Friday, December 02, 2005


In the chamber of echoes that passes for intelligence in Iraq, the dominant theory is that Norman Kember and the other Christian Peacemaker Team workers have probably been kidnapped by associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Given Zarqawi's record, this is a matter of great concern. He has in the past defied calls for mercy from even radical Muslim sources - as was the case with the captors of the courageous Margaret Hassan, married to an Iraqi and an established humanitarian worker. But there is still life and hope. Canon Andrew White is among those who have extensive contacts with people connected to armed groups. And although he takes a very different stance to CPT and has been keen to repeat the "I told them not to come" mantra, he is someone of considerable energy and resources. It is also very encouraging to see the outspoken support for CPT and the captives from the Muslim community, and from one activist in particular. (See also Christians aid Muslim nonviolence initiative in Iraq.)

That the work of CPT is being publicised more widely is an important and beneficial factor in a dark hour. Ekklesia has produced a detailed Christian Peacemaker Teams briefing (put together by my excellent colleague Jonathan Bartley). This contains 14 articles tracing the work of CPT in Iraq over the last three years, including its endeavours in highlighting abuse of 72 Iraqi detainees, several months before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was made public. The fact that this is news to many of the newsmakers in the general media is indicative of just how much gets bypassed by the rather restrictive understanding of 'news frames' and 'news values' in the mainstream.

Equally, the church press in the UK has tended to overlook CPT and similar initiatives. The notion of peacemaking as a central Christian vocation is a fairly alien idea to them, and the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence has also mostly been sidelined both by the denominations and their media. This week's Church of England Newspaper (CEN) can't even get CPT's name right, it seems.

The CEN trumpets its version of a 'biblical perspective' (especially when attacking those who dissent from its anti-gay exegesis). But in the likes of CPT's hands-on peacemaking it mainly sees something "irresponsible", apparently. That was what it chose as its headline angle. Others might prefer to acknowledge Norman Kember and his colleagues as a little closer to the sometimes-foolish way of Jesus than are the vituperations associated with the sexuality 'debate'.

Incidentally, when C4 anchor Jon Snow put it to Bruce Kent, a long term friend of Kember's, that the CPTers might be regarded as foolish to risk their safety, Bruce responded by pointing out that from the perspective of Christian discipleship, it might sometimes be necessary to weigh and take such risks.

[See also Jim Loney's story - abuducted in Iraq on the Peace Church website. Getting in the Way: Stories From Christian Peacemaker Teams, edited by Tricia Gates Brown (Herald Press, 2005) is a 300-page paperback available in Britain through Metanoia Books.]

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