They have not been involved in hostage situations before.

The organisation is in the process of reviewing its work in Iraq. A senior CPT coordinator, Peggy Gish, wrote on the Ekklesia website after the release of the three men: “We are not certain where God will lead us but we find courage and hope when our friends warn us, challenge our assumptions, or push us to be clear. Because as they do so, they also offer their continued support and love.”

This is likely to be their response to the necessary questions Dr Kember raises about his own actions and those of the Team he was part of.

Those who know the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq and elsewhere have continued to affirm the value of what they do, in spite of the kidnap trauma.

Says Gish: “We hear differing opinions about the focus of our work. One person values most our work with prisoners. Another said, ‘The most important thing you can do is to tell the truth about the situation here.’ Others suggest a change of location or a change in the focus of our work.”

She continued: “One positive voice of support for CPT to remain in Iraq came from a Christian leader who also suggested relocating temporarily to another part of Iraq to explore future direction. He wrinkled up his face in disbelief when we asked if he knows Christians in Iraq who think our presence is making them unsafe. ‘I would feel bad if something happened to you,’ he said, ‘but I would be angry if you disappear. If you care for us just in the good times, I will forget you. If you take care of us in the bad times, I will remember you. [People] die when [they] do nothing, but live when [they] do something. Everyone dies, but not everyone lives.’”

It is known that the traumatic impact of the four-month kidnap ordeal on Dr Kember and his family has been considerable, and Christian Peacemaker Teams stress that the particular circumstances of their workers matter a great deal in decision-making.

CPT works on trauma and psychological issues with its workers, and has offered assistance to the three kidnap survivors.

Dr Kember and his fellow hostages have been wounded by the virulent and often inaccurate criticisms that have been directed towards them since their ordeal ended.

[Also on Ekklesia: CPT in Iraq: What now? 04/04/06 - Peggy Gish reflects on the future of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. Briefing on media accusations against Christian Peacemaker Teams - detailed background; Contending the logic of violence - Ekklesia's Simon Barrow says that true Christian peacemaking cannot afford naivete]

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