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Friends Mourn Death of Slain Peace Activist

Friends and colleagues mourned Tom Fox, a 54-year-old peace activist found dead in Iraq on Friday, while his murder raised concerns about the safety of three other Christian Peacemaker Teams members held hostage with him since Nov. 26.

Fox, a practicing Quaker and pacifist for 22 years, was not pictured in a video broadcast dated Feb. 28 on Arab television showing three of the four hostages alive and purportedly appealing to their governments to secure their release. The State Department said Friday that Fox’s body had been found and picked up by U.S. military with gunshot wounds to the head and chest.

Fox, who lived in Clear Brook, Va., was the fifth American hostage to be killed in Iraq. There was no immediate word about his fellow hostages, Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and Briton Norman Kember, 74.

Christian Peacemaker Teams extended “deep and heartfelt condolences” to family and friends of Fox and renewed earlier pleas for the safe release of the other hostages.

“In response to Tom’s passing, we ask that everyone set aside inclinations to vilify or demonize others, no matter what they have done,” the group said in a statement, quoting Fox’s own words: “We reject violence to punish anyone. We ask that there be no retaliation on relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemies. We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.”

Churches across Great Britain held vigils the weekend of March 4-5 marking the 100th day since Kember, a member of Harrow Baptist Church in London, and the others were taken captive in Baghdad.

“It has been a weekend for prayer but also raising awareness of the situation because there is no news from Baghdad and so it’s easy to forget the hostages,” Alan Betteridge, president of the Baptist Peace Fellowship and a friend of Kember for over 40 years, told the London Evening Standard.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation, another group in which Kember has been active, released a statement saying it is “heartbroken that Tom Fox’s name has been added to the thousands of others who have lost their lives in this awful, illegal war” and extending condolences to his family and friends.

Fox described his work in a blog, which he updated as recently as Nov. 8.

“You should take these first impressions of Baghdad with several grains of salt,” he introduced himself in an entry dated Oct. 1, 2004. “The first being I have only been in the city for seven days and have never been to the Near East before. The next grain is that I have only been a CPTer for 50 days having just taken the training in Chicago in July and August 2004. The final grain is that I have no previous background in peacemaking, having spent the last 10 years working for a natural foods company and before that having spent the remainder of my adult life as a musician.”

“It has become increasingly evident to me that after stripping away all the rationales for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, what is left is the reality that the current U.S. Administration felt compelled to invade from a basis of hate,” Fox wrote.

His first impressions of Baghdad, he continued, were “that most of the American and Iraqi interim government officials have sequestered themselves in palaces and enclaves, which has served to disconnect them from the majority of the population. These officials are devoting a significant amount of material resources to maintain both military and contracted security organizations while the already marginal infrastructure continues to deteriorate. And in the continuing cycle of hatred-creating-more-hatred there are elements of the society that are using terrorist tactics to try to destabilize the American forces and the interim government. Their actions and the response by the American forces keep the population in a state of fear and uncertainty. An insurgent mortar round aimed at an American target might just as well fall into a residential area. If a person is unlucky enough to live in an area where insurgents are suspected of living… his or her own life and property are at risk when an Apache helicopter launches its vast arsenal of lethal weaponry.”

In a May 12 blog Fox wrote: “Many people have said that there is no logical, rational reason for CPT to be in Iraq right now. The level of violence, which subsided after the elections, has risen each week until now the attacks and kidnappings of Iraqi officials, civilians and internationals are as bad or worse than the months leading up to the election. The infrastructure of the country continues to deteriorate. The people of Iraq appear weary. The people of Iraq are angry. The people of Iraq placed so much hope in the election process but now it seems as if the elected officials are subsuming to the politics of factionalism.”

He defended the group’s reason for being there as, “We are throwing ourselves open to the possibility of God’s grace bringing some rays of light to the shadowy landscape that is Iraq.”

A number of anti-war groups are planning demonstrations March 18, the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Previous related stories:

Profile of a Real Christian
Baptist Church Continues Prayers for Member Held Hostage in Iraq
Video Shows Held Peace Activists in Iraq
British Baptists Pray for Hostages in Iraq