What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview

By staff writers
April 15, 2006

What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview

-15/04/06

Norman Kember, the Christian peacemaker released last month after 117 days in captivity in Iraq, was interviewed at length this morning on BBC Radio 4 (15 April 2006). Ekklesia has collected some of his verbatim comments from the transcript.

Kember spoke of his Christian non-violence and his motives for going to Baghdad, the emotional impact of his ordeal, the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, the visit to a Baghdad mosque to talk with Sunni leaders, the kidnapping itself, the hostage takers, the captivity, and the boundary between armed force and non-violent conflict resolution.

One notable remark concerns fellow-captive Jim Loneyís concerted attempt to stop a young captor (whose family had been killed in Fallujah) becoming a suicide bomber. However, media reports have so far overlooked this in favour of the question about whether Dr Kember thought of taking his own life ñ which he considered might help the two Canadians.

He also speaks of the death of Tom Fox, inaccurate charges of ingratitude towards his rescuers, worldwide support, hate mail, and his honest response to charges of naivetÈ.

Here are the excerpts from the transcript of the interview:

ìI have been a peace activist since 1950/52 when I was a conscientious objector. To me Jesusí teaching is essentially pacifist. I mean I know there are one or two quotes which people use [against this], but I think that essentially the Christian gospel is one of non-violence and pacifism and that is absolutely, to me, an essential part of Christianity.î Ö

ìI have always felt that soldiers put themselves personally at risk whereas peace people donít, on the whole. So when I heard about the work of the Christian Peacemaker Teams who do take risks that it was a challenge I couldnít avoid.î

ìI think I wasnít fully aware of the risk of kidnap - I think I knew the other risks, but then there had been nine groups of people who had gone out with Christian Peacemaker Teams and theyíd come back successfully, so I thought it wasnít an enormous risk.î Ö

ì[M]y aim was to meet ordinary Iraqi people. I mean you have got to differentiate between the permanent members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, some of whom live there for a year and so on, and get to know Iraqis very well, and the delegationsÖ 10 days, I think, we were scheduled to be in Baghdad. It turned out to be rather longer.î Ö

ì[W]e went everywhere by car on the whole, took due care that we didnít advertise ourselves too much as Westerners.î Ö

ì[I]t was decided that if we had seen a Shia cleric, we should go off and see a Sunni cleric, so we drove off. And I think a mistake was made here because this is a beautiful mosque but it's absolutely isolated.î Ö

After the kidnapping outside the mosque: ì[T]hey [the captors] were a bit disconcerted because we showed them what we called.. ëthe magic sheetí, Ö which explains in English and in Arabic what the Christian Peacemaker Teamsí aim is and why they are there, um, and amongst other things that Christian Peacemaker Teams never pay ransoms or anything like that .. and that we were Christians and that we were there to meet Iraqis and try to work for reconciliation.î

On the emotional response to the experience: ìWhen I got back home .. everything here was as it was before. And you fit into normal life, you know. You go into church and you do the various things that you did before. I think that the way I coped really, was almost by shutting my mind down for three months; not altogether, but I spent a lot of the time with my mind shut down.î

ì[T]hey told us endless lies. One of the lies they told us was that the Canadians would be released, and then we would be released after them - as a gesture of goodwill, that Islam was not a religion of violence, and so onÖî Ö

On captivity: ìWe were sat as a row, either four of us or three of us, handcuffed together, and thatís where we sat for about 12 hours a day. And we faced a window which was generally closed, windows with curtains over them, so it was only dim light in the room, except in the morningÖîÖ

Asked about whether he ever thought of suicide: ìI did a bit, yes. Because I thought it might help the Canadians. If they got rid of the Brit then the Canadians might find it a bit easier.î Ö

Fergal Keane: ìWe have spoken about the effect on your wife and your family, do you feel in retrospect guilty about what you put them through?î
Kember: ìOh yes, I do .. oh yes doubt at all. If I had a choice I wouldnít do it for that reason.î Ö

ìTowards the end of the captivity, they would have the three of us downstairs. First of all they showed us a lot of videos they were very proud of, of themselves blowing up American vehicles, American tanks or killing Americans, they had a lot of these videos that they had madeÖ [W]e just said you know we just said that that is sad, killing anybody is wrong, in our rather faltering Arabic.î

ìThen they produced this two disc video of the life of Jesus. It was made by a Christian group in Iraq and it was actually I think rather well made.î ..

Kember: ìI remember Jim spending quite some time trying to convince Junior that he shouldnít become a suicide bomber.î
Interviewer: ìJunior was the boy whose family had been killed in Fallujah?î
Kember: ìYes.î

ì[Tom] had his [ex] American army card on him and thatís why they initially I think thought we were all spies sent to discover their secrets.î Ö

On Foxís death: ìThey claimed that he hadnít been killed but that they had announced that he had been killed. But we didnít believe that. We thought that, yes, he was probably dead, and we were sorry for his relatives.î

On one of his kidnappers eventually leading the SAS soldiers to the place where the three men were being held: ì[H]e brought them along to this house where we were, but he must have warned the [others] Ö itís a very strange story. I mean I havenít enquired too much into what actually happened because I think it might endanger other peopleís release.î Ö

Kember on the captor: ìIt all happened rather fastÖ I sort of felt we should have said, ëWeíll remember you in our prayersí.î Ö

Interviewer: ìWhat did you say to the SAS men at that point after theyíd rescued you?î
Kember: ìWell, we thanked them Ö I continue to thank them for what they did. They were brave. I disagree with their profession. But itís ironic isnít it? You go as a peace activist and then youíre rescued by the SAS, which is perhaps the most violent of all the British forces.î

ìIím interested that the relationship between pacifists and the army has changed. I mean you know that the army send people to Bradford Peace Studies Department to do work on conflict resolution. So I mean the lines are not as clear cut as they used to be. But anyway Iím grateful to them. I met one of them by chance on the way out of Baghdad and he was quite happy to chat to me and I was happy to chat to him.î Ö

ì[W]ho else was going to Iraq apart from the Christian Peacemaker Teams as Western civilians to talk to Iraqi civilians, to try and show that we werenít all anti-Iraqi and to show that we wanted to form friendships and to understand their point of view? I mean they suffered for so many years, the ordinary Iraqi and they are such lovely people you know and they donít deserve it.î Ö

On the virulent criticism: ìPeople are entitled to their own views, and my wife has a stack of what I would call hate mail almostÖ [T]hey say ìand you didnít thank our brave boysî. And that is not true, so that annoyed me...î Ö

On his feelings towards his captors: ìI donít wish them any harm. I wouldnít like to feel that theyíd been executed, or anything like that. They had humanity; they showed us humanity from time-to-time. They were misguided, because they were obviously men of violence.î Ö

Aftermath: ì[B]ecause I am in denial, it hasnít been that difficult. Iím sure people would say, itís psychologically a mistake. The CPT offered to fly me out to ChicagoÖ. in May to meet with the others and to have trauma counselling and I said ìnoî. I donít want trauma counselling, Iím quite sure of thatÖ I think that would be a trauma to go out to ChicagoÖî Ö

In conclusion: ìI think that [going to Iraq] was a risk worth taking, but I think the risk of going to that mosque was too great.î

Asked what he had learnt about himself during this time: ìMmmnn, ask me in a yearís time.î

The BBC interview with Norman Kember will be available for a week on their internet webcast 'listen again' service.

[Also on Ekklesia: Entombed Iraq captive Jim Loney talks of Easter Hope 15/04/06; Kember notes irony of non-violent release by soldiers 15/04/06; Kember still evaluating Christian peacemaker's role in Iraq 15/04/06; Christian peacemaker Norman Kember to give first major interview tomorrow 14/04/06; CPT in Iraq: What now? 04/04/06 - Peggy Gish reflects on the future of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. Briefing on media accusations against Christian Peacemaker Teams - detailed background; Contending the logic of violence - Ekklesia's Simon Barrow says that true Christian peacemaking cannot afford naivete]

What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview

-15/04/06

Norman Kember, the Christian peacemaker released last month after 117 days in captivity in Iraq, was interviewed at length this morning on BBC Radio 4 (15 April 2006). Ekklesia has collected some of his verbatim comments from the transcript.

Kember spoke of his Christian non-violence and his motives for going to Baghdad, the emotional impact of his ordeal, the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, the visit to a Baghdad mosque to talk with Sunni leaders, the kidnapping itself, the hostage takers, the captivity, and the boundary between armed force and non-violent conflict resolution.

One notable remark concerns fellow-captive Jim Loneyís concerted attempt to stop a young captor (whose family had been killed in Fallujah) becoming a suicide bomber. However, media reports have so far overlooked this in favour of the question about whether Dr Kember thought of taking his own life ñ which he considered might help the two Canadians.

He also speaks of the death of Tom Fox, inaccurate charges of ingratitude towards his rescuers, worldwide support, hate mail, and his honest response to charges of naivetÈ.

Here are the excerpts from the transcript of the interview:

ìI have been a peace activist since 1950/52 when I was a conscientious objector. To me Jesusí teaching is essentially pacifist. I mean I know there are one or two quotes which people use [against this], but I think that essentially the Christian gospel is one of non-violence and pacifism and that is absolutely, to me, an essential part of Christianity.î Ö

ìI have always felt that soldiers put themselves personally at risk whereas peace people donít, on the whole. So when I heard about the work of the Christian Peacemaker Teams who do take risks that it was a challenge I couldnít avoid.î

ìI think I wasnít fully aware of the risk of kidnap - I think I knew the other risks, but then there had been nine groups of people who had gone out with Christian Peacemaker Teams and theyíd come back successfully, so I thought it wasnít an enormous risk.î Ö

ì[M]y aim was to meet ordinary Iraqi people. I mean you have got to differentiate between the permanent members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, some of whom live there for a year and so on, and get to know Iraqis very well, and the delegationsÖ 10 days, I think, we were scheduled to be in Baghdad. It turned out to be rather longer.î Ö

ì[W]e went everywhere by car on the whole, took due care that we didnít advertise ourselves too much as Westerners.î Ö

ì[I]t was decided that if we had seen a Shia cleric, we should go off and see a Sunni cleric, so we drove off. And I think a mistake was made here because this is a beautiful mosque but it's absolutely isolated.î Ö

After the kidnapping outside the mosque: ì[T]hey [the captors] were a bit disconcerted because we showed them what we called.. ëthe magic sheetí, Ö which explains in English and in Arabic what the Christian Peacemaker Teamsí aim is and why they are there, um, and amongst other things that Christian Peacemaker Teams never pay ransoms or anything like that .. and that we were Christians and that we were there to meet Iraqis and try to work for reconciliation.î

On the emotional response to the experience: ìWhen I got back home .. everything here was as it was before. And you fit into normal life, you know. You go into church and you do the various things that you did before. I think that the way I coped really, was almost by shutting my mind down for three months; not altogether, but I spent a lot of the time with my mind shut down.î

ì[T]hey told us endless lies. One of the lies they told us was that the Canadians would be released, and then we would be released after them - as a gesture of goodwill, that Islam was not a religion of violence, and so onÖî Ö

On captivity: ìWe were sat as a row, either four of us or three of us, handcuffed together, and thatís where we sat for about 12 hours a day. And we faced a window which was generally closed, windows with curtains over them, so it was only dim light in the room, except in the morningÖîÖ

Asked about whether he ever thought of suicide: ìI did a bit, yes. Because I thought it might help the Canadians. If they got rid of the Brit then the Canadians might find it a bit easier.î Ö

Fergal Keane: ìWe have spoken about the effect on your wife and your family, do you feel in retrospect guilty about what you put them through?î
Kember: ìOh yes, I do .. oh yes doubt at all. If I had a choice I wouldnít do it for that reason.î Ö

ìTowards the end of the captivity, they would have the three of us downstairs. First of all they showed us a lot of videos they were very proud of, of themselves blowing up American vehicles, American tanks or killing Americans, they had a lot of these videos that they had madeÖ [W]e just said you know we just said that that is sad, killing anybody is wrong, in our rather faltering Arabic.î

ìThen they produced this two disc video of the life of Jesus. It was made by a Christian group in Iraq and it was actually I think rather well made.î ..

Kember: ìI remember Jim spending quite some time trying to convince Junior that he shouldnít become a suicide bomber.î
Interviewer: ìJunior was the boy whose family had been killed in Fallujah?î
Kember: ìYes.î

ì[Tom] had his [ex] American army card on him and thatís why they initially I think thought we were all spies sent to discover their secrets.î Ö

On Foxís death: ìThey claimed that he hadnít been killed but that they had announced that he had been killed. But we didnít believe that. We thought that, yes, he was probably dead, and we were sorry for his relatives.î

On one of his kidnappers eventually leading the SAS soldiers to the place where the three men were being held: ì[H]e brought them along to this house where we were, but he must have warned the [others] Ö itís a very strange story. I mean I havenít enquired too much into what actually happened because I think it might endanger other peopleís release.î Ö

Kember on the captor: ìIt all happened rather fastÖ I sort of felt we should have said, ëWeíll remember you in our prayersí.î Ö

Interviewer: ìWhat did you say to the SAS men at that point after theyíd rescued you?î
Kember: ìWell, we thanked them Ö I continue to thank them for what they did. They were brave. I disagree with their profession. But itís ironic isnít it? You go as a peace activist and then youíre rescued by the SAS, which is perhaps the most violent of all the British forces.î

ìIím interested that the relationship between pacifists and the army has changed. I mean you know that the army send people to Bradford Peace Studies Department to do work on conflict resolution. So I mean the lines are not as clear cut as they used to be. But anyway Iím grateful to them. I met one of them by chance on the way out of Baghdad and he was quite happy to chat to me and I was happy to chat to him.î Ö

ì[W]ho else was going to Iraq apart from the Christian Peacemaker Teams as Western civilians to talk to Iraqi civilians, to try and show that we werenít all anti-Iraqi and to show that we wanted to form friendships and to understand their point of view? I mean they suffered for so many years, the ordinary Iraqi and they are such lovely people you know and they donít deserve it.î Ö

On the virulent criticism: ìPeople are entitled to their own views, and my wife has a stack of what I would call hate mail almostÖ [T]hey say ìand you didnít thank our brave boysî. And that is not true, so that annoyed me...î Ö

On his feelings towards his captors: ìI donít wish them any harm. I wouldnít like to feel that theyíd been executed, or anything like that. They had humanity; they showed us humanity from time-to-time. They were misguided, because they were obviously men of violence.î Ö

Aftermath: ì[B]ecause I am in denial, it hasnít been that difficult. Iím sure people would say, itís psychologically a mistake. The CPT offered to fly me out to ChicagoÖ. in May to meet with the others and to have trauma counselling and I said ìnoî. I donít want trauma counselling, Iím quite sure of thatÖ I think that would be a trauma to go out to ChicagoÖî Ö

In conclusion: ìI think that [going to Iraq] was a risk worth taking, but I think the risk of going to that mosque was too great.î

Asked what he had learnt about himself during this time: ìMmmnn, ask me in a yearís time.î

The BBC interview with Norman Kember will be available for a week on their internet webcast 'listen again' service.

[Also on Ekklesia: Entombed Iraq captive Jim Loney talks of Easter Hope 15/04/06; Kember notes irony of non-violent release by soldiers 15/04/06; Kember still evaluating Christian peacemaker's role in Iraq 15/04/06; Christian peacemaker Norman Kember to give first major interview tomorrow 14/04/06; CPT in Iraq: What now? 04/04/06 - Peggy Gish reflects on the future of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. Briefing on media accusations against Christian Peacemaker Teams - detailed background; Contending the logic of violence - Ekklesia's Simon Barrow says that true Christian peacemaking cannot afford naivete]

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