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Monday, April 03, 2006

CPT: Thanks for Deliverance

It seems safe to say that I was not alone in remarking on Christian Peacemaker Teams’ lack of gratitude to the soldiers who released their three comrades from captivity in Iraq. Within hours a rider had been added to their statement.

‘We have been so overwhelmed and overjoyed to have Jim, Harmeet and Norman freed, that we have not adequately thanked the people involved with freeing them […]’

Too ‘overwhelmed’ to think of saying 'thank you' to the rescuers, but not so overwhelmed that they forgot to acknowledge a ‘gracious outpouring of support from Muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Europe, and North America’, or to ensure that the original statement included a denunciation of the occupation. A revealingly selective form of amnesia, one might think.

And even in the process of thanking the troops, CPT manage to slip in an insult veiled in patronage:-

‘As peacemakers who hold firm to our commitment to nonviolence, we are also deeply grateful that they fired no shots to free our colleagues.’

As if they had refrained from shooting in grudging deference to CPT principles! As opposed to behaving in a way that is, on the whole, characteristic of highly-trained professional soldiers serving a democratic state (and, yes, I am aware of the shameful exceptions) – i.e. when they can get things done without shooting anyone, they tend not to shoot people just for the hell of it.

Nonetheless, the addendum is more than enough to satisfy the British ‘radical Christian think-tank’ Ekklesia, who seem to enjoy close links with CPT. So they are very cross with anyone who continues to suggest that CPT showed ingratitude. Their briefing includes this, which, if not strictly speaking untrue, is distinctly economical with the truth:-

‘Doug Pritchard of Christian Peacemaker Teams comments: "Our original statement, written an hour after we got news of the release from a member of Jim Loney's family in the very early morning of 23 March, did not thank anyone except God – because at that time we knew almost nothing of the circumstances of their release.’

Only God? Judge for yourself how much difference there is between a declaration of being ‘especially moved’ by a ‘gracious outpouring of support’ (see above) and an expression of thanks.

Isn’t the real issue here obvious: that showing gratitude in these circumstances goes completely against the grain for CPT? So why don’t they cut the sanctimonious crap and admit it? I’ll set an example by making my own admission here: I know it is right to thank God for the hostages’ release and in my mind I do so, but the fundamental dishonesty of CPT’s position makes it hard for me to feel overjoyed. One of their comrades is dead, maybe having been tortured, and they are in denial about the reasons and about who bears the moral responsibility for this and for so many other murders in Iraq. My gut reaction to that is anger. And when Jill Carroll says she is angry with the murderers of her translator - not with somebody else who was somehow the root cause of their action - I can empathize with her a whole lot more readily than I can with the CPTers.

Ekklesia have a long list of allegations against CPT which they are also cross about, although they are very vague about who did the alleging, and it looks to me distinctly like an exercise in knocking over straw men in order to deflect attention from more telling criticisms.

My point (and it is certainly not mine alone – see, for instance, Oliver Kamm’s take) about the morality of CPT’s asymmetrical pacifism is not one of the charges Ekklesia engage with. In fact they supply further ammunition (excuse the militaristic metaphor) for this critique. ‘CPT was in Iraq well before the coalition forces invaded’, they assert. ‘Well before’ turns out to mean ‘six months before’, a fact which will already have given you a big hint as to what they were up to. Bearing witness against Saddam’s regime of torture, aggression and genocide? No, of course not. This was, predictably, altogether more of a Gallowayesque presence. Let CPT describe it for themselves. From CPT’s ‘Iraq project overview’:-

October 2002
Stop the War - the team and successive delegations sought to:

  • support the UN Weapons Inspection Program as an alternative to war

  • expose the injustice and deaths from the US-led economic sanctions

  • put a human face on Iraq, helping people in the U.S. understand that Saddam Hussein was not the only person living in Iraq

In other words, they were in the country with Saddam’s implicit blessing, pursuing goals that were eminently congenial to him. On the last point, I think that people in the U.S. would have been capable of working this out without CPT’s help. They might, however, have formed the impression that Saddam was the only person living in Iraq who was free to speak his mind, and the only person with a say in how the country was run. If many now believe the invasion was a mistake, that is certainly not because they think the overthrow of an odious dictatorship and its replacement with democracy was a bad thing per se.

Of course, some people see things differently. And talking of matters Gallowayesque, Ekklesia relays a message of support for CPT from Lindsey German, national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition in the UK, and a veteran member of the Socialist Workers Party. The SWP are allied with George Galloway, who so notoriously fawned on Saddam’s regime, and when they say ‘stop the war’ what they mean is not ‘peace at any price’ but ‘victory to the insurgents’. The comrades naturally understand the difference between their position and pacifism, but as good Leninists they are always happy to have ‘useful idiots’ on board. But what about Ekklesia/CPT? Do they value an endorsement from an SWP apparatchik because they fail to understand where she’s coming from? Or because they don’t care? Or because, once you’ve stripped away the veneer of pious claptrap, the practical difference actually isn’t that great?

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