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Waiting for News

Days after deadline expires, friends of Tom Fox still hope for a peaceful resolution

For friends of Tom Fox, no news is good news.

It has been a trying week for friends of the former Springfield man, who was kidnapped along with three other members of a Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq on Saturday, Nov. 26 outside Baghdad.

Their captors, a previously unknown group that calls itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, had set a deadline for Thursday, Dec. 8 for the release of all Iraqi prisoners being held by the Iraqi and U.S. governments. That deadline was pushed back to Saturday, Dec. 10, which has come and gone.

No word has come from Iraq on what happened to Fox, 54, who is in Iraq with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Chicago and Toronto-based organization whose purpose is to promote non-violent conflict resolution and cooperation in war zones around the world. When back in the US, Fox lives in Clearbrook, a community nine miles north of Winchester.

"The way we see it, there are currently three possible outcomes," said Pearl Hoover, minister at the Northern Virginia Mennonite Church and close friend of Fox's. "Tom could not come back. He can come back, or we might not hear anything."

Not having a clear idea of what is going on may be stressful, but Hoover said his friends agree "this is where we want to be now."

The four weeks leading up to Christmas is commonly known as Advent in Christian faiths, a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus. "We are waiting for God to come. This situation has brought that idea home this year," Hoover said. "The imagery of waiting and praying is very real for us."

Hoover and four other people chosen by Fox to be a support team in the United States while he works in Iraq, met on Sunday afternoon to talk about their options and to provide each other support while facing an unknown future.

"I'm OK with not knowing what's going on," she said. "Not knowing does hold some hope that someone is listening to the tremendous outpouring of support for their release."

Calls for the safe release of the four men, including Fox, Norman Kember of London, and Canadian residents James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, has come from a wide variety of religious and secular organizations in the weeks since their abduction, including Abu Qatada, an alleged al-Qaida member currently imprisoned in London.

It is believed, Hoover said, that this flood of support from within the Islamic community and beyond, may have led to the extension of the execution deadline for Fox and the other three men. But greater questions remain about the captors, their plans for their hostages and why the four men were kidnapped in the first place.

"What's very troubling is that CPT has done work to document abuse and torture in Iraq, and we're not clear about what roads those actions lead to," Hoover said. "We're not sure who this group is, but it's not impossible that they are linked with someone who is unhappy with the truth being told."

ANY NUMBER of reasons exist why Fox and the others were taken, said Peter Mandaville, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University and director of the Center for Global Studies there.

"Often, taking hostages is done as a spectacle to show that these people were collaborating with a government" that is not an ally of the group, Mandaville said. "With these people, they were against the war and were in the country for rather different reasons."

Mandaville said he wonders whether the abduction of the peace workers was a "miscalculation."

"Maybe these men didn't understand what [the CPT members] were doing. Maybe they thought they were Christian missionaries or they refuse to believe they are against the U.S. troops in Iraq," he said. If that is the case, the captors may have had a change in their position since first taking the four men and are trying to "find a resolution to stand down without losing face" in their release of the hostages.

News could come at any time, he said, but he remains "cautiously optimistic" for a peaceful ending to this situation.

"This situation is so complex it's difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions, but there's real reason to have hope because the deadline came and went without any news," Mandaville said. "A video may turn up on a Web site at some time ... or they could be dropped off somewhere and show up at a hotel a few days later."

It should come as no surprise that the U.S. government has not made a public statement about the kidnapping, he said, but adds "we do not know the full extent to which government entities or non-government organizations have been in contact with the captors."

Through the end of the year, the Langley Hill Friends Meeting on Georgetown Pike in McLean will be open from 7 p.m. Fridays through 7 a.m. Saturdays for "quiet prayer and meditation," said Ann Bauer, another friend of Fox's. The Quaker group is one that Fox often visits when in the United States and has been conducting prayer vigils in honor of Fox, his coworkers and the people who have been holding them captive.

"We are aware of the need to really care about the mental, emotional and spiritual condition of the people holding them because we try to believe that enemies don't exist or that we're supposed to love them," said Bauer. "It's also a practical thing. The state of mind of these captors affects how these men are being treated and how or when they are released."

If the four men are released alive, Bauer said the captors, if identified, should not be punished in the "spirit of retribution."

Before Fox left for Iraq, he composed a statement of conviction that included instructions for what should be done if he were captured.

"He said that if he were taken hostage, the punishment of his captors should be in the spirit of restorative justice, not taken out on the family or property of his captors," Bauer said. "We do not believe in state-sponsored killing. We don't advocate so much sympathy as to imply that their behavior is acceptable, but we don't have the desire to harm them."

Until news is received about Fox, his friends are taking the time to attend to other personal tasks that have been overshadowed in the past few weeks.

"We're trying to adjust to this infinite wait and we're looking at preparing for how we handle this part of the situation until there's a change in the news, either good or bad," Bauer said.