Hope continues as Iraq captive deadline looms
As today's deadline looms for the Christian peace campaigners abducted in Iraq on 26 November 2005, the unprecedented wave of appeals for their release continues - but frustration remains over lack of direct contact with the Swords of Righteousness (Truth) Brigades.
In the last hour (17.15 GMT Anas Altikriti, a senior sponsor of the British anti-war movement and a member of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) told the BBC of negotiators' "frustration" that no direct contact had been established with the kidnappers.
But he said that it was certain that appeals for mercy from Muslim and militant Islamic groups across the region and throughout the world were getting through to them via television.
Their own only known statements have come in videos released to Arab media outlet al-Jazeera, which has also publicised calls and petitions for the release of the four men.
Today another former British detainee, Palestinian Mohammed Abu Reeder, went on an Arabic news station to ask for the Christian Peacemaker Team associates to be freed.
Yesterday, prominent Sunni Arab clerics and residents of a Baghdad neighbourhood where Tom Fox, Harmeet Sooden, James Loney and Norman Kember had aided people appealed for their release.
Sunni clerics used the opportunity of Friday prayers to urge mercy for the four, and to demand a big Sunni turnout in the upcoming 15 December Iraqi elections, saying that voting was a "religious duty" and would hasten the departure of American troops.
Dr Daud Abdullah from the Muslim Council of Britain, a respected specialist in human rights, told the BBC he was hopeful that appeals for the three hostages to be released would be successful.
"You've heard from Hamas, from Hizbollah, from Islamic Jihad. These are the pre-eminent resistance groups in the regions, and so I am sure that their message will be heard, it will get across," he declared. "What we hope now is that the response will be matched by the passion and by the logic that has been conveyed by these appeals."
Meanwhile, leading cleric Ahmed Hassan Taha told worshippers in the predominantly Sunni Azamiyah district of Baghdad: "We ask those who have authority and power to do their best to release the four European people who work in Christian peace organisation. In fact those activists were the first who condemned the war on Iraq."
Ironically, many leading Christian commentators have been less than overwhelming in their support for the men. Terry Waite, who was taken hostage in Beirut 1987 while acting as an envoy for then Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, called for their release but criticised them for going into a "highly polarised" situation in Iraq.
Mr Waite was also accused of being foolish in his mission to Lebanon. His critical stance has been echoed by Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest in Baghdad.
But Christian Peacemaker Teams and their supporters point out that the group has considerable experience in situations of conflict, works to clear guidelines, and only recruits people who know and accept the danger they will be facing.
Bruce Kent, a former CND general secretary, ex-Catholic priest and long-time friend of Dr Kember, defended the visit in a BBC News 24 interview.
Said Mr Kent: "He went, I am sure, as a convinced Christian to try and show the ordinary people of Iraq that people here wanted bridges of friendship in practical ways and they wanted to be able to tell people here how they were suffering."
He added: "I think it's much to the honour of the Muslim religion that [so many Muslims] have actually rallied in this way to save these innocent people."
Prayers were said on Friday at Finsbury Park mosque in north London for the safe return from Iraq of Dr Kember and his colleagues, as well as for the 295 Iraqi hostages held in the country. The vast majority of people abducted in the country are Iraqi.
Earlier, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, British citizen Moazzam Begg, had called for the hostages' release.
A year ago last month, Rinaldy Damanik, a falsely arrested Christian peacemaker imprisoned in Indonesia walked free 12 months earlier than his original release date after Muslim advocates campaigned for him.
Writing on Ekklesia and Mother Jones magazine, Dr Mark LeVine, Associate Professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture and Islamic studies at the University of California praised the courage and example of CPT.
He said: 'My last images of the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Baghdad was of their holding a vigil in Tahrir Square to protest against the detention and mistreatment of Iraqis by the US military in Abu Ghraib. This was .. months before anyone in the United States had even heard of Abu Ghraib, or bothered to consider how our armed forces were treating detainees in the war on terror.'
'But CPT knew full well what was going on in Abu Ghraib - that's why they were in Iraq, to ëwitness' the realities of the occupation - and they were determined to make sure that the Iraqis saw that there were Americans, and westerners more broadly, who were willing to put their bodies on the line to protest against such abuses. It's too bad that it's taken this tragedy to get the rest of us to listen.'
A candlelit vigil for the detainees will be held from 6-7pm on Monday outside St Martin's-in-the-Field Church in London's Trafalgar Square. The event is being organised by Pax Christi, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and others.
See also: Patricia Gates-Brown (ed.), Getting in the Way: Stories from Christian Peacemaker Teams, Herald Press.
Advent and the Iraq captives, by Sojourners web editor Ryna Beiler.
[Also on Ekklesia: Why are we here? (by CPTer Tom Fox); Embattled Hezbollah backs Iraq 'doves of peace' 09/12/05; UN secretary general calls for release of all Iraqi captives 09/12/05; Former Guantanamo Bay detainees call for release of Christian peacemakers 08/12/05; Christian peacemakers say coalition force causes Iraqi violence; Muslims urge release of Christian peacemakers missing in Iraq; Christian peace activists launch in the UK; Christian peacemakers advised to leave Iraq; Vigils and messages of support for abducted peace activist; Palestinian bishop seeks mercy for Iraq peace workers]