The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Peacemaker Kember speaks of Iraq kidnap

NormanKember2007: Christian peacemaker Norman Kember marked the first anniversary of his release from captivity in Iraq by releasing a book on his experiences and reflections. Norfolk journalist Ian Clarke from the EDP met the "average run-of-the-mill scientist" whose capture made him a household name around the world.
They shackled him for 118 days, deprived him of daylight and contact with the outside world, put unbearable strain on his wife back home - and their organisation murdered one of his fellow hostages.
But as lifelong peace campaigner Norman Kember prepares to talk to prosecutors considering the case against the men accused of imprisoning him, he has only forgiveness and clemency on his mind and not revenge.
"Certainly I do not want them to be executed. I would like to see them working for reconstruction of Iraq," said the 75-year-old Baptist from Harrow, as he spoke about his captors.
"Iraq needs forgiveness and understanding between the various parties, that's what they really need and any small act of forgiveness that we can do would certainly help."
The man who now admits his mission to Iraq was "foolish" has written a brutally honest, moving and at times humorous account of his time in captivity in Baghdad along with Canadian peace activists James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden.
The trio were freed by a multi-national force led by the SAS on March 23, 2006. The fourth hostage, American Tom Fox, was taken from them and murdered.
The book covers all the range of emotions Norman felt - to the low point of considering suicide

His merciful view on his captors, his uncompromising belief in peacemaking and his outspoken criticism of George Bush and Tony Blair means Norman is not universally popular.
But he said of his new book Hostage In Iraq: "Even if people disagree with my views about peacemaking I hope they will accept my sincerity and learn about non violence. Peacemaking achieves more than it is given credit for."
He is clear in his view that the men who shackled him and his fellow hostages - but did not physically harm him - were foot soldiers in a much bigger organisation. Norman is still uncertain whether there actually be a trial and if he will be called to give evidence.

"My preference is to give evidence and plead for clemency. I wouldn't like them to be released into the current mayhem because I think they would add to it."
His opinion is reinforced in a joint statement he prepared with the two Canadians: "We unconditionally forgive our captors for abducting and holding us. We have no desire to punish them. Punishment can never restore what was taken from us. What our captors did was wrong yet we bear no malice towards them."
Norman was not hit or physically abused, although he was handcuffed throughout. "Within the limits of being handcuffed we were treated with some degree of humanity."

Much debate when they were released centred around Norman's gratitude - or otherwise - to the soldiers who freed them.
General Sir Michael Jackson claimed Norman had not been thankful to the soldiers.
But Norman revealed he has met the captain of the SAS and he acknowledged Norman's gratitude.

"He had no problem at all with me and the SAS do not feel I was ungrateful."

Norman's message exactly a year ago on his release sums up his feelings: "I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my release."
It is typical of his dry sense of humour that Norman said with a heavy hint of irony: "I have to acknowledge that St Peter was released by angels, Paul by an earthquake and I was released by the SAS!"
He has recovered well from his ordeal and has been spared any of the flashbacks or nightmares you may expect a hostage would go through. A year on he still thinks "did that really happen to me?"

Norman's opposition to the war on Iraq remains as strong as ever and he said: "I do not understand what got Blair into the position of supporting Bush."
He had no contact from the British Prime Minister, but did get a hand written letter from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw which said of Norman's wife Pat "she is a saint."
In a message sent to put in the book, Mr Straw added: "Norman Kember's detailed account of going to Iraq, his captivity in Baghdad and his release is absorbing. He and I disagreed about the Iraq war. I am therefore particularly grateful to him for his recognition of the dedication and bravery of those in the British government services who secured his release."
Norman said his biggest regret was "the rough time my wife had and putting her through the distress."

In the book he looks back at the time when he first considered going to Iraq.

"I gently broke the news of my desire to go with the Christian Peace Team delegation to Pat and she was not happy - to put it mildly. In trying to reassure her, I reminded her that I would only be away for 14 days. She appreciated this was probably my last chance to undertake such a venture."
Pat said: "I had so much help and I was overwhelmed with kindness"

Prayer vigils were held and she said the support at Harrow Baptist Church was "quite remarkable"

Book publisher Penguin had expressed some interest in Norman's book but said it was "too Christian."

So Norman chose a different publisher - Darton, Longman and Todd. "I wanted to set the agenda and get my Christian perspective across," he said.
Looking back Norman admits to being foolish "in the sense of the long tradition of Christianity and people being foolish for the sake of Christ."
And will he return to Iraq? Norman said: "From now on my wife calls the shots."

So I think we can take that as a "no" then!

*Hostage In Iraq by Norman Kember (0 232 552699 0) is published by Darton, Longman and Todd  price £14.95.
Article courtesy of Eastern Daily Press


To submit a story or to publicise an event please email: web@networknorwich.co.uk