Sunday, November 23, 2008

118 Days an 'informative, interesting pre-cursor' - REVIEW

The Sault Star - Ontario, CA

Nov 22, 2008


Putting Pain to Print - Complete story of Christian Peacemaker hostage ordeal yet unwritten, but 118 Days an 'informative, interesting pre-cursor' - REVIEW




Some events have the power to reverberate around the globe. The anniversary of one such occurrence will highlight, once more, the flurry of voices wondering what went wrong -- or right -- and what does it all mean now?


On Nov. 26, 2005, in Baghdad, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade kidnapped four members of a Christian Peacemaker Team: Tom Fox, Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden and James Loney. By March 9, Fox's body lay on a street in western Baghdad. Then on March 23, 2006, NATO soldiers freed the remaining three peacemakers, releasing them from a total of

118 days of captivity.


The book,118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams Held Hostage In Iraq,is an anthology that delves into the experiences of many people connected, in a personal way, with the captives. Tricia Gates Brown, the editor, has compiled 23 accounts from a wide variety of authors.

From James Loney himself to Greg Rollins, full-time CPT volunteer, to Alayna Munce, writer and friend, the assemblage of contributors presents a varied view of how the troubling times affected their lives and outlooks.


The reader could be tempted to get caught up in the religious rhetoric, the political statements or the arguments over social conditions. But that would risk diminishing the impact of the book.

The intense personal revelations explain the lasting effect the hostage-taking had over the mind, body and soul of some individuals.


The contributors give much more than a simple rendering of details.

The accounts are intense, stalwart and borderless.


Donna Mulhearn served in Iraq as a humanitarian aid worker to set up a shelter for street kids in Baghdad. She was a friend to Sooden. In her story,When Harmeet is Free,she wrote, "Though Harmeet was in captivity in Baghdad, I sent him e-mails every few days from my home in a quiet monastery in the Australian countryside. He was suffering the cold of an Iraqi winter; I was suffering the heat of an Australian summer. We were thousands of miles apart but I never felt more connected."


The desire to remain attached to the captives is also evident in Alayna Munce's piece,Where It's Easier For People To Be Good.


She describes a room in Zacchaeus House, a part of the Toronto Catholic Worker Community: "If you were to observe this room over a period of days -- days that bled into weeks that hemorrhaged into months -- you'd see the arrangement of tea lights and photos shift and change. Watch. The little candles burn to nothing and are replaced.


Pools of wax accumulate, are scraped up and accumulate again. At one point a clay dove in a tray of sand appears. At another point, a photo of the Sacred Heart etched into a stone wall of a prison camp is added to the improvised altar. Sometimes the tea lights are lit, sometimes not."


The anthology sometimes takes the reader far away and yet the comparisons between worlds prove how similar conditions can be.


Sandra Rincon, a Columbian who trained as a psychologist at the National University of Columbia, wrote, "We needed to imagine our friends' (James Loney and Tom Fox) wellbeing because it was too difficult and frightening otherwise. So we imagined that Tom died at peace. . . .


We imagined these things in order to believe that everything would turn out well for the 14,000 detainees in Iraq. We imagined these things for the 3,200 kidnapped people, and the 30,000 forcibly disappeared, in my country, Columbia."


Real-life, intimate details of everyday life in Iraq are the point of Michale Naar-Obed's description of a trip to the morgue to see if it held the bodies of any of the captors.


Naar-Obed lives in Duluth, Minn., and is a member of the Loaves and Fishes Catholic Worker community, providing temporary housing to homeless families and individuals.


She wrote, "After entering an alley, we saw the rear doors to the morgue. Water mixed with body fluids streamed into gutters along the side of the alley. To the left of the morgue entrance we saw dozens of men and one woman pressed against a Plexiglas window. Most had their mouths and noses covered with handkerchiefs to dampen the stench of death."


The stress of being in Baghdad was exaggerated by the constant sense of loss. InThe Response from Baghdad,Greg Rollins, CPT volunteer from 2001 to 2006 wrote: "The three of us had been in Baghdad since the kidnapping began -- Maxine had actually been in Iraq since August, while Anita and I had only been in the country since the end of October.


"None of us wanted to leave. In a war zone a bond develops with those you live and work with. The idea of leaving, while kidnappers still had our friends, felt like a breaking of that bond."


There is another voice in the book from another kind of prison. Larry "Watani" Stiner is serving a life sentence in San Quentin State Prison for conspiracy to murder in the 1969 shooting death of two Black Panthers on the UCLA campus. In a discussion with other inmates, Stiner muses about the meaning of courage and the hostage situation in Iraq.


"Tom Fox, Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember must have loved peace more than they hated war. Why else would they nonviolently put their lives in harm's way? I was beginning to realize that a sense of unconditional love was the main ingredient in all acts of courage."


The reader encounters more soul searching in the words of Dan Hunt, partner of Jim Loney. Hunt knew he had to be silent about his relationship to protect Loney's wellbeing. But the toll of remaining invisible challenged his own stability.


"Mental-health warnings appeared. I parked in a parking garage and couldn't find my way out of it. When I had finished my errand, I couldn't find the car again. It was the only time in the crisis that my coping ability began to erode."


It is not until Chapter 22 that we hear of Loney's own experience of coping with the horror of the hostage taking. He describes how they kept their sanity. "And perhaps most important of all, through our prayer together we could reach outside the paint-peeling walls or our second-story dungeon. . . . It was a way for us to counteract the creeping self-absorption that inevitably accompanies captivity."


And Loney's chapter goes far beyond himself. It is a tribute to Tom Fox. The chapters move from person-to-person, locale-to- locale. So, one of the easiest ways to read this book is with an inquisitive mind and a curious desire to learn how other individuals handle traumatic, life-threatening situations. Even the faces of the children in the photograph on the cover give a key to the understanding.


The complete story of the hostage taking has yet to be written, but118 Daysis an informative, interesting pre-cursor.


118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams Held Hostage in Iraq is available from the CPT web-site, cpt.orgor from


Algoma correspondent Ruth Fletcher occasionally reviews books available at the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library.


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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