I can understand the concern of many in the West, and fellow peace-workers in Iraq (such as the group called “Muslim Peacemakers”, profiled recently in Amy Goodman’s news report “Democracy Now”, see that web site) over the fate of the kidnapped Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) members.
What I fear is that their captors are not necessarily the most informed or sophisticated people. Given the war and hardships experienced for a long time in Iraq, it is certain that there will be armed, angry and basically ignorant people who may not be able to think beyond simple revenge, or see beyond obvious racial, ethnic and national attributes. It could just be that for some Iraqis, a white English-speaking Christian male is someone to be eliminated from their domain in this world. This would be a reaction of fear exactly like that of many people in stomping on a spider or jerking away from a bee. If the CPT kidnapping is an example of such a visceral form of fear and hatred, then it will be very difficult to extract the victims. You cannot bargain with irrationality.
However, there may be some hope in that the kidnappers have made demands for the freedom of all detained Iraqis in exchange for their hostages. This is an impossible demand, but it indicates that there may be something rational to negotiate with, beyond pure visceral reaction to the captives. Since many very respected Muslim voices have been raised in defense of the captives, it is possible that the captors realize they may be able to gain some political capital from their action. The game then will be to see what will satisfy them, being also acceptable to the other political entities, that will free the captives. One counter-pressure to limit or even deny any concessions will be the specter of other kidnap groups springing to work if they see that this caper yields power or a rich purse or both.
A real danger to the captives is that their deaths might also be a means for their captors to achieve more power. Should it become clear that the captors will gain nothing from the interim government, or the Western powers and interests, or the major Iraqi power groups (insurgent of not), then they may decide that killing their captives will inspire awe among other individuals like themselves, and this will give them greater power by recruiting more followers, thus becoming a stronger gang. This is neither brave nor honorable, but it may, unfortunately, influence a segment of the local population.
Iraq is a disorganized scramble for power, with many groups and individuals contenting for advantage, and with revenge and theft occurring along the way. Kidnapping of the sort involving the CPT members is most likely to be the work of a small, or weak, or fringe group that has little imagination or resources for gaining power, but much ambition to acquire it.
What we outside Iraq would want is for such fringe groups to be absorbed in a controllable way into larger, stable and responsible Iraqi political groups, and that these larger groups form a consensus, which would thus form the basis of an independent Iraqi state. Unfortunately, the “gaps” between the major Iraqi political groups (both insurgent and non-insurgent) are still too great to consolidate a national consensus and to eliminate the physical and political room that allows localized and opportunistic militias to operate.
From our perspective outside Iraq, it would appear that the best response to take would be to press the case of freeing the CPT people with any contacts among all the Iraqi groups that would receive Western representatives. In other words, it may be most helpful to get Iraqis whom the kidnappers respect to seek the release of the hostages. This may succeed if it helps to consolidate and legitimize the political power of major Iraqi groups.
The taking of hostages is an act of desperation, a sign of weakness. Our best hope is to enlist the help of Iraqis who can address this particular instance of weakness.
Citizens of other nations can do little beyond urging their governments to pursue the matter through their contacts in Iraq, and with other governments who may have greater influence. Such appeals to governments may be more effective if they come from Non-Governmental Organizations. So, concerned citizens would want to make their appeals both to their governments and to appropriate NGOs.
As we outside Iraq wait and wish for a safe end to this hostage crisis, we can also acknowledge the work of the Christian Peacemakers by seeking to end the misery Iraqis are subjected to with this war and occupation. Free the CPT; end the war now.
I’m sorry I have no better ideas.
MANUEL GARCIA, Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
His website is http://www.idiom.com/~garcia/