British pacifist in hostage crisis

IssueDecember 2005 - January 2006
Feature by Albert Beale

Candle-lit vigils for the four peace activists abducted in Iraq were held around the country on the evening of Friday 2 December - including ones in Oxford, Bradford, Evesham, Derby and on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London.

The four - including Briton Norman Kember - are all genuinely long-time peace campaigners, who were in Iraq in connection with the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, an international religious peace network active in anti-war, human rights and reconciliation work in several countries. However, the group holding the four, and threatening to kill them, says it believes them to be spies for western governments. Groups in other areas supported by CPT teams, such as Palestine, have - since the abductions - publicly confirmed the bona fides of the CPT and called for the release of the four.

A life-long pacifist

Norman Kember, 74, is a life-long pacifist who lives in Pinner, Middlesex. A retired professor and former teacher of medical students, he worked in a hospital in lieu of joining the forces when he was subject to the military conscription which still existed for some years after the second world war. In his retirement, he was for many years secretary of the Baptist Peace Fellowship.

In line with its antimilitarist beliefs, CPT "does not advocate the use of violent force to save the lives of its workers should they be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a conflict situation".   

Representatives of British religious groups, meeting as PN was going to press, plan further vigils around the country - including at 6-7pm on Monday 12 December. Whilst aware that governmental channels are also involved in attampts to free the four, they want to encourage grassroots actions in tune with the principles of those involved.   

The websites of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Pax Christi are the best places for the latest news (see below) - they also include details of the international CPT petition for the release of the four and calls for action specifically addressed to faith groups.