Norman Kember returns home to cheers and also smears

By staff writers
March 25, 2006

Norman Kember returns home to cheers and also smears

-25/03/06

Christian peace activist Dr Norman Kember has at last been re-united with his family and friends today, after a hostage ordeal in Iraq lasting nearly four months. He was freed with Canadians Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden on Thursday 23 March. The full story as to how that came about has yet to emerge.

But as supporters cheered, serious questions remain about the origins of the barrage of hostile publicity the three CPTers have received - based on the mistaken and (by now) often-refuted premise that they showed no gratitude to the soldiers who had freed them.

In fact Christian Peacemaker Teams issued a thank-you statement the same day the men were released. A local security official reported Dr Kember as personally thanking his rescuers. His wife, Pat, issued a thank-you statement too. And those close to both the former captives and CPT also made the truth of the situation clear in the face of mounting allegations ñ including former Catholic priest Bruce Kent, Baptist pastor Allan Bettridge, and Jonathan Bartley of the UK religious think tank Ekklesia.

Now Dr Kember has confirmed his gratitude as his first public act on arrival in Britain. But he has also made plain that he does not believe that violence can offer any long-term solution to an increasingly faction-riven Iraq.

The 74-year-old retired professor of medical ethics arrived at London's Heathrow Airport at 12.25 GMT on a scheduled British Airways flight from Kuwait. He had been flown in a British military transport plane from Baghdad on Friday afternoon.

Looking tired and frail, but speaking with a firm voice, Dr Kember thanked the soldiers who had rescued him and his two Canadian colleagues on Thursday.

"I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my release," he said in a short statement straight after arrival.

One of the key roles of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq has been to help bridge the divide between Sunnis and Shias, to expose prisoner abuses, to work for non-violent solutions to conflict, to stand up for human rights ñ and in effect, say observers, to restore the reputation of Christianity in the face its cooption for aggressive purposes by the US religious right.

CPT was operating as a recognised NGO in Iraq sometime before the US invasion in 2003. They were also exposing abuse against Iraqis four months before the Abu Ghraib scandal emerged.

The group has been public in its willingness to act without military protection, both in pursuit of pacifist principles and also to avoid causing risk or harm to others.

However these points have been largely overlooked in the light of the media-stoked ërowí over the wrongful allegations of ingratitude. A key figure in this appears to be General Sir Mike Jackson, described by The Times as the UKís top army chief.

Questioning the role of CPT in Iraq, General Jackson told Channel 4 News and ITN yesterday that he was ìsaddenedî that Norman Kember appeared not to have thanked the soldiers who freed him. These allegations came the day after Christian Peacemaker Teams had in fact published a public thank-you statement on its website, www.cpt.org.

A media commentator told Ekklesia today that it ìwould have been extraordinaryî if the army had not known this. General Jacksonís unverified accusation was then interpreted by many news sources as a factual statement ñ particularly through outlets known to have a strong relationship to the military and the intelligence services.

It is believed that the armed services are keen to use the freeing of the Christian peace activists as a means of bolstering their reputation following continued public and political concern about the invasion, occupation and ongoing military presence in Iraq.

The successes of non-violent assistance workers in collaborating effectively with communities otherwise divided by ideology, the insurgency and the Western armed presence is also believed to have caused annoyance to military chiefs.

Those close to the situation on the ground say that there is much more to emerge about the circumstances of the freeing of Kember, Loney and Sooden. Questions are already being raised about the true extent to which the military were responsible.

But none of this contention has detracted from the joy and gratitude of the many thousands of people ñ Christian, Muslim, those of many faiths and simply good faith ñ who have worked for the release of Dr Kember and his colleagues.

There remains sadness meanwhile, over the murder of the fourth CPT activist, Tom Fox, and concern for those close to him.

Christian Peacemaker Teams says that the priority now is to evaluate their work in the light of these events, to consider how best to continue their witness, and to re-focus attention on the thousands of Iraqis detained or kidnapped.

This sentiment was echoed by the newly-freed Norman Kember today: ì"There is a real sense in which you are interviewing the wrong person,î he declared to the waiting media. ìIt is the ordinary people of Iraq that you should be talking to - the people who have suffered so much over many years and still await the stable and just society that they deserve.î

[Also on Ekklesia: Think tank questions 'ungrateful peacemakers' media allegations (24/03/06); Press briefing on released Christian Peacemakers (23/03/06); news updates on FaithInSociety; Contending the logic of violence (24/03/06) - Simon Barrow says that true Christian peacemaking cannot afford naivete; Churches urged to consider more radical peacemaking following Iraq hostage release (24/03/06); Questions asked about intelligence that preceded Christian peacemaker's release (24/03/06); Nonviolent release for Christian peacemakers (23/03/06); Press briefing on released Christian Peacemakers (23/03/06); Christians defend Iraq nonviolence tactics against critics (23/03/06); Christians urge love of enemies in face of hostage crisis (23/03/06); Joy as Christian Peacemakers are freed in Iraq (23/03/06). Exploring Christianity and violence - meeting in London on 30 March 2006]

Norman Kember returns home to cheers and also smears

-25/03/06

Christian peace activist Dr Norman Kember has at last been re-united with his family and friends today, after a hostage ordeal in Iraq lasting nearly four months. He was freed with Canadians Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden on Thursday 23 March. The full story as to how that came about has yet to emerge.

But as supporters cheered, serious questions remain about the origins of the barrage of hostile publicity the three CPTers have received - based on the mistaken and (by now) often-refuted premise that they showed no gratitude to the soldiers who had freed them.

In fact Christian Peacemaker Teams issued a thank-you statement the same day the men were released. A local security official reported Dr Kember as personally thanking his rescuers. His wife, Pat, issued a thank-you statement too. And those close to both the former captives and CPT also made the truth of the situation clear in the face of mounting allegations ñ including former Catholic priest Bruce Kent, Baptist pastor Allan Bettridge, and Jonathan Bartley of the UK religious think tank Ekklesia.

Now Dr Kember has confirmed his gratitude as his first public act on arrival in Britain. But he has also made plain that he does not believe that violence can offer any long-term solution to an increasingly faction-riven Iraq.

The 74-year-old retired professor of medical ethics arrived at London's Heathrow Airport at 12.25 GMT on a scheduled British Airways flight from Kuwait. He had been flown in a British military transport plane from Baghdad on Friday afternoon.

Looking tired and frail, but speaking with a firm voice, Dr Kember thanked the soldiers who had rescued him and his two Canadian colleagues on Thursday.

"I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my release," he said in a short statement straight after arrival.

One of the key roles of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq has been to help bridge the divide between Sunnis and Shias, to expose prisoner abuses, to work for non-violent solutions to conflict, to stand up for human rights ñ and in effect, say observers, to restore the reputation of Christianity in the face its cooption for aggressive purposes by the US religious right.

CPT was operating as a recognised NGO in Iraq sometime before the US invasion in 2003. They were also exposing abuse against Iraqis four months before the Abu Ghraib scandal emerged.

The group has been public in its willingness to act without military protection, both in pursuit of pacifist principles and also to avoid causing risk or harm to others.

However these points have been largely overlooked in the light of the media-stoked ërowí over the wrongful allegations of ingratitude. A key figure in this appears to be General Sir Mike Jackson, described by The Times as the UKís top army chief.

Questioning the role of CPT in Iraq, General Jackson told Channel 4 News and ITN yesterday that he was ìsaddenedî that Norman Kember appeared not to have thanked the soldiers who freed him. These allegations came the day after Christian Peacemaker Teams had in fact published a public thank-you statement on its website, www.cpt.org.

A media commentator told Ekklesia today that it ìwould have been extraordinaryî if the army had not known this. General Jacksonís unverified accusation was then interpreted by many news sources as a factual statement ñ particularly through outlets known to have a strong relationship to the military and the intelligence services.

It is believed that the armed services are keen to use the freeing of the Christian peace activists as a means of bolstering their reputation following continued public and political concern about the invasion, occupation and ongoing military presence in Iraq.

The successes of non-violent assistance workers in collaborating effectively with communities otherwise divided by ideology, the insurgency and the Western armed presence is also believed to have caused annoyance to military chiefs.

Those close to the situation on the ground say that there is much more to emerge about the circumstances of the freeing of Kember, Loney and Sooden. Questions are already being raised about the true extent to which the military were responsible.

But none of this contention has detracted from the joy and gratitude of the many thousands of people ñ Christian, Muslim, those of many faiths and simply good faith ñ who have worked for the release of Dr Kember and his colleagues.

There remains sadness meanwhile, over the murder of the fourth CPT activist, Tom Fox, and concern for those close to him.

Christian Peacemaker Teams says that the priority now is to evaluate their work in the light of these events, to consider how best to continue their witness, and to re-focus attention on the thousands of Iraqis detained or kidnapped.

This sentiment was echoed by the newly-freed Norman Kember today: ì"There is a real sense in which you are interviewing the wrong person,î he declared to the waiting media. ìIt is the ordinary people of Iraq that you should be talking to - the people who have suffered so much over many years and still await the stable and just society that they deserve.î

[Also on Ekklesia: Think tank questions 'ungrateful peacemakers' media allegations (24/03/06); Press briefing on released Christian Peacemakers (23/03/06); news updates on FaithInSociety; Contending the logic of violence (24/03/06) - Simon Barrow says that true Christian peacemaking cannot afford naivete; Churches urged to consider more radical peacemaking following Iraq hostage release (24/03/06); Questions asked about intelligence that preceded Christian peacemaker's release (24/03/06); Nonviolent release for Christian peacemakers (23/03/06); Press briefing on released Christian Peacemakers (23/03/06); Christians defend Iraq nonviolence tactics against critics (23/03/06); Christians urge love of enemies in face of hostage crisis (23/03/06); Joy as Christian Peacemakers are freed in Iraq (23/03/06). Exploring Christianity and violence - meeting in London on 30 March 2006]

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