Iraqi, Muslim and Palestinian support for peace hostages grows
Although anxiety and uncertainty about the prospects of four peace campaigners taken hostage in Iraq last week remains high, hopes for their release were given a big boost last night (3 December 2005) when five prominent Sunni Muslim groups condemned the kidnapping.
The development followed the arrival in Baghdad yesterday of Anas Altikriti, a senior sponsor of the British anti-war movement and a member of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). His focus is on UK Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteer Norman Kember.
Mr Altikriti testified to Sunni groups that he knew and admired Dr Kember, aged 74, personally. 'He is a friend of Iraq and a staunch opponent of war', he told journalists.
Among the groups calling on the Sword of Truth insurgents to release the Briton, American and two Canadians was the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's biggest Sunni organisation.
The IIP said that kidnappings tarnished the image of Islam and had a negative effect on those demanding the termination of the US's military presence.
On Friday the kidnappers released a video, shown on Arabic news station Al-Jazeera, in which they threatened to kill the retired professor and his fellow hostages by Thursday unless all prisoners in US and Iraqi detention centres were released.
Mr Altikriti is also due to be interviewed on al-Jazeera, which has been criticized for broadcasting the two kidnap videos of the captives.
But the independent news service, which President Bush allegedly told British PM Tony Blair he wanted to destroy, has also published Islamic support for the CPT hostages, and has publicised a worldwide petition for their release.
Feeling in support of the peace workers throughout the Arab world is high, say observers. The latest Mennonite Weekly Review quotes extensively from a statement released by Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Liberation Front, and other prominent Palestinian organisations.
The Palestinian groups cite CPT's help over the past decade in 'protect[ing] Palestinian people and their homes from physical attacks, forced evictions, and other violence.'
The statement acknowledges that the kidnappers are 'brothers in the resistance' who are 'in the same trench confronting American aggression and occupation.' Still, they call for Sword of Truth to release the CPTers 'in appreciation for their role in standing beside and supporting our Palestinian people and all the Arab and Islamic peoples'.
Mr Altikriti has also arranged to meet the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, which has been instrumental in securing hostage releases in the past. The AMS has said that the release of the four workers from Christian Peacemaker Teams would recognize their 'good efforts in helping those in need.'
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the top Palestinian Muslim cleric, Mufti Ikrema Sabri, also called on Friday for their freedom.
A commentator in situ told Ekklesia that contacts with militants are appealing for mercy on religious grounds and release on humanitarian grounds.
The National Council of Churches USA has joined the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical and denominational groups in calling for the peace workers to be freed. They have also criticised the occupation and called for moves to withdraw US and allied troops.
Mostly, Christian groups have decided to take a back-seat in the quest for release, recognising that Muslim voices (including, in Britain, the Muslim Council of Britain as well as MAB) are those that most need to be heard.
CPT is, however, encouraging groups to organize public candlelight prayer vigils throughout the coming week highlighting the messages 'Love your Enemies', 'End the Occupation' and 'Release the Peacemakers.'
Christian Peacemaker Teams, a global pro-active violence reduction initiative, is supported by the Mennonite Church USA and the Mennonite Church Canada. It has a UK network which is a partner of Ekklesia, the religious think tank.
CPT works ecumenically with Protestants and Catholics, but also resources volunteers of other faith and no faith. It has specifically helped equip Muslim peacemakers. Sami Rasuli, is a member of the Muslim Peacemaker Team which was founded in Iraq in conjunction with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. He was recently interviewed here from Najaf.
The non-missionary CPT has been operating in Iraq since 2002, and has had a presence in Gaza and the West Bank for the past decade. It has previously worked in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia.
CPT has been criticised by Canon Andrew White of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, and others, for allegedly acting 'irresponsibly' in continuing to operate in Iraq.
But the group counters that it has a clear policy statement on risk, and that those who volunteers are aware of what is involved, are supported, and continue to act out of faith and peaceful commitment in the face of violence.
German archaeologist Susanne Ostoff was also seized with her Iraqi driver last Friday. She has been working for an aid organization distributing medical supplies in Iraq since before the 2003 US invasion. Sunni scholars say releasing her would recognize Germany's 'positive' stance on Iraq.
New German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a stance against negotiating with kidnappers, but her diplomats are working hard behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, in separate developments on Saturday 3 December, violence broke out north of Baghdad when insurgents ambushed an Iraqi army patrol, killing 19 soldiers.
[Also on Ekklesia: 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]