Captivity: 118 days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War
“It is a paradox. Some men with guns came and took me. Then you came with your guns and took them. You have given me back my freedom. I am unspeakably grateful, but the gun is still in charge and nothing has really changed.” James Loney’s internal response to a rescuing soldier encapsulates the tensions within his story of captivity.
Loney was in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams on an active-peacemaking mission. CPT – a 25-year-old organization originating with Mennonites motivated to apply the kind of training and sacrifice to building peace as armies to do waging war – was there in an attempt to take a proactive stance in the middle of the ongoing war in Iraq (invasion or liberation, depending on one’s viewpoint). He, along with three of his co-workers, Tom Fox, Harmeet Singh Sooden, and Norman Kember, was taken captive Nov. 26, 2005. Thus began almost four months of captivity at the hands of men who are portrayed alternatively as the enemy and as victims themselves.
The story is one of survival, friendship, conviction, and, indeed, paradox. A key thread throughout the recount is Loney’s struggle to assert his own humanity in the eyes of his captors and to hold on to an awareness of theirs. He reflects honestly on moments of hatred and rage toward his captors, moments of sadness and grief over their situation, and, surprising moments of laughter and relationship where the divide between them seemed to briefly dissolve.
Loney’s insistence on seeing the worth in his captors is perhaps most challenging to the reader. He does not simplify his story into the “bad guys” (the captors) and the “good guys” (the captives), as he could easily have done. He neither relativizes the actions of his captors nor devolves into the simplistic “us and them” rhetoric that proponents of the (and perhaps every) war continue to impress upon us. Instead, the struggle is against war, against the declared necessity of it in our world, and the cyclical nature that violence perpetuates.
The paradox of the story is the intersection of Loney’s admittedly strong desire to be free, to be rescued from his captors, with his core conviction of nonviolent peacemaking. He is rescued by a British-led military effort and through the tireless work of Canadian and British diplomats. Loney seems hesitantly thankful for their efforts. He is clearly grateful the military gave him back his freedom, but seems disappointed that it took a military effort to rescue him. Perhaps his disappointment arises from the fact that his freedom could not be achieved through the nonviolent methods he went to Iraq to legitimize.
Nonresistance is a defining marker of the Mennonite Brethren. It is so important that an article of our Confession of Faith is dedicated to it (Article 13: Love and Nonresistance). What does it mean to be for peace? For many, myself included, it has often simply resulted in being opposed to war; but is this enough?
Loney’s account puts in real terms the extreme cost of actively seeking peace. Some may think his methods, and those of CPT, are ineffective or too dangerous. They may be seen as ungrateful for the sacrifice of the military in previous and current conflicts and indeed in their own rescue. What his story represents, at the very least, is a challenge to evaluate what it means to be not merely “against war,” but “for peace,” and whether these two constitute different actions.
If there is a criticism of Loney’s book, it’s the danger of allowing dedication to peace to usurp the primacy of Christ’s call to follow him. There are significant problems if we make peace the ultimate ideal and seek it at the cost of relativizing the differences that do exist between the gospel and other religions. The work of attempting to grow understanding between people of other beliefs is important and worthwhile, but not at the cost of declaring all to be equal.
Loney’s story forced me to return to the hope we must hold on to as believers. This hope, though at times seemingly impossible, must be steadfastly embraced, that one day the Lord’s righteous rule will be made complete and the words of Isaiah will come to fruition. “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).