With the best possible news in about Jim Loney, I'm not really asking myself who to thank. The question of whether he and his fellow Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) members were released or rescued is trumped by the news that they are unharmed and safe.
But by the time Loney arrives at Pearson on Sunday, March 26, the media's celebratory spin has soured. It's clear other agendas have already usurped the homecoming party.
It starts with Stephen Harper, fresh from his tour of Kandahar and eager to shore up his minority with war fever. Neatly appropriating the turn of events, he uses his press conference to thank "our British and American allies" for their "exceptional" role in the rescue. To make sure the point is made, he phones George W. Bush four days later to express his gratitude for the U.S. military's support.
Then there's the press gang-up. Loney had only been free for a day when a Toronto Star editorial opined that "the Peacemakers must now consider whether the good they seek... outweighs the danger not just to themselves but to others. The answer should be obvious."
By the weekend, the Globe's Rex Murphy and Margaret Wente are whining about the group's lack of gratitude toward their rescuers before even hearing Loney's gracious thanks at the airport. A Post columnist suggests Christian Peacemakers be billed for the rescue, conveniently forgetting that CPT may be one of the few human rights orgs in Iraq with the guts to operate outside the fortified Green Zone.
But what if Loney had been one of those ubiquitous "contract workers" kidnapped in Iraq, an engineer or a management consultant, maybe from Halliburton or Hill & Knowlton, there to make a financial killing? Would he still be ridiculed for putting himself in harm's way and jeopardizing the safety of those around him?
The sure-footed pundits who claim Loney's group has not contributed an iota to peace in Iraq have to ask themselves: since the invasion of Iraq, has there been as positive a sign of commonality across the Islamic-Christian divide as the support shown in the Muslim world for the CPT hostages? Isn't it encouraging that so many Muslims put themselves in harm's way by bravely speaking out for their Christian friends?
But non-violence isn't sexy. There's no high-tech gear involved, no cool uniforms and dental plans if you join up. You don't get to fly planes and drive Hummers and watch endless Hollywood versions of the real thing. (I have no doubt that being a soldier is also not sexy. It's just sold that way.)
Unlike the U.S. military, CPT was invited to Iraq. And unlike politicians and their palace scribes, who are happy to beat the drums of war as long as someone else takes the personal risk, Loney and his group put their asses on the line to bear witness to the reality of this war.
Their premise is simple: if soldiers, for whom they have great respect, are asked to risk their lives in peacekeeping and war, shouldn't pacifists risk theirs for peace?
Characterizing the CPT as naive misses the mark completely. Loney and the others trained for their mission knowing that death was a possible outcome. Instead of seeing them as unthinking, it may be more accurate to see them as the advance team of an entirely new foreign policy future, one that includes an unarmed Canadian "army," highly trained specialists in conflict diffusion and the rights of civilian populations. With Canadians agonizing about our place in the world, this would be the kind of peace-and-security agenda worth a national discussion. After all, we've tried war - its results always uncertain, its human costs always too high, its duration always longer than anyone imagines and its handover of power to the industries of militarism always too damaging to the national fabric.
Much of the negative reaction in the wake of Loney's rescue comes exactly at a time when, once again, the mainstream media and the public's views on a major issue have diverged. While polls consistently show that a majority of Canadians are opposed to increased military involvement of our troops in Afghanistan, the press has begun pumping it up, sending embedded journalists and beaming Bush-like photos of Harper supposedly piloting airplanes.
Indeed, the work of CPT, almost unknown before Loney and his group's kidnapping, underscores the need for a deeper look at our foreign policy direction. Are we to be peacekeepers or warriors? Missile builders or peacemakers? The Canadian public wants a debate. I don't know what's worse: the prime minister refusing to hold one or the media pretending it's already over.