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Former Iraqi Hostage Calls For Peace

Friday, November 10, 2006

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Written by May Warren

This time last year Christian Peace Maker James Loney was being held hostage in Baghdad by a group of Iraqi captors. This year he is back in Canada helping to spread a unique message about his time in captivity. As part of Peace Week activities, he spoke to a large group of U of G students and community members about his experiences in Iraq and his hope for peace.

He began his speech by telling the crowd about a veteran he had met years before in Toronto. The old man offered Loney a poppy but he declined and afterwards felt frustrated that he had not been able to explain to the man why he couldn’t wear the poppy.“I’d like to try and explain to you why it was that I couldn’t wear the poppy,” he told the crowd. “My standing here today is something of a paradox,” he continued, explaining that the went to Iraq part of a Christian Peacemaker team to speak out against what was happening there and to hear different voices because “we’re not getting the whole story from the media.”

His mission was to speak out against all kinds of violence and encourage peace. However in the end it was British special military forces that freed him from captivity. “As the soldier cut the shackles I was elated to be free but at the same time, profoundly sad that it was the war machine that was able to resolve this crisis,” he recalled.

Loney explained that Christian peacemaker teams mobilized all over the world to use the power of the truth, non-violence and voices in solidarity. “But in the end it wasn’t the hand of solidarity that cut the chains it was the hands of the military,” he said.

Loney described the experience of meeting the men who had been working so hard to free him and the flight crew who flew him out of Baghdad.“I had images in my head about what these people, would be like, but these people contradicted them. They were doing their job because they believed in what they were doing, and risked their lives for it. However I still can’t wear a poppy.”

Loney recreated his time in captivity for the crowd and the conversations he had with his captors, who also believed in what they were doing. All of them had lost family to American bombs and were determined to fight back. He described surreal moments where the Iraqi’s would allow him and the other hostages to sit handcuffed and watch movies with them. “Movie night with the captors” included titles like Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Troy, and ConAir. “All of these movies had the same sorts of plot. The evildoers take a helpless victim and the hero is forced reluctantly into fighting them,” explained Loney. During the movie the “bad guy” real life captors would cheer for the movie version “good guy “ heroes. “It got very confusing when trying to sort out who all of these good guys and bad guys were in my head,” said Loney, “but it’s a common concept, and its tied up with idea of just war. We can have a war as long as we’re the good guys, but did we ever have a war where we weren’t the good guys?”

Loney described the moment he first stepped out of the house where he had been held captive for 118 days. “After being in a tiny tomb for so long, I saw sky and a palm tree,” he remembered. However, when the soldiers led him into a tank and the hatch was closed it felt like he had traded one tomb for another. “I didn’t feel like I was safe from the world of the gun until I stepped out of the RCMP car and into my own house in Canada,” he recalled.

Loney said he recognizes that if there hadn’t been a military rescue he probably would have been killed, but at the same time he feels the entire experience merely reinforced his beliefs about pacifism and non-violence. “It struck me that the tomb is violence itself, we were taken by men with guns and then rescued by men with bigger guns, it’s a spiral of even bigger and bigger guns.”

Loney went on to describe what he calls the dehumanizing aspect of war and the logic of violence that continually results in rape, murder and civilian causalities by soldiers who are trained to kill. He ended his speech by calling for peace and returning to the theme of the poppy: “The poppy is saying, watch out for next time. It is a way to make sense of the horrors war while preserving the institution of war. It doesn’t question it.”

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