There’s really nothing to this prophet thing. You just grab an old camel hair cloak, swallow a handful of bugs, make sure your hair is as wild as your eyes, and set off for the nearest riverbank. There, you make long, impassioned speeches about how the government and the religious leadership are in cahoots to oppress the people, and how God, any day now, is coming with a winnowing fork to throw their worthless butts in the fire. You befriend the common people, and teach them about hope and peace and justice and One whose sandals you are not worthy to tie. Nothing to it. As long as you don’t mind being beheaded for getting on the wrong side of a sultry teenage beauty and her slut of a mother. Or disappearing in Baghdad.
Sometime last Saturday, November 26, while most American Christians (me included) were still recovering from Thanksgiving gluttony, members of a Christian Peacemaker Team investigating human rights abuses were kidnapped after leaving a Baghdad mosque. The group included an American, two Canadians and a Briton: Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney, Norman Kember, and Tom Fox. They had come to Iraq in peace, hoping only to help people who had been victimized by the war and the warriors (on all sides).
The Christian Peacemakers have been in Iraq since 2002, before the overthrow of the Hussein regime. In January 2004, they broke the Abu Ghraib story, after a six-month investigation. They focused the light of truth on this darkness and demanded that the Coalition Provision Authority put an immediate end to the mistreatment of detainees. Without their fearless prophetic action, the abuses might still be continuing in Saddam’s old torture chambers.
While the mainstream Church has wrung its timid hands over Iraq, fretting about just war and supporting the troops, these courageous witnesses have been working with some of the people that both the Iraqi and American governments have neglected. According to Newsday, the Christian Peacemakers have helped Iraqis form a small Shiite Muslim Peacemaker Team in Najaf. The Peacemakers then took their Shia friends to the Sunni city of Fallujah to spend a day clearing rubble and garbage from the streets. They were trying to teach them Jesus’ principle of loving and praying for one’s enemies. During November, a Peacemakers team helped 19 fearful Palestinian refugees leave Iraq for Syria because of a rise in anti-Palestinian hate crimes. Team members rode with the Palestinians to the Syrian border and camped with them in the desert for a nearly the five weeks before they could cross the border.
So, if the CPT opposes the war (which it does) and has been helping the Iraqi people (which it has), how did they end up as unwitting victims in this tragic war? CPT’s website asks: “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?” Jesus actually answered that question a long time ago: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for my name’s sake, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:20,21) The voice crying out in the wilderness is heard by Herod and answered with a sword.
There is still hope for the Peacemaker team, there is still the power of our prayers for them. There is still the possibility that their hearts of their captors may be changed by the Gospel of peace they proclaim.
An Urgent Appeal: Please Release Our Friends in Iraq
Four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were taken this past Saturday, November 26, in Baghdad, Iraq. They are not spies, nor do they work in the service of any government. They are people who have dedicated their lives to fighting against war and have clearly and publicly opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They are people of faith, but they are not missionaries. They have deep respect for the Islamic faith and for the right of Iraqis to self-determination.
C.P.T. first came to Iraq in October 2002 to oppose the US invasion, and it has remained in the country throughout the occupation in solidarity with the Iraqi people. The group has been invaluable in alerting the world to many of the horrors facing Iraqis detained in US-run prisons and detention centers. C.P.T. was among the first to document the torture occurring at the Abu Ghraib prison, long before the story broke in the mainstream press. Its members have spent countless hours interviewing Iraqis about abuse and torture suffered at the hands of US forces and have disseminated this information internationally.
Each of the four C.P.T. members being held in Iraq has dedicated his life to resisting the darkness and misery of war and occupation. Convinced that it is not enough to oppose the war from the safety of their homes, they made the difficult decision to go to Iraq, knowing that the climate of mistrust created by foreign occupation meant that they could be mistaken for spies or missionaries. They went there with a simple purpose: to bear witness to injustice and to embody a different kind of relationship between cultures and faiths. Members of C.P.T. willingly undertook the risks of living among Iraqis, in a common neighborhood outside of the infamous Green Zone. They sought no protection from weapons or armed guards, trusting in, and benefiting from, the goodwill of the Iraqi people. Acts of kindness and hospitality from Iraqis were innumerable and ensured the C.P.T. members’ safety and wellbeing. We believe that spirit will prevail in the current situation.
We appeal to those holding these activists to release them unharmed so that they may continue their vital work as witnesses and peacemakers.