March 10: Remember Tom Fox

tom-fox
Tom Fox, in his red Christian Peacemaker Teams ball cap, in Palestine between tours in Iraq.

March 10: Remember Tom Fox

March 10 — how could I forget? How dare I fail to remember.

Four years and four months ago, John Stephens and I began a blog site called freethecaptivesnow.org , as both a personal vigil and a community service, compiling and posting nightly updates of reports — or mostly the lack of reports — about the fate of four… peaceworkers kidnapped in Iraq. They had been taken in Baghdad, and one of them, Tom Fox, was a Quaker and a friend of both John and me.

After those long weeks of uncertainty, it was this day, March 10, 2006 when we learned the worst: that Tom Fox had been murdered, his body found dumped in a vacant lot in that war-torn city.

About two weeks later, the other three: James Loney of Canada, Harmeet Sooden of New Zealand, and Norman Kember from England, were freed by British commandos. John and I then laid down our nightly vigil.

A collection of photos and tributes is still online here.

“Every night of those thirteen weeks, either John or I would scan dozens of wire service reports for news of Tom and the others, and post what we
found: with only a few exceptions, the news was “no news.”

The exceptions were when the gloomy videos of the four – and then, on March 7, 2006 the three, minus Tom – were released.

Hostage Release ad

An ad placed in Arabic newspapers, appealing for the captives’ release.

Here, to mark this occasion, is an excerpt from the Introduction I wrote to a short book of remembrance, “Tom Fox Was My Friend. Yours, Too.” It speculates on why he was killed:

On March 10 came the dispatch we dreaded most: confirmation of Tom’s murder. (Early reports that he had been tortured were not confirmed by a
later autopsy.) The only relief from this loss appeared on March 23, when the other three captives were freed.

Who killed Tom? And why? Few other than the ones who pulled the trigger know the truth, and one wonders how much even they understand.

Speculation abounds, of course, with many of my more left-leaning friends imagining a CIA-sponsored conspiracy to silence these noisy pacifist dissenters.

Yet from the reading and interviews I have done, however, the most likely guess seems much more mundanely sordid: it was all about money.

The videos showing Tom and the others were issued by a previously unknown group, “the Swords of Righteousness Brigades.” This name is very likely a fake, a cover for a criminal gang, which simply kidnaped them for ransom. There is, as John and I learned while keeping our vigil, a sizeable kidnaping industry in Iraq. Many Iraqis have been thus abducted for profit, as well as citizens of numerous other countries.

The four captives

The four CPT captives; Tom Fox is second from right.

James Loney felt the ransom was wanted to help finance the guerilla insurgency. Many other observers feel that while the kidnapers are Muslims, and many have likely suffered from the invasion and occupation, these crimes appear to be only loosely connected to religious or political grievances. Rather, they are more a specimen of organized crime in a devastated and lawless society.

From this “profit-seeking” perspective, taking CPT team members was not a particularly good “investment”: the group has pledged not to pay, and not to ask anyone else to. Moreover, none of the four had a personal fortune to plunder. But the gang likely figured that regardless of such brave declarations, given enough pressure, someone would eventually cave in and pay. (Harmeet Sooden later told a New Zealand press conference that he suspected a ransom had been paid for
him and the other survivors, despite vehement government denials.)

But if the kidnapers were after money, why kill Tom? There are a number of hypotheses:

One, to show the friends and supporters of the other three that the kidnapers meant business. Some other hostage killings – for instance, that of longtime relief worker Margaret Hassan, an Iraqi citizen originally from Ireland – were evidently staged to show recalcitrant governments that ransom demands were life and death matters.

Or two: because Tom was an American, and as a veteran had a US military ID card, he was a certified “enemy,” and one for whom the US government would not pay. That made him worth less and disposable.

Or three: if the kidnapers couldn’t get ransom from Tom’s family or government, maybe they recouped something by selling Tom to another Iraqi insurgent gang, one willing to pay for the privilege of shooting a military-identified American. (It is all-too easy to imagine their derision at his protests that he was a musician, not a fighter.)

Again, no one knows, but these are plausible explanations for the inexplicable. . . .”

Tom Fox banner

All the quotes below are from sources that Tom was familiar with:

George Fox:

“Be patterns, be examples in every country, place, or nation that you
visit, so that your bearing and life might communicate with all
people. Then you’ll walk cheerfully across the earth answering that
of God in everyone. So that you will be seen as a blessing in their
eyes and you will receive a blessing from that of God within them.”

From the Epistle to the Hebrews, 13:3:
“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

From the Qur’an, 11:20:
“And all that We relate to you of the news of the Messengers is in
order that We may make strong and firm your heart thereby.

12:111:
Indeed in their stories there is a lesson for men and women of
understanding.”

From the Tao Te Ching:

“Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water, yet nothing can better overcome the hard and strong, for they can neither control nor do away with it. The soft overcomes the hard, the yielding overcomes the strong. Everyone knows this, but who can practice it?”

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