Peace activist describes ordeal

Organized by Wilfrid Laurier University’s religion and culture and global studies departments, the “Narratives of Violence, Narratives of Healing” conference aimed to provide insight into conflict and reconciliation for attendees.

The evening began with a performance by community group the Radical Choir.

Peace activist James Loney knows all too well about the perils of war and effect of conflict on the individuals involved.

In his address on Mar. 3 at the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall to students, faculty and members of the community, Loney described the 118 days he spent held captive by insurgents in Iraq.

On the day of his kidnapping in 2005, Loney was on his third trip to Iraq, working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, which reaches out to individuals who have been directly affected by violence in regions entangled in conflict.

He had only been in the country for three days when, after leaving a meeting in Baghdad, the car he and three colleagues were in was attacked by armed men.

Driven to a house where they were blindfolded and handcuffed, Loney recalled, “The first few hours were completely surreal and completely terrifying.”

The men tried to reason with their captors without avail, explaining that they were not there in support of war efforts, but instead to offer support to the civilians whose lives had been affected.

In what Loney called “a bizarre practice,” the hostages were invited on several nights to watch pirated movies including “The Transporter 2” with their captors.

It was during these odd breaks from their kidnapper-hostage relationships, that Loney was able to see a “human side to the captors.”

While the story of his kidnapping is both fascinating and harrowing, the focus of Loney’s speech was on the narratives of violence: the stories that any individual who has experienced violence as victims or as perpetrators.

Notably, Loney and the other hostages publicly forgave their captors, and refused to testify against them in U.S. Federal Court.

“Violence is inherently traumatizing, even to those who do it,” he said.

While he does not excuse the actions of the insurgents who held him hostage, he argued, “Narratives of violence create distance between individuals. There is no separation between human beings, we are the same when we harm each other, we harm ourselves.”

Martha Kuwee Kumsa, of Laurier’s faculty of social work, joined Loney onstage to share her experiences.

She was unlawfully imprisoned for 10 years beginning in 1980 for her political views while working as a journalist in her native Ethiopia. Kuwee Kumsa addressed Loney as, “My brother in violence, my brother in healing.”

After thanking Loney for sharing his story, she echoed his sentiments about the interconnectedness of individuals, and reasoned, “As long as there is violence and someone in the world is suffering, I am suffering.”