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Former hostage’s account is a journey into the ‘belly of paradox’

By Will Braun

Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War
By James Loney
Knopf (Canada) $32.00

After leaving a meeting at the Umm al-Qura mosque — with its minarets shaped like Scud missiles — James Loney and his three Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) colleagues were stopped by a white sedan on a lonely Baghdad road. Kidnappers with AK-47s rushed out.

In the next months, occasional video clips of the CPTers, released to Al Jazeera, gave the world its only glimpse behind the grainy veil where the hostages lived. Loney’s dramatic book, Captivity, lifts that veil.

Loney, a Catholic from Toronto, came to Iraq on a moral dare dating back to 1984, when theologian Ron Sider challenged the church to establish a non-violent peacekeeping force. Sider asked, “Do we not have as much courage and faith as soldiers,” who regularly die in pursuit of peace? Soon after, CPT was born. In 2005, Loney answered the call, risking his life and ultimately enduring 118 days of hunger, terror and tedium to be a Christian presence in violent Iraq.

But Captivity is not about heroic courage. It is a journey into the “belly of paradox,” to use a Daniel Berrigan phrase from the epigraph, a story of paradox upon contradiction upon irony.

When one captor shares his anguish over the murder of his four small children by American soldiers, a tender exchange results. The enemy, Loney sees, is also a victim. The enemy is even an interfaith envoy: at Christmas, the mujahedeen captor brings the CPTers “cake for happy birthday Jesus.”

Another captor regularly asks Loney for back massages. This brings out the best and worst in Loney, who recounts looking down at his kidnapper’s neck: “It would be so easy. To take my hands and crush his windpipe. I chase these thoughts away . . . breathe deeply and surround [him] with God’s light.” Good and evil exist on both sides.

The ultimate paradox is that the pacifist hostages — with the exception of American Tom Fox, who had earlier been separated from the others and murdered — are rescued by army commandos. Not only was Loney “freed by the very institution he condemned,” but those first sweet moments of freedom were tainted by the agonizing sight of one of his ex-captors cuffed and blindfolded. Rather than true liberation, all that occurred was a rearrangement of roles. That’s Loney’s point — war is a no-win shell game of shifting hatreds, enmities and justifications.

Liberation requires not the courage to fight evil but the courage to enter the belly of paradox, where humility and shared humanity can bring reconciliation.

Will Braun is a writer in Winnipeg.

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