Norman Kember, who was held in captivity in Iraq for four months with three other members of Christian Peacemaker teams in 2005-6, says he has no regrets in going into a dangerous situation – except for the pain he caused his wife and others.
Dr Kember, a former biophysics professor, aged 75, will later this month publish his own account of being held in Baghdad - Hostage in Iraq, published by Darton, Longman and Todd on 23 March is available for pre-order through Ekklesia.
In an interview today in The Guardian newspaper with Aida Edemariam, Norman and Pat Kember say that Christians and others have to be prepared to take risks n confronting the cycles of violence in the world – even if this is sometimes deemed foolish.
"[M]y biggest regret is the distress it caused Pat”, says the former hostage. “I [don't regret] what I did, because … I think that Christianity is .. countercultural. The idea that Jesus gave up power, and that God is powerless, is so countercultural in civilisations that revere power. What's Tony Blair about, but power? That's against the principle of Christianity."
Dr Kember was in Iraq on a short term delegation with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) – which also has long term volunteers and reservists working in the midst of a number of conflict situations across the world.
CPT, backed by the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Quakers, Church of the Brethren) aims to “get in the way” of violence, to develop practical peacemaking techniques, to build civil society organisations and to document human rights abuses.
Canadian Jim Loney, a Catholic, and New Zealand resident Harmeet Singh Sooden, who is from a Sikh family, were held along with Dr Kember. Tragically, Quaker Tom Fox was killed by people allied to his captors days before the release on 23 March.
The circumstances surrounding the way the three activists were freed is still surrounded by uncertainty. The tabloid media played up the angle that peacemakers were rescued by SAS troops, and alleged that they were ungrateful. In fact no violence was used in setting the men free, and they constantly expressed their gratitude and respect for the men involved.
People alleged to have been the captors, a group calling itself Swords of Truth [or Righteousness], have subsequently been detained. The three ex-captives say that they will not be witnesses in a trial based on retributive rather than restorative justice, and that they oppose the death penalty outright.
They have not, however, refused to be involved in the justice process at all, as a number of newspapers have reported.
In an article published on Ekklesia in December 2006, Norman Kember wrote: “I see in Jesus’ teaching and example a revolutionary approach to the manner of dealing with conflict and wrong-doing. I believe with Gandhi that Jesus’ way is that of non-violent resistance to evil. Many others have followed in that way, for example Martin Luther King and the little known Muslim Badshah Khan (1890-1988).”
He added: “I have always been an admirer of the German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed in 1945 for his opposition to the Nazi regime. He wrote: ‘There is no way to peace along the path of safety, for peace must be dared, it is in itself a great venture, and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving yourself completely to God’s commandment’.”
Reflecting on her meeting with Pat and Norman Kember, Aida Edemariam writes today: “He may readily admit to doubt, but what is striking about them both is the bedrock of certainty on which they have built their lives: in each other, in their Baptist faith, and for him in particular, a need to prove that his wasn't, in … Dietrich Bonhoeffer's phrase, ‘cheap grace’ - accepting the solace of Christianity without being prepared for costly obedience’. For years, from the comfort of his professorship .. at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, and then from retirement, Kember argued that Christianity should support non-violent conflict resolution. Eventually becoming ashamed of that comfort, he felt he should take a risk for his belief.”