Maintaining the 'Light' of Hope

Maintaining the 'Light' of Hope

Friends of Tom Fox continue to pray for his safe release, reflect on importance of peacemaking work in Iraq.

In an expression central to the Quaker philosophy, when someone is in need of prayer, they are "held in the light." The saying signifies the hope that even in the darkest hour, the presence of God can be seen, felt and counted on for comfort.

At the Langley Friends Meeting on Georgetown Pike in McLean, that light has been surrounding one of their own for the past 10 days.

Tom Fox, a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, is one of four men captured by the Swords of Righteousness Brigade in Iraq on Saturday, Nov. 26. In a tape released by Al Jazeera on Friday, Dec. 2, the captors have set a deadline of Thursday, Dec. 8, for all Iraqi prisoners to be released, or Fox and his three co-workers could be killed.

"The intent of that video is to terrify," said Paul Slattery, a friend of Fox. "We can't get caught up in it ... we have to make our own choices," he said.

Over the past week, friends of Fox in Northern Virginia have been gathering to pray for the safe release of the four men — Fox, two Canadians and a man from London. They were in Iraq voluntarily working as peacemakers and had spent time training Muslim groups to solve problems through nonviolent actions, namely mediation.

When The Connection met with Tom Fox in February, between trips to Iraq, he said that Christian Peacemaker Teams "are invited [into] areas to help resolve conflict. We are a non-government organization, a violence reduction group."

Fox initially joined Christian Peacemaker Teams after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, looking for "an alternative way, something other than violence" to respond to the pain and fear that filled the country.

His work in Baghdad focused on human rights organizations, helping secure communication between prisoners and their families and training Iraqi groups, mostly Sunni and Shiite Muslims, in nonviolent conflict resolution. One of the teams he was working with was among the first groups to notify Paul Bremer, who was then director of the provisional Iraqi government, of the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Fox was eager to return to work in Baghdad, confident in the support of the Iraqis he had met.

"They understand that we're there to support nonviolent conflict resolution," he had said. "The clerics know we're not there to convert anyone to Christianity. ... People are not being served by violence."

THE FUNDAMENTAL objection to war and violence is a central theme for Quakers, members of what is traditionally called a peace church.

"Tom is a very gentle soul," said Doug Smith, clerk of the Langley Friends Meeting. "He felt called to do something like this."

The work in Iraq, Smith said, consists mostly of talking with Iraqi citizens and acting as go-betweens for the citizens and the American officials in charge of establishing the new government.

"One of the reasons why people in Iraq have responded to him so well is that he's very straightforward and he went there because he felt that was where he was needed," Smith said.

Friends of Fox admit that worrying will not ease their concerns or bring him home safely, but fear still creeps in from time to time.

"Sure, I go back and forth," said Hoyt Maulden, another friend. "But it's important to look for the opportunity to hope. Yes, there are times when I'm worried, you can't help but worry. But in those times, I surround myself with people who know Tom and we pray for him."

Gathering together in silent prayer has been important since news of the four men's capture was made public on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

"Our mission has changed in the past week of praying," Maulden said. "We have been focusing a light on Tom and the three men with him, but also on their captors. We believe that there is the light of God in everyone. I can feel Tom trying to find that light in them and trying to appeal to the light that's within them and what's best in them."

THE ALL DULLES Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) had a press conference Sunday, Dec. 4, where Islamic and Christian groups gathered to implore the people responsible for capturing the four peace workers to release them unharmed.

"Leaders of the Islamic community spoke on their behalf," said Smith, who spoke at the conference. "When Tom and the others were living in Baghdad, they lived among the Iraqi citizens without any special protection. They wanted to live with their neighbors. Their daily life was spent among them, visiting the same markets and stores and having dinner with them."

Maulden noted that, as pacifists, Fox and the other CPT members did not carry any kind of weapon in Iraq.

"They had nothing of the sort," he said. "They are against violence in principal."

The press conference was broadcast by Al Jazeera, a major news network in Iraq, and was scheduled to take place during Sunday's evening news time, Smith said.

Even while in captivity, some believe Fox is working to promote peace in a war-ravaged nation.

"I'm sure Tom is a great comfort to the other men he's with," said Pat Moles, a member of the Langley Meeting.

She hopes the captors will see the truth behind the men's work: promoting peace in every aspect of life.

"If people can see that their intentions are for all people to live in peace, they will do no harm to any of them," she said.

Some of Fox's friends have taken a small comfort from the video released on Friday, which contained the threat against the four men's lives.

"The video shows the two Canadian men eating from a tray of pastries, which is generally a sign of welcome and hospitality in Arabic cultures," Maulden said.

"It is standard practice," said Pearl Hoover, pastor at the Northern Virginia Mennonite Church and a member of Fox's five-person support group. "They are being shown signs of hospitality, but that doesn't make sense. Then again, none of this makes sense."

In October 2004, following the death of Margaret Hassan, a British peace worker and one of Fox's friends, Hoover said she and the other members of the support group received an e-mail detailing what they were to do should he be kidnapped.

"I remember filing the paper away and hoping I'd never have to use it," she said. Searching for the paper after hearing of his abduction brought about "a sobering sense of reality. We all always knew this was a possibility, including Tom," she said.

If Fox and the other workers are spies, as alleged by their captors, "he is a spy for God, looking to find peace anywhere," Hoover said.

Another perspective is that Fox and the others have been given a great opportunity, by meeting with a group they would otherwise not be able to reach.

"He's in the face of the people he wanted to make contact with," Slattery said. "These are people at odds with what he's trying to accomplish. He needs all our energy and support ... this is tough, tough work but it's worthy of this effort."

"If we claim to be peacemakers, we have to put ourselves on the line for it," Maulden said. "Sometimes the place where peacemakers should be working will involve risk. He's often said to me that plenty of people are willing to die for war, but we need more people willing to die for peace."

Hoover said the last e-mail she received from Fox came on Nov. 16, a week and a half before his abduction.

"In the e-mail, he said something that really sums up his work in Iraq," she said. "He said, 'I think sometimes all we can do is be a presence here,'" she read.