Doing this work ‘makes risks worth taking’

Published February 1, 2006

James Loney, in an undated photograph, advocates for detainees in downtown Baghdad. Bill Baldwin, an Ottawa priest, writes that Mr. Loney and his three colleagues from the Christian Peacemaker Teams who were abducted last November in Iraq knew the dangers facting them there and said no violence should be used to release them.

The news of the four Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) members abducted in Baghdad last November – all of whom, at this writing, are still missing – has brought home to many of us the reality of the world in which we live. For most of us in Canada life seems pretty safe but we have been reminded that for many people in most of the world life is not safe. This reminder is especially strong for me, because I am a member of the CPT reserve corps and Jim Loney, one of the detainees, is a friend.

 I had expected to join the team in Hebron, Palestine in December but CPT told me they wanted me to stay in Ottawa to support the growing network of peace workers here. Jim, who was leading a CPT delegation in Iraq, would move to Hebron when that was finished.

Jim is a passionate advocate for justice for the oppressed whether he is speaking for Iraqi detainees, for First Nations people in Canada, or for homeless people in Toronto. He has been active in the Catholic Worker Movement and has worked for low-rental housing and support for the homeless. More recently he was involved in the campaign against security certificates and secret trials in Canada. He joined CPT in 2000 and is now a CPT Canada program co-ordinator. On previous visits to Iraq he took testimonies from families of people detained by the Americans and reported on abuses. While he has spoken honestly about his fears, others have spoken of his calmness in the face of danger.

Three other dedicated peace workers, Harmeet Sooden, Tom Fox, and Norman Kemper, are being held with Jim. I have not met them, but all of them have expressed the conviction that they are doing something important that makes the risks worth taking. Advocacy for Iraqi detainees can make a difference and can save lives.

My experience has been in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills, where Palestinian children have been attacked on the way to school, Palestinian shepherds have been attacked and rat poison has been put in their fields to kill the sheep. Our school patrols and sheep accompaniment have helped to reduce the level of violence and create space for healing.

Jim, Harmeet, Tom, and Norman were aware of the dangers facing them. They had stated clearly, in accord with CPT policy, that if they were taken prisoner no violence should be used to release them. Similarly, if they should be hurt or killed they have rejected all forms of revenge. Allan Slater, Jim’s close friend who has worked with him in Iraq, has stated on television that he knew that whatever happened, Jim would continue to love and respect his captors.

In 1984, Ron Sider, a Mennonite, speaking to an international Mennonite conference in Strasbourg, France, challenged those who believe in peace to have the same commitment and be willing to take some of the same risks as those who go to war. Mr. Sider’s vision led, a year later, to the birth of CPT, an ecumenical Christian community which goes into places where there is violence and tries to get in the way. In a world where we speak of a war on terror and often seem to believe that our security depends on destroying others, CPT seeks to model a different way of doing things. The CPTers who have been captured in Baghdad continue to do this, even in their captivity.

Rev. Bill Baldwin, a priest living in Ottawa, was introduced to CPT through Non-violent Peace Force and went on a CPT delegation to Palestine and Israel in 2003. He took a CPT training course in 2004 and first went as a reservist to Hebron for the month of January, 2005. He returned to the Hebron team last year from mid-April to the end of June and then once again for the month of August. He hopes to return this year.


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