Iraq peace hostage Loney talks of faith, fear and freedom
Jim Loney, who with Christian Peacemaker Teams colleagues Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh Sooden and the late Tom Fox endured four months captivity in Iraq, has given his first full-length interview since his release on 23 March 2006.
Loney spoke exclusively to Robert Rhodes in the latest issue of Mennonite Weekly Review ñ in an article also published on the website of Ekklesia, the UK Christian news service and think-tank.
In the interview the Canadian activist ñ a founder of the Catholic Worker community in Toronto ñ describes his conflicted feelings about a possible escape attempt, how the four men sustained each other through prayer and memory-based Bible study, and the way they were deceived about the removal and killing of American colleague Tom Fox.
The Christian peace workers were kidnapped in Baghdad on 26 November 2005, outside a remote Sunni mosque. They had been trying to build further links between Shias and Sunnis.
The background of the menís captors, and the details of what led up to their violence-free release by British SAS soldiers, remains sketchy.
But Jim Loney reveals in his Mennonite Weekly Review interview that the four Sunni kidnappers from the Swords of Righteousness group declared themselves to be former members of Saddam Husseinís army.
They were also keen to distance themselves from Al Qaeda, and they were heavily armed, he said.
Some media reports talked about the SAS ëstormingí the building. Loney says that they did indeed burst in and ask for Norman Kember, the British hostage.
But the kidnappers had fled ñ and according to other reports, it was one of their number who led the soldiers to the men. What happened to the informer, and whether or how he had been captured, is still not certain.
It is known that Tom Fox was removed into the hands of another group and subsequently killed. His body was found on a rubbish tip, but he did not appear to have been tortured (contrary to some earlier reports).
Jim Loney says that the kidnappers deceived the three remaining hostages over what had happened to Fox, but they suspected the worst.
According to Norman Kember, speaking earlier this month on BBC Radio 4, Jim Loney tried to persuade one young kidnapper ñ whose family had been killed in Fallujah ñ not to become a suicide bomber.
Loney does not talk about this in the Mennonite Weekly Review interview, but he does describe his struggle over thoughts of escape.
He asked himself: ìCan even a small amount of force be justified? When does the use of physical force become violence?î
Even the thought of using limited physical force affected his relationship to the captors, he explained.
ìI didnít like what it was doing to me,î Loney said. ìI would look at them and be thinking, ëThis is how I could incapacitate them,í and then I would think of Jesusí call to love your enemy and it just seemed really incongruous. These thoughts interfered with my ability to love them, something which was already hard enough to do.î
After the release, the hostages quickly asked about Fox, and before whisking them to an armoured personnel carrier outside, one of the soldiers told them, ìMr Fox was killed.î
Since returning to his hometown in Ontario, Jim Loney has been trying to regain his hold on life.
ìI just feel pulled in different directions,î Loney said, adding that he plans to return to his work in CPTís Toronto office. ìI never understood what freedom was until I was deprived of it. I just ached for the most basic things in Godís creation ó blue skies, breezes.î
As for returning to Iraq, writes Robert Rhodes, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police advised Loney he is a marked man and would probably be murdered if he returned.
Still, the travails of the Iraqi people, and the work of CPT there, remain important to him: ìI love Iraq, and I love the people there,î he said. ìAnd I think the suffering thatís happening there now . . . is something that really affects me deeply.î
The Mennonite Weekly Review is a North American inter-Mennonite newspaper published since 1923.
Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers) with support and membership from a range of Catholic and Protestant denominations. Supporting violence-reduction efforts around the world remains its mandate.
[Also on Ekklesia: Iraq hostage Jim Loney speaks April 28, 2006 - Robert Rhodes of Mennonite Weekly Review with the Christian peacemakerís first full interview; Christian peacemakers can make a difference, Vatican Radio told 21/04/06; Peace workers hold a key to Iraq solution, says think tank 17/04/06; Clarification sought from army chief on false Kember snub allegation 16/04/06; Critics of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq accused of being ill-informed 16/04/06; Army chief spoke without knowledge on alleged Kember ingratitude -28/03/06; What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview 15/04/06; 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]