Book reviews - Conflict Resolution: Wider Middle East.
       

118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams Held Hostage in Iraq
(Chicago/Toronto: Christian Peacemaker Teams, 2008, 217pp.)

Tricia Brown edited earlier Getting in the Way, an account of the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). A review of that book follows this review which highlights the kidnapping in November 2005 of four CPT members in Bagdad by an unknown group with unclear motivations, the killing of Tom Fox, a long-time CPT worker in Iraq, and the release of the three others.

CPT had been working in Iraq prior to the US-led attack with a small team working to better relations with the Iraqi population in the hope of preventing an attack. After the US occupation of the country, much of the CPT effort was devoted to helping families of Iraqis detained by the Iraqi police or the coalition forces. The families often did not know where the person was held, on what charges and if there would be a trial. The CPT also tried to build bridges among the different religious communities in Iraq as sectarian tensions became evident early.

In addition to a small group of full-time workers in Iraq, there were small teams of what CPT calls "delegations" - people who come for a short time (often two weeks) to see the situation, to report back to their home communities and to offer moral support to groups with which CPT is working, a mark that the world has not forgotten them.

Thus it was that Norman Kember from the UK, Jim Loney from Canada and Harmeet Singh Sooden from New Zealand was the delegation in Iraq who, with Tom Fox, was on their way from discussing with a religious Muslim group. Their car was cut off by two other cars, and the four were taken away in a car, leaving the driver and the translator behind. The delegation was held for the 118 days which give the book its title. Tom Fox was shot dead and his body left on a street a couple of days before. The kidnappers melted away, and the three were found by a team of Allied soldiers who never saw the kidnappers;

The book is a lively discussion of the way the kidnapping impacted the headquarters staff of CPT, the other CPT members working in Iraq, CPT members who were called in to make additional contacts in Iraq, and family and friends. There is a good chapter on dealing with the press and media in the UK since one of the delegation was an Englishman active in church circles, and there were UK troops in Iraq.

One of the delegation, Jim Loney of the Canadian Catholic Worker movement, is gay. This fact had to be kept in confidence given the homophobia among some Arab communities - a sentiment not limited to Arabs, however. Keeping information hidden runs up against the desire of the press to make a hostage more "human" by giving information about the hostages as well as a desire of CPT to be open in its relations with the public. There is a moving chapter by Jim Loney of appreciation of Tom Fox.

It was thought important that Muslim leaders and organizations show support for the CPT captives, and there was a strong Islamic response. CPT has been working on the Israel-Palestine conflict and thus had good contacts. Both Canadian and UK Muslims went to Iraq to see if they could make contact with the kidnappers and to show support.

There seems to have been no direct contact by any intermediaries with the kidnappers whose motivations were never clear; there was no demand for ransom and no realistic political demands. Basically, the kidnapping and death are a symbolic reflection of the mindless violence that has overcome Iraq.

Although the book is not written as a guide of what a small organization can do in a time of crisis, there are good descriptions of actions taken as well as the psychological tensions that such a crisis provokes. CPT, on the advice of Iraqis living in Bagdad, has moved its efforts to the Kurdish north of the country. The Kurdish administered areas of the country has its problems, but kidnapping has not become a "cottage industry" as in Bagdad, driven by a quest for money, revenge or power. This is a moving book, well worth reading and reflecting upon.

Rene Wadlow